Hot Best Seller

Lenin: A Biography

Availability: Ready to download

"One of the very few books, absolutely indispensible to the student of contemporary history and of international relations, of Russia and of social revolution. At the same time, it is so full of historic drama, of incredible figures, of the Czar's secret police, of plots stranger than fiction, that it will fascinate the general reader." -Hans Kohn, New York Times Book Revie "One of the very few books, absolutely indispensible to the student of contemporary history and of international relations, of Russia and of social revolution. At the same time, it is so full of historic drama, of incredible figures, of the Czar's secret police, of plots stranger than fiction, that it will fascinate the general reader." -Hans Kohn, New York Times Book Review "It must be read by everyone who wants to penetrate the minds and analyze the behavior of the men who created the most powerful and dangerous machine in the world today" -L.J. Schweitzer, Catholic World


Compare

"One of the very few books, absolutely indispensible to the student of contemporary history and of international relations, of Russia and of social revolution. At the same time, it is so full of historic drama, of incredible figures, of the Czar's secret police, of plots stranger than fiction, that it will fascinate the general reader." -Hans Kohn, New York Times Book Revie "One of the very few books, absolutely indispensible to the student of contemporary history and of international relations, of Russia and of social revolution. At the same time, it is so full of historic drama, of incredible figures, of the Czar's secret police, of plots stranger than fiction, that it will fascinate the general reader." -Hans Kohn, New York Times Book Review "It must be read by everyone who wants to penetrate the minds and analyze the behavior of the men who created the most powerful and dangerous machine in the world today" -L.J. Schweitzer, Catholic World

30 review for Lenin: A Biography

  1. 4 out of 5

    Tim Pendry

    A little caution is required in approaching this book, published first in 1948 and then again in a revised edition in 1966, but it has some significant merits. The caution arises from it being a book by an exiled Russian Menshevik opposed to the Bolshevik faction who was not present during the 1917 Revolution and who is writing from the US at the peak period of the Cold War. It also includes no research after the date of revision. So, why is it on the reading list? Partly because Shub was part of A little caution is required in approaching this book, published first in 1948 and then again in a revised edition in 1966, but it has some significant merits. The caution arises from it being a book by an exiled Russian Menshevik opposed to the Bolshevik faction who was not present during the 1917 Revolution and who is writing from the US at the peak period of the Cold War. It also includes no research after the date of revision. So, why is it on the reading list? Partly because Shub was part of the pre-revolutionary Marxist social democrat community and understands what he is studying, partly because the book is filled with clearly well evidenced factual material and partly because he strikes me as honest. Taking the caution as read, Shub appears to paint a fair warts and all picture of what I allowed myself to be quoted to Russian TV journalists recently as the 'greatest professional revolutionary in history'. Shall we start with the negative or the positive? I think the negative first. Vladimir Ilyich Ulyanov (aka Lenin) was a monomaniac whose cold ruthlessness showed a remarkable disregard for the effects of his mission. He treated adult human beings as a means to an end with consummate cynicism even if his ends were (theoretically) noble. The degree of absolute personal will bears comparison with a younger politician - Adolf Hitler. Both appeared to have a remarkable capacity to take possibly life-terminating risks and neither can be said to have lacked personal courage. If anyone has any doubt about Lenin's ruthlessness, it can be found in his role as political organised crime boss (to raise funds before the revolution), his cynical collaboration with the Germans, his conduct towards the Russian Constituent Assembly and his advocacy of terror. After that, it might seem difficult to say anything positive about him but Shub still manages, fairly, to point out that the private man was not a dullard (except about the arts), could sustain friendships and maintain a rather modern polyamorous relationship. Still, and this is where a dash of doubt about Shub's polemic comes in, Shub is good on the man and his circle and the machinations of politicians but one senses that he has forgotten why Lenin existed and what little choice he had once a personal decision for social change had been taken. There is, of course, the matter of an original psychological flaw - from his deep personal response to the arbitrary state murder of his brother arose something like a lust for revenge that he cloaked in ideology and in an alternate morality unrecognisable to most people. There is an interesting question why the a-moral ends-directed politics of revolutionary international and national socialism emerged to wreak such destruction at this time. I have my ideas but not for this review. What has to be admitted in the case of Lenin (regardless of the fact that Bolshevik brutality would prove more bloody and terrible than anything Tsarist since the days of Ivan) was that he would not have existed if it were not for an incompetent, thuggish and arbitrary regime. The point was not that his brother was murdered but why he was murdered. His idealist middle class brother was part of a generation that seemed to show that Tsarism had left the vast majority in hopeless misery and was not reformable. There could be many conclusions to this which are played out in the various factions that would sit in the Duma or just outside it but the Bolshevik one - of a seizure of power by the selfless representatives leading edge of the poorest in society was not intrinsically an incorrect analysis. What does not really come out in Shub's book is just how awful the condition of the Russian people was in 1917 (indeed had been for centuries) and how urban intellectuals seemed not to understand that hunger must lead to rage and revenge. We have already reviewed Kut Hamsun's 1890 book which was set in Norway, far more developed than Russia, What is striking about that book is not just the gnawing physical pain of the hungry but the resentment, hatred and desire for revenge on the community. The Bolsheviks, like the National Socialists later, tapped deep into this justifiable rage, hatred and resentment that had long since moved on from the 'opiate' of religion. Therein lay the genius of Lenin - to use his high intelligence to create an infrastructure that could focus this rage. There was nothing inevitable about the Bolshevik seizure of power. Any establishment under any normal circumstances can feel reasonably sure that, although a different type of middle class may dominate, the middle class will always command the masses. So it is in the West today. In early 1917, Lenin was just a has-been around whom events were happening. His path to dictatorship was not only one of ruthless determination, making his own luck, but of complacency by every other faction not only towards a 'man of will' but towards that rage in the working classes. Rage could be manipulated by Lenin over the heads of even soldiers and peasants to eliminate a constitutional democracy which was still paradigmatically persisting in sending men to their deaths in war and failing to provide cheap bread. Stage by stage Shub takes you through every critical step that took Lenin from the Finland Station to the Kremlin and, as his toughened and disciplined crew won each victory, Bolshevism grew in power until (under Trotsky) it could even crush the radical-democratic Kronstadt sailors. The lesson is an awe-inspiring one that has inspired the wilful from Hitler to Saddam. When a people is angry (a lesson for today), the professional revolutionary prepared to take risks can out-class every amateur so long as they are prepared to commit any act to get to the top. And this, again, is why we have to pause and ask (as Lenin did) some hard questions about our 'bourgeois morality' because he was not seeking power for himself but working himself into the ground and taking risks with his life for the people. He was seen as a hero later because he was one. He seems to have been a man who recognised his own mistakes when he made them and to have reversed direction so long as it never got in the way of the communist dream. This was essentially one of bread and leisure for all the peoples of the world. His internationalism is not in doubt. At this point in history, we now know two things about the Soviet experiment. It achieved spectacular results in terms of life chances for the working class at immense human cost for a significant, mostly middle class but also peasant, minority. Second, it failed miserably. The Soviet experiment is never a simple matter of good and evil despite the best efforts of American propagandists. It was a failed experiment, one that was based on human rights crimes (a 'bourgeois concept' of course) but one which did get a people from A to B in double quick time. Romantic liberals and democratic socialists persist in claiming that either a Stolypin-type capitalism under a 'good Tsar' or a democratic Constituent Assembly might have had better results but I have my doubts. The condition of the Russian masses required drastic action. Many people, especially intellectuals and the middle classes, would have been vastly more comfortable if Lenin had never existed but could the same be said of the vast mass of the population (taking the Great Patriotic War out of the equation)? I am not sure at all. Lenin raises some uncomfortable questions but the most uncomfortable of all is often evaded. Are middle class socialist intellectuals actually concerned at all about the condition of the masses? Their good will is not in doubt but amelioration is rarely at their own expense. The question is important because believing that you can change something or wanting to change something is not the same as actually having an effect. It may be that, if not Lenin, then radically globalised capitalism may be more useful than liberal-socialist tinkering for the very poor. Radical global capitalism destroys elites, creates a new middle class from below, develops an educated working class and provides the means to build roads and railroads that get food from resource rich to resource poor areas. So did Bolshevism - social democracy often just manages. Russia desperately needed these changes. A dim-witted self-regarding landowning elite was getting in the way. It had to be removed and fast. Nobody else succeeded in all the years before 1917 and those who did succeed in 1917 failed to bring peace and bread. So, unlike Hitler, whose entirely potty racial theory damns him in the eyes of history as much as his propensity to warfare and mass murder, we find ourselves with a man in Lenin who is more morally ambiguous. He is a monster who only exists because middle class liberals fail. The book is valuable because of the amount of contemporary evidence Shub provides including an Appendix of selections from Lenin's writings that demonstrate incontrovertibly that his ruthlessness was ideological as much as pragmatic or driven by circumstances. Although ostensibly about a man, by the nature of things, Shub makes it a tale of one significant Revolution. However, the other revolutionaries are (wrongly, of course) bit players in this particular history and lots of questions remain unanswered. Shub does not help us to understand how Bolshevik power was constructed, why Lenin held such a hold over men his colleagues, to what degree social and economic conditions (and external threats) forced the pace of brutality or even whether the revolutionary elite were driven by their base. But those are for another book by another man. For anyone wanting an informed (albeit to be read with a critical eye) political biography of Lenin, you could do worse than this one. The game now should be never to allow in the first place the conditions that would allow another Lenin to exist.

  2. 5 out of 5

    Erik Graff

    This may well have been the first book-length biography of Lenin I ever read--the other contender being Fisher's biography. The emigre author, David Shub, was a Russian revolutionary himself and knew many of the principals, particularly Kerensky, personally. As an adolescent, Lenin was not my favorite. Everyone who worked with him seemed to respect, if not like, him a great deal, but he was certainly not a romantic idealist like, say, Nestor Makhno. Indeed, his wheeling and dealing, the compromis This may well have been the first book-length biography of Lenin I ever read--the other contender being Fisher's biography. The emigre author, David Shub, was a Russian revolutionary himself and knew many of the principals, particularly Kerensky, personally. As an adolescent, Lenin was not my favorite. Everyone who worked with him seemed to respect, if not like, him a great deal, but he was certainly not a romantic idealist like, say, Nestor Makhno. Indeed, his wheeling and dealing, the compromises and betrayals, served as a challenge to my friends and myself. The Bolsheviks had been successful by such methods. The Makhnos of the world had not. All in all I was most personally comfortable with the great pacifist revolutionaries, people like Gandhi and Menno Simons.

  3. 4 out of 5

    Jonathan

    First of all you should know that this is not exactly a biography of Lenin per se. There are whole chapters where his name is barely mentioned. The most biographical chapters are the first few and the very last. The rest is just a history of the Russian Revolution, and really quite a decent one too. The perennial problem with history books about governments, parties, committees, and organisations -- an abundance of difficult names to remember -- is present here too, but not quite as bad as some First of all you should know that this is not exactly a biography of Lenin per se. There are whole chapters where his name is barely mentioned. The most biographical chapters are the first few and the very last. The rest is just a history of the Russian Revolution, and really quite a decent one too. The perennial problem with history books about governments, parties, committees, and organisations -- an abundance of difficult names to remember -- is present here too, but not quite as bad as some books have it. The biography element is useful in this respect, because it means you have a reference-point for each character, however arbitrary that may be. For instance a lot of the people's commissars etc and others who make appearances later on were already known to Lenin during his early years as a revolutionary. So I often found myself going back to the index when a previously-mentioned character was referred to again, and being able to say, 'ah yes, XXXXonov, one of Lenin's friends he met in Petersburg' etc etc. Which is all the info you really need to get a resolved picture of things. The description of the revolution and its various stages is clear and well done: after having read it once I had a pretty clear idea of how it went and could explain it from memory in reasonable detail to my sister. The biographical facts of Lenin's life serve as a good framework, from which a familiarity with the main people and organisations which play roles in the political & historical events can be gleaned. Moreover the biographical nature of the book means that such details as the precise venues for the party conferences, and the way offices in Smolny were arranged and set up, are given. Now it may seem trivial but such detail means that the mind's eye has something to see rather than nothing. Before getting to Shub's biography I first had tried to read about five histories of the Russian revolution, without being able to get past the first 2-5 chapters of any of them. And one stands out to me as particularly deficient in the aforementioned aspect: Leonard Schaprio's 'the communist party of the soviet union'. In this volume the attendance, date, and debates of the Social Democratic party conferences are very well recorded: but absolutely nothing is given to indicate the physical conditions of the conference rooms, or how the delegates managed to get there -- all of which Shub describes. And while this human, material aspect of history is not important politically, it plays the vital role of making history readable. What Schapiro leaves as a meaningless list of names, dates and debates which take place in some sort of metaphysical matrix world, Shub makes a story, with a physical setting, context, and actual human beings as characters-- they went here and did this, and this was said, and then they went somewhere else, etc etc etc. You don't need much of this kind of detail, but you do need some. Altogether: the biography is integrated with a very well-written history of the Russian revolution, and both aspects of this dual-faceted book complement each other nicely, each half helping the reader better understand the other. Shub, despite living in America when he wrote this biography, gives Lenin a balanced treatment, describing him as a more or less kind and likeable man in the main. But he does not mince words when relating the extent of the chaos and destruction he personally caused thousands of people. The most shocking part of the book is when once in charge, Lenin -- with whom it is hard not to sympathise throughout most of the first three quarters of the book, as he undergoes decades of oppression and punishment and exile at the hands of the Tsarists, slowly working his way to power by sheer force of will -- suddenly starts doing the exact same thing as the Tsarists, and orders soldiers to fire upon crowds of protestors, before going even further and permanently abolishing freedom of the press, and massacring every last Kronstadt soldier. Probably it was because Shub knew Lenin personally that he painted him, personally, in such a sympathetic light in the biographical sections. By the same token I have no doubt that the horror that Shub elicits in the reader by unveiling the true extent Lenin's crimes is the exact same horror that Shub himself felt at the hypocrisy and evil of his former fellow revolutionary. The juxataposition is really effective. Of course no work of history stands well on its own, particularly one such as this with so much tendency to bias. So I should suggest reading other books on the Lenin and the Bolsheviks afterwards, such as the more scholarly accounts of people like Schapiro (whose book really is a marvelous resource as long as you already understand the main thrust of the events) but, for laymen interested in the Russian revolution, as a starting point for further study, this biography of Lenin really is difficult to match. Read read read !!!

  4. 4 out of 5

    Jerrod

    A great read I recently picked up at the library. Written in 1948 it gives interesting perspective as much of what 'we' know of communism is so clouded with propaganda. I would recommend this read to anyone with interests in communism, socialism and the likes. As well as those who are interested in the corruption of those in power. We find Lenin had no qualms about his implicit views of the dictatorship of the proletariat and the explicit actions used to keep the same people in check. A great read I recently picked up at the library. Written in 1948 it gives interesting perspective as much of what 'we' know of communism is so clouded with propaganda. I would recommend this read to anyone with interests in communism, socialism and the likes. As well as those who are interested in the corruption of those in power. We find Lenin had no qualms about his implicit views of the dictatorship of the proletariat and the explicit actions used to keep the same people in check.

  5. 4 out of 5

    Dr. Carl Ludwig Dorsch

    A standard American Lenin biography of its time. This book went through many editions apparently, from 1948 through 1976, some of them abridged. The edition I read seems to have been the New American Library/Mentor abridgement.

  6. 5 out of 5

    David Casler

    Not a biography in any traditional sense, although it did include his birth and death dates, and he is the main character in it. It's a well-detailed history of the Russian Revolutions from the last years of World War I (AKA The Great War) until Stalin seized power. Yes, the book doesn't end when Lenin dies; like i said, not exactly a traditional biography. It was very detailed, though, and i learned a great deal from it. The author did a wonderful job of making sense out of an extremely complex Not a biography in any traditional sense, although it did include his birth and death dates, and he is the main character in it. It's a well-detailed history of the Russian Revolutions from the last years of World War I (AKA The Great War) until Stalin seized power. Yes, the book doesn't end when Lenin dies; like i said, not exactly a traditional biography. It was very detailed, though, and i learned a great deal from it. The author did a wonderful job of making sense out of an extremely complex and chaotic period of history, and he deserves great credit for that. The reason i gave it only three stars is that it utterly failed to deliver what it promised - a biography of V. I. Lenin. I don't even know his wife's name, his parents' names, or whether he ever fathered any children or not. I wouldn't have even known that he'd been married if members of his opposition hadn't been suspected of planning to kidnap her to use her against him. It was a quick read and yet intricately informative. The narrative was well-constructed and flowed well, telling an extraordinarily complicated story in a very effective way. I'd highly recommend it to anyone wishing to learn more about that period of Russian/Soviet/Eastern European history, but i would NOT recommend it to anyone wishing to learn more about the man V. I. Lenin himself.

  7. 4 out of 5

    Todd Holdren

    It is a good primer detailing what socialism is and the path to comminism. Lots of good quotes.

  8. 5 out of 5

    Behrooz rasuli

    کتابی بسیار خود، اول دربارۀ خود لنین و سپس در بارۀ حوادث و اتفاقات شوروی در دهه های اول قرن بیستم. اگرچه نویسندۀ ذهن خواننده را نسبت به خوی بی رحم لنین کمی لطیف تر می کند، اما تصاویر واقعی از آن زمان به دست می دهد. این کتاب، می تواند دانش جامع و کافی دربارۀ لنین به ما بدهد.

  9. 4 out of 5

    Bernard

  10. 5 out of 5

    Lwxlee

  11. 5 out of 5

    Riaz

  12. 5 out of 5

    Rody Misseyer

  13. 4 out of 5

    Wuntia

  14. 4 out of 5

    Zahra

  15. 5 out of 5

    Kev Smith

  16. 5 out of 5

    Ben Judge

  17. 4 out of 5

    Josh Ruck

  18. 4 out of 5

    Jamie Barringer (Ravenmount)

  19. 5 out of 5

    Gabriel Lindgren

  20. 5 out of 5

    Erik

  21. 5 out of 5

    Liquidlasagna

  22. 5 out of 5

    Ako

  23. 5 out of 5

    Chetty

  24. 5 out of 5

    Elham

  25. 4 out of 5

    Bundy

  26. 5 out of 5

    Naele

  27. 4 out of 5

    David

  28. 5 out of 5

    Rifat

  29. 4 out of 5

    Cynthia Schaefer

  30. 4 out of 5

    Lily

Add a review

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Loading...