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Gulag: A Historyby Anne Applebaum
2004 Pulitzer Prize for General Nonfiction
Synopses & Reviews
The Gulag — the vast array of Soviet concentration camps — was a system of repression and punishment whose rationalized evil and institutionalized inhumanity were rivaled only by the Holocaust.
The Gulag entered the world's historical consciousness in 1972, with the publication of Alexander Solzhenitsyn's epic oral history of the Soviet camps, The Gulag Archipelago. Since the collapse of the Soviet Union, dozens of memoirs and new studies covering aspects of that system have been published in Russia and the West. Using these new resources as well as her own original historical research, Anne Applebaum has now undertaken, for the first time, a fully documented history of the Soviet camp system, from its origins in the Russian Revolution to its collapse in the era of glasnost. It is an epic feat of investigation and moral reckoning that places the Gulag where it belongs: at the center of our understanding of the troubled history of the twentieth century.
Anne Applebaum first lays out the chronological history of the camps and the logic behind their creation, enlargement, and maintenance. The Gulag was first put in place in 1918 after the Russian Revolution. In 1929, Stalin personally decided to expand the camp system, both to use forced labor to accelerate Soviet industrialization and to exploit the natural resources of the country's barely habitable far northern regions. By the end of the 1930s, labor camps could be found in all twelve of the Soviet Union's time zones. The system continued to expand throughout the war years, reaching its height only in the early 1950s. From 1929 until the death of Stalin in 1953, some 18 million people passed through this massive system. Of these 18 million, it is estimated that 4.5 million never returned.
But the Gulag was not just an economic institution. It also became, over time, a country within a country, almost a separate civilization, with its own laws, customs, literature, folklore, slang, and morality. Topic by topic, Anne Applebaum also examines how life was lived within this shadow country: how prisoners worked, how they ate, where they lived, how they died, how they survived. She examines their guards and their jailers, the horrors of transportation in empty cattle cars, the strange nature of Soviet arrests and trials, the impact of World War II, the relations between different national and religious groups, and the escapes, as well as the extraordinary rebellions that took place in the 1950s. She concludes by examining the disturbing question why the Gulag has remained relatively obscure, in the historical memory of both the former Soviet Union and the West.
Gulag: A History will immediately be recognized as a landmark work of historical scholarship and an indelible contribution to the complex, ongoing, necessary quest for truth.
"Applebaum's lucid prose and painstaking consideration of the competing theories about aspects of camp life and policy are always compelling." Publishers Weekly
"However heavy and difficult the reading can be, this book should be a required text for every student of 20th-century history in Moscow, Russia, and Moscow, Idaho. [A] meticulously researched and well-written account." Michael McFaul, New York Times
"Very occasionally one is privileged to review a book whose importance is almost impossible to exaggerate.... The journalist Anne Applebaum's magisterial new history, GULAG, belongs in this august company." Michael Burleigh, Literary Supplement
"It is fervently to be hoped that people will read Anne Applebaum's excellent, tautly written and very damning history. Even more fervently, one hopes that it will soon be translated into Russian." Steven Merritt Miner, New York Times Book Review
"Anne Applebaum has immersed herself in the whole gruesome story, and any writer can only be speechless with admiration for her fortitude and her scholarship...[Gulag] is not a book that this reviewer could ever have managed to write, but it needed to be written, and the task could not have been done better. It deserves a prize." Norman Stone, Literary Review
The Gulag--a vast array of Soviet concentration camps that held millions of political and criminal prisoners--was a system of repression and punishment that terrorized the entire society, embodying the worst tendencies of Soviet communism. In this magisterial and acclaimed history, Anne Applebaum offers the first fully documented portrait of the Gulag, from its origins in the Russian Revolution, through its expansion under Stalin, to its collapse in the era of glasnost. Applebaum intimately re-creates what life was like in the camps and links them to the larger history of the Soviet Union. Immediately recognized as a landmark and long-overdue work of scholarship, Gulag is an essential book for anyone who wishes to understand the history of the twentieth century.
About the Author
Anne Applebaum was born in Washington, D.C., received a bachelor’s degree from Yale, and studied at Saint Antony’s College, Oxford, and the London School of Economics on a Marshall scholarship. In 1988, she moved to Poland to work for the Economist, and a few years later became foreign editor, then deputy editor, of the Spectator. Her work has also appeared in the New York Review of Books, the Wall Street Journal, Slate and other British and American publications. She is the author of one previous book, Between East and West: Across the Borderlands of Europe. After living for more than fifteen years in Europe, she joined the editorial board of the Washington Post in 2002 and now lives in Washington, D.C.
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