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Publisher's Summary

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.

What listeners say about Gulag

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    5 out of 5 stars
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    5 out of 5 stars

Nice compliment to Solzhenitsyn

Solzhenitsyn's Gulag Archepelago is better because it gives you the soul and first hand account and is written by a great master--an enduring legacy worth even of re-reading. A master storyteller who can make you cry and cringe and almost relive the whole ghastly tragedy is the sort of history that plants deeply the will that this should never happen again. But Applebaum's account is good history and fills in many details from a variety of sources closed to Solzhenitsyn. in fact, Solzhenitsyn hoped that someone would do exactly this, and calls for it in his own magnum opus. I can see why Applebaum won the Pulizter prize.--well deserved. Applebaum leaves us with the cold assurance that such totalitarianism will most certainly happen again. Let's prove her wrong, even if our struggle is vanity and chasing after the sun. Imagine, Stalin with FB, Google, Microsoft, cloud drives and Twitter to hack, and complex algorithms to build cases against all who love freedom.

51 people found this helpful

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Great book, with serious narration problems

Most of the narration was great, however I am shocked that there was no russian-speaking advisor to help the narrator pronounce the Russian names and words. Clearly, this narrator put zero effort to try to pronounce any of the Russian words even close to what they should sound like. She butchered them so badly that for a native Russian speaker it was absolutely torturous to hear. There were times where she mispronounced the same word in three different ways in the same sentence. If I had known about this, I would have volunteered my time to help her with the pronunciation. This oversight is absolutely inexcusable.

47 people found this helpful

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Pronunciation is bad

The narrator cannot correctly pronounce Russian names at all. For a book written by an author as well versed in Eastern Europe, the narrator insulted her work by butchering pronunciation to the my great displeasure. If you're reading this narrator, Bukhta Nakhodka is pronounced Boo-(kh makes a hard h) -ta Na-khodka not Bookta nak hotka, the ship Dzurma is pronounced as Jur (like in jury) -ma, not the dezurema. Such butchering of names really killed much of the experience for this otherwise great book. Other than this, the narrator did ok.

19 people found this helpful

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Torture of Russian names

If you could sum up Gulag in three words, what would they be?

Necessary, frightening, sad

What other book might you compare Gulag to and why?

"Iron Curtain" by the same author

What didn’t you like about Laural Merlington’s performance?

She ought to have been given at least a one-hour crash course of Russian pronunciation. Many names are simply not identifiable.

Was this a book you wanted to listen to all in one sitting?

That can't be done.

14 people found this helpful

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Great book, annoying narrator

This is an impressive, deeply researched book and anyone interested in history should get it. Five stars.

But how could the producers of an audiobook about the Soviet concentration-camp system not get a narrator who has at least a passing familiarity with the pronunciation of Russian words and names? Her voice is not unpleasant and she otherwise does a creditable job of reading, but I don't think she pronounces a single Russian name properly -- sometimes her pronunciation was so bad that it wasn't clear what she was saying at all. Seems like before undertaking a project like this, you might want to look up the pronunciation of Felix Dzerzhinsky, Lavrentiy Beria, the city of Lvov, etc. -- the narrator must have worked overtime to get the pronunciations so wrong.

13 people found this helpful

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Riveting story, flawed performance

Would you listen to Gulag again? Why?

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.

What other book might you compare Gulag to and why?

Holocaust histories. Applebaum's history is based on newly opened archival information.

Would you be willing to try another one of Laural Merlington’s performances?

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.

Was this a book you wanted to listen to all in one sitting?

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.

Any additional comments?

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.

16 people found this helpful

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informative to a degree

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.

14 people found this helpful

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GULAG

“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.

5 people found this helpful

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An Assault on Solzhenitsyn

Applebaum spends more time critiquing Solzhenitsyn than she spends on the human story of the Russian gulag. This book is written like a textbook and the monotone narration only makes it more boring.

4 people found this helpful

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Superficial and repetitive treatment of the subjec

The narrator's labored pronunciations of Russian names and words makes it difficult to listen to this audiobook.

4 people found this helpful

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  • Marcus
  • 04-10-13

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.  

18 people found this helpful

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  • Ozzymandias
  • 09-26-13

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!

13 people found this helpful

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  • Mikolaj
  • 07-10-15

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.

5 people found this helpful

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  • B
  • 05-17-19

Incredible. Shocking.

I’ll admit that my initial knowledge of the Gulags was highly limited at best. This book hits hard. You won’t be able to walk away from reading this without a profound sense of gratitude for the luxuries and rights that we enjoy in the West and take for granted so badly.

Incredible historical document.

We must never forget the potential depths of human depravity and cruelty that occurred during the 20th century.

4 people found this helpful

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  • Elizabeth
  • 09-29-18

Heavy going, but such an important book

It took a while for me to get into this, but, once I understood the rhythm it took it was fine. I stopped every so often because it gives you much to absorb and ponder and if nothing else is a warning from history about how easily we can be controlled and our lives destroyed. It will haunt me for a while yet, the epilogue on it own is superbly written and stands a testament of why these books need to be written and why we need to learn what they have to teach us .

2 people found this helpful

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  • Dan Rose
  • 05-22-17

welcome to the Soviet Gulag

This is a very informative listen, particularly if you are looking for an introduction to the gulag network.


Anne Applebaum's book is a detailed history of the Soviet gulag system. Stalin in particular used gulag's as a form of slave labour which covered most areas of the economy ranging from logging to coal mining and everything in between.


Although the gulag system reached it's peak in the late 40's to early 50's it did not end until the late eighties. It should be said the over decades that gulags operated many thousands of Soviet citizens were affected by the gulag either as an inmate or a relative of one.


This book is a great introduction to the subject and could open the door to other authors who write on the gulag 

2 people found this helpful

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  • Tibor Sarkozi
  • 08-11-20

Very long

Although, i enjoy rather longer books this one was a struggle to finish. It is not bad per se however, it could have been shorter as i found myself often drifting away. All in all, i appreciate amount of work author had to put in and if you are interested in subject this book have a lot of information.

1 person found this helpful

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  • Anonymous User
  • 12-13-19

Fascinating, detailed, brutal

I respect Anne Applebaum’s research a lot, this is a detailed account that can be a lot to comprehend in parts but is conclusive and well written. Well worth a read even if you only read the conclusion. Very insightful, thank you. The audio quality was clean and clear but some of the pronunciations seemed a little odd to me.

1 person found this helpful

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  • Sean Olson
  • 08-30-19

Fascinating

Worth the effort in every way. Long and sometimes hard to ploughing on but worthwhile because it paints such an amazing picture of such a recent past.

1 person found this helpful

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  • C R Dempsey
  • 07-30-21

Superb

Superb history of the Gulags, brilliantly written and researched. Essential history that everyone should read/listen to.

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  • Emanuel Eliot Blake
  • 06-03-21

Wonderful book, dreary narration

This is a gripping, immaculately researched and beautifully written book. Sadly, the narration is extremely flat and the narrator seems to pause before every Russian place and name, which is extremely disconcerting. I'm very glad I finished the book, but it was definitely a struggle to keep going at times simply because of the narration. My family would always complain when I put it on because it was so irritating to listen to.

1 person found this helpful

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  • Anonymous User
  • 08-15-20

Simply brilliant

I’m almost lost for words when writing this.
The book is just so profound and raw.
An absolutely I credible piece of history literature, exploring not only the gulags and the Soviets, but humanity at its core.
I cannot recommend this book enough