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.
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.
"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.
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