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Just like that

Sheila Fitzpatrick: Second-Guessing Stalin, 5 April 2018

Stalin, Vol. II: Waiting for Hitler, 1928-41 
by Stephen Kotkin.
Allen Lane, 1154 pp., £35, October 2017, 978 0 7139 9945 7
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... Stephen Kotkin​ ’s Stalin is all paradox. He is pockmarked and physically unimpressive, yet charismatic; a gambler, but cautious; undeterred by the prospect of mass bloodshed, but with no interest in personal participation. Cynical about everyone else’s motives, he himself ‘lived and breathed ideals’. Suspicious of ‘fancy-pants intellectuals’, he was an omnivorous reader whose success in getting the Russian creative intelligentsia into line was ‘uncanny ...

Whose person is he?

Sheila Fitzpatrick: ‘Practising Stalinism’, 20 March 2014

Practising Stalinism: Bolsheviks, Boyars and the Persistence of Tradition 
by J. Arch Getty.
Yale, 359 pp., £30, September 2013, 978 0 300 16929 4
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... Arch Getty​ spent a great many hours in Soviet libraries and archives (presumably during the 1980s), trying to understand Stalinism, studying its institutions and formal procedures, reading resolutions and exegeses that explained, in the characteristic self-satisfied tone of Soviet bureaucratic documentation, that the wise decisions of the Party’s Central Committee and Council of Ministers had been duly disseminated, hailed by the public, and implemented ...

Going Native

Sheila Fitzpatrick: The Maisky Diaries, 3 December 2015

The Maisky Diaries: Red Ambassador to the Court of St James’s 1932-43 
edited by Gabriel Gorodetsky, translated by Tatiana Sorokina and Oliver Ready.
Yale, 584 pp., £25, September 2015, 978 0 300 18067 1
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... There​ is a striking photograph of Ambassador Maisky, elegantly dressed in a three-piece suit, balding on top as distinguished diplomats often are, standing in front of a life-size portrait of Stalin, who is wearing a simple army jacket. The photo is from the late 1930s, probably taken after Maisky was rebuked by Moscow for not keeping enough Stalin icons in his London embassy ...

Almost Lovable

Sheila Fitzpatrick: What Stalin Built, 30 July 2015

Landscapes of Communism: A History through Buildings 
by Owen Hatherley.
Allen Lane, 613 pp., £25, June 2015, 978 1 84614 768 5
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... Back in the day​ , everyone knew that Stalinist architecture was hateful. The Poles notoriously loathed the Palace of Culture and Science that was the gift to war-ruined Warsaw from the Soviet elder brother or – as the Poles saw it – master. Foreigners and sophisticated Russians sneered at Moscow’s wedding-cake buildings and lamented the old Tverskaya that had undergone a Stalinist remake as Gorky Street ...

Obscene Child

Sheila Fitzpatrick: Mozart, 5 July 2007

Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart: A Biography 
by Piero Melograni, translated by Lydia Cochrane.
Chicago, 300 pp., £19, December 2006, 0 226 51956 2
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Mozart: The First Biography 
by Franz Niemetschek, translated by Helen Mautner.
Berghahn, 77 pp., £17.50, November 2006, 1 84545 231 3
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Mozart’s Women: His Family, His Friends, His Music 
by Jane Glover.
Pan, 406 pp., £7.99, April 2006, 0 330 41858 0
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... As Saul Bellow once wrote, we have a problem talking about Mozart. It is the fear of having to contemplate transcendence and being embarrassed by something for which we have no vocabulary. To make matters worse, Mozart composed sublime music but, in contrast to Beethoven, had the wrong personality for sublimity, being prone to clowning and lavatory humour ...

Pessimism and Boys

Sheila Fitzpatrick: The diary of a Soviet schoolgirl, 6 May 2004

The Diary of a Soviet Schoolgirl 1932-37 
by Nina Lugovskaya, translated by Joanne Turnbull.
Glas, 215 pp., £8.99, October 2003, 9785717200653
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... To hell with the new society! It’s only Gennady who can get wrapped up in it and spend hours reading what Lenin and Stalin said and about the achievements of our Soviet Union. Fourteen-year-old Nina Lugovskaya wrote this in her diary on 2 May 1933 (Gennady was a classmate). Four years later, the secret police confiscated the diary and arrested its author ...

Many Promises

Sheila Fitzpatrick: Prokofiev in Russia, 14 May 2009

The People’s Artist: Prokofiev’s Soviet Years 
by Simon Morrison.
Oxford, 491 pp., £18.99, November 2008, 978 0 19 518167 8
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... It is generally assumed that Soviet composers like Prokofiev and Shostakovich were forced by the regime to simplify their style and write ‘life-affirming’ music that conformed to the canons of Socialist Realism. Most people think this was bad for their music, though a few hold the contrary. Now comes the shocker from Simon Morrison, a Princeton musicologist: Prokofiev wanted to write simple, life-affirming music because he was a Christian Scientist ...

What’s Left?

Sheila Fitzpatrick: The Russian Revolution, 30 March 2017

October: The Story of the Russian Revolution 
by China Miéville.
Verso, 358 pp., £18.99, May 2017, 978 1 78478 280 1
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The Russian Revolution 1905-1921 
by Mark D. Steinberg.
Oxford, 388 pp., £19.99, February 2017, 978 0 19 922762 4
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Russia in Revolution: An Empire in Crisis, 1890 to 1928 
by S.A. Smith.
Oxford, 455 pp., £25, January 2017, 978 0 19 873482 6
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The Russian Revolution: A New History 
by Sean McMeekin.
Basic, 496 pp., $30, May 2017, 978 0 465 03990 6
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Historically Inevitable? Turning Points of the Russian Revolution 
by Tony Brenton.
Profile, 364 pp., £25, June 2016, 978 1 78125 021 1
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... For Eric Hobsbawm​ , the Russian Revolution – which occurred, as it happens, in the year of his birth – was the central event of the 20th century. Its practical impact on the world was ‘far more profound and global’ than that of the French Revolution a century earlier: for ‘a mere thirty to forty years after Lenin’s arrival at the Finland Station in Petrograd, one third of humanity found itself living under regimes directly derived from the [revolution] … and Lenin’s organisational model, the Communist Party ...

People and Martians

Sheila Fitzpatrick, 24 January 2019

The Great Terror: Stalin’s Purge of the Thirties 
by Robert Conquest.
Bodley Head, 576 pp., £20, November 2018, 978 1 84792 568 8
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The Harvest of Sorrow: Soviet Collectivisation and the Terror-Famine 
by Robert Conquest.
Bodley Head, 412 pp., £20, November 2018, 978 1 84792 567 1
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... They say [disapprovingly] that we were Cold Warriors. Yes, and a bloody good show, too. A lot of people weren’t Cold Warriors – and so much the worse for them.Robert Conquest, quoted by Jay Nordlinger in National Review, 9 December 2002There are rules​ for writing about the enemy in wartime. You must never forget that your side and his are at war, and that your side is right and his is wrong ...

Whatever Made Him

Sheila Fitzpatrick: The Bauman Dichotomy, 10 September 2020

Bauman: A Biography 
by Izabela Wagner.
Polity, 510 pp., £25, June, 978 1 5095 2686 4
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... Do we need​ biographies of public intellectuals? Is knowledge about a scholar’s life relevant to an understanding of their work? The Polish-Jewish sociologist Zygmunt Bauman thought not, and sedulously avoided the personal in his books and essays. His biographer, Izabela Wagner, obviously disagrees: she seems to find Bauman’s life more interesting than his books, which are identified and briefly summarised as they emerge but not analysed in detail ...

To King’s Cross Station

Sheila Fitzpatrick: Lenin’s London, 7 January 2021

The Spark That Lit the Revolution: Lenin in London and the Politics That Changed the World 
by Robert Henderson.
I.B.Tauris, 270 pp., £17.99, March 2020, 978 1 78453 862 0
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... Lenin​ liked London. He arrived in April 1902, not long after his release from Siberian exile, and spent about a year in the city before moving on to Geneva, returning for several briefer visits over the next decade. Like a good tourist, he explored the East End on foot and investigated the rest of the city from the top of a bus. He went to local workers’ meetings he had found out about from announcements in the newspapers and listened to Irish orators in Hyde Park ...

The Old Man

Sheila Fitzpatrick: Trotsky, 22 April 2010

Trotsky: A Biography 
by Robert Service.
Macmillan, 600 pp., £9.99, April 2010, 978 0 330 43969 5
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Stalin’s Nemesis: The Exile and Murder of Leon Trotsky 
by Bertrand Patenaude.
Faber, 472 pp., £9.99, March 2010, 978 0 571 22876 8
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... When Isaac Deutscher was writing his great three-volume biography in the 1950s, Leon Trotsky was a name to conjure with. The first volume came out in 1954, a year after Stalin’s death and 14 years after Trotsky’s murder in Mexico by Stalin’s agent. The epic battle between the two antagonists was still fresh in people’s minds; all over the world, small stubborn groups of ‘Trotskyites’ fought the Stalinists in official Communist Parties ...

Who gets the dacha?

Sheila Fitzpatrick: Marshal Zhukov, 24 January 2013

Stalin’s General: The Life of Georgy Zhukov 
by Geoffrey Roberts.
Icon, 375 pp., £25, August 2012, 978 1 84831 442 9
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... Of the Soviet Union’s World War Two military leaders, Marshal Zhukov was the most celebrated, both at home and in the West. Broad-faced, stocky, plain-spoken with a touch of swagger, Georgy Konstantinovich epitomised Russian solidity and resolve. The commander with the golden touch, Stalin’s favourite, he seemed to be everywhere during the war: stopping the Germans entering Leningrad in the autumn of 1941; commanding the defence of Moscow; co-ordinating Soviet forces in the battle of Stalingrad; heading the westward drive on the Belorussian Front in 1944; taking Berlin and accepting the German surrender in May 1945 ...

The Rise and Fall of the Baggy-Trousered Barbarians

Sheila Fitzpatrick: Soviet historiography, 19 August 2004

Vixi: Memoirs of a Non-Belonger 
by Richard Pipes.
Yale, 264 pp., £19.95, January 2004, 0 300 10165 1
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Adventures in Russian Historical Research: Reminiscences of American Scholars from the Cold War to the Present 
edited by Samuel Baron and Cathy Frierson.
Sharpe, 272 pp., £18.50, June 2003, 9780765611970
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... Richard Pipes, Russian historian at Harvard and sometime member of President Reagan’s National Security Council, is famous for his hatred of Communism. He doesn’t like Russia much, either. Nor does he particularly care for most Russia and Soviet experts, regarding them as given to romanticising and whitewashing their subject. Worst of all are ‘revisionist’ Soviet historians in the United States and Britain, whose effort to write ‘history from below’, starting in the 1970s, he has denounced as wrongheaded and politically suspect ...

I sailed away with a mighty push, never to return

Sheila Fitzpatrick: Jews in the Revolution, 17 March 2005

The Jewish Century 
by Yuri Slezkine.
Princeton, 438 pp., £18.95, October 2004, 0 691 11995 3
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... This book changed my sense of the big story of Soviet history as well as the big story of the Jews in the modern world.* Chapter 4, in particular, the interpretative history of Jews in the Soviet Union (and the United States and Israel), which takes up almost half the book, should be compulsory reading for everyone who has ever expressed an opinion on the subject ...

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