Pulitzer Prize, General Nonfiction, 2004
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 recreates 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 20th century.
©2007 Anne Applebaum (P)2012 Brilliance Audio, Inc.
Perhaps parts of it. I will consult a hard copy in order to digest and remember some of the many facts, statistics and quotations cited by the author.
Holocaust histories. Applebaum's history is based on newly opened archival information.
Not if it's a performance of a Russian-related subject. Her style was over-dramatic in inappropriate places, but worse was her horrendous pronunciation of Russian names, places, and gulag terminology. And it was inconsistently horrendous -- she pronounced the same name two or three different ways -- almost always incorrect.
Way too long for that but in places it was definitely hard to stop. The author livens up her chronological historical survey of the prisons and camps with the fascinating, if dismal, tragedies of individuals.
I find other reviewers' negative comments interesting. Applebaum opens her history with an instructive analysis of the contrast between the west’s cultural fascination with Nazi atrocities and its willful ignorance and disregard of Soviet evils. The details of the story are grisly and mind-boggling, but all too true and they deserve attention. The gulag is an important part of 20th century history and it is still relevant in Russia.
Anne Applebaum's books are always informative. She is very smug and thin skinned on Twitter. She has a pro-Polish bias. She has a tendency to over hype lesser known Gulag writers at the expense of Solzhenitsyn. That said I will buy every single book she writes.
Necessary, frightening, sad
"Iron Curtain" by the same author
She ought to have been given at least a one-hour crash course of Russian pronunciation. Many names are simply not identifiable.
That can't be done.
Faced with mindless duty, when an audio book player slips into a rear pocket and mini buds pop into ears, old is made new again.
“Gulag” is an important part of history. No one should forget the brutality, paranoia, and human degradation perpetrated by Joseph Stalin after the revolution of 1917. Anne Applebaum capitalizes on Russian glasnost by opening history’s door to forced labor camps during Stalin’s reign (1917-1953).
“Gulag” is well written and fairly documents a history of gulags in Stalinist Russia. Historians and descendants of gulag prisoners will be enlightened by Applebaum’s research but the book is too long and repetitive for general consumption. One doubts most Russian citizens wish to be reminded of gulags’ enforced labor, starvation, and death–just as most Americans would dislike being reminded of slavery.
Many gulag’ leaders were never punished for their crimes against humanity. Applebaum explains that the purpose of this book is to let the world know gulag-like imprisonment will occur again; if not in Russia, in some other country that succumbs to totalitarian rule, where the worst in human nature reveals itself.
I am enjoying listening to the book-- however the narrator's pronunciation of Russian places and names drives me crazy! I find her rendition of Russian words very distracting in that it is so deliberate, and stilted. I can't stand it.
The story however is very compelling-- a history of Soviet cruelty that the west is woefully unaware of. With recent news events in Ukraine, this book is very revealing and helpful in understanding just why the people of the former Soviet Union do not want to go back under the control of the Russian communist regime.
A overview of the gulag system in the former Soviet Union.
The reader does a fine job-- except with Russian language words. You will see what I mean!
I honestly tried, very hard, to appreciate this large chronological history of the Russian Gulag. However, the content always seemed disjointed and even irrelevant. It just dragged on and on and on. I could take no more and stopped shortly before the end of the first downloaded volume. I came to this history very receptive to the content, but was met by THIS instead of what could have been an interestingly presented chronological history replete with anecdotal commentary.
The narrator was brutally dry, and I felt she was pausing very imperceptibly before pronouncing the Russian vocabulary and placenames. It could be me, but the pattern entered my mind.
I'm a tight-wad, so this purchase was a total waste of money.
I don't think so
I think that a less dramatic style of narration could have improved the overall quality of the book.
Sad account of history to which we are likely to return. In many, many ways, Applebaum told of the Gulag, the psychiatric hospitals, the White Sea canal, Lenin's role, etc. Very detailed, and very moving.
What a master work. Should be mandatory reading globally. I highly recommend and am both amazed and horrified by the stories.
"A tragic history fantastically depicted"
Russia is synonymous with the gulag, before listening to this book, the only thing I knew about Russia was the little I heard on the news "that place far away that you don't want to be", friends would joke about someone moving to middle of nowhere to live in "some gulag". I really didn't appreciate the true horror of that word before reading this book.
The book however is not just about the gulag, these places have defined Russia itself and its people. There is a saying that "the people get the government they deserve", and this book really brings that to life. These horrific things could not have occurred without the cooperation of the population, its as if a person woke up one day and suddenly decided that it would be a good idea to cut off their own hand for no good reason. The people colluded with the government to criminalize and commit unspeakable acts on themselves.
There is a lot of humor but of course very dark, how could it not be? All of human behavior is laid bare; the often graphically depicted debasing, grisly and degrading conditions that bring out different reactions. Mostly and naturally people will debase themselves and attempt to do that to others around them or commit suicide since these places are so terrible, some can be stoic and bear an extraordinarily frightful set of conditions with apparent nonchalance and indifference, others still are heroic either tragically or successfully. It also shows what happens in a situation with no controls and people start simply behaving with abject depravity.
This is a no-holds barred retelling of a tragic history and it is baffling that some Russians look back at the leaders during this period and put them on a pedestal; in terms of the number of people killed as a direct result it makes Hitler look like a bumbling amateur.
It could be argued that the gulag has had a greater effect in shaping the Russian people than the horrors of Hitler's concentration camps had on the Jews, in the west we just don't really hear much about it other than "its a dreadful place".
Why only four stars? I felt that the book was too long for the material it depicted, it was the laws of diminishing returns as you get towards the end and there was over repetition of themes but I can forgive this because it can be difficult to write a complete work on a topic so massive and yet relatively unknown. Also the value in terms of relieving one's ignorance is absolutely worth the time investment.
If you have any interest in politics, history, human behavior, or want to appreciate some of what has shaped Russia, YOU MUST READ OR LISTEN TO THIS BOOK!
"Worthy but not riveting"
This book came very well reviewed and won prizes, but I found 27 hours about the Gulags a bit of a slog. It did say this on the tin so I only have myself to blame.
The history of the gulags has been neglected compared to all the literature on the unique event that is the Holocaust, so there is a need for this book. It will be valuable to future authors, but it is not an easy listen. I tended to chip away at it in small bits which worked OK, but it didn't work for me for longer sessions.
"Very comprehensive and well written"
A very depressing and yet fascinating book. Very well written, and well read - it didn't feel like a 20+ hours book. Although shame that the lector struggles with the Slavic surnames. There seems to be a small mistake in my version - the Soviet invasion of Poland took place 17th of September, not 7th.
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