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The Great Terror Audiobook

The Great Terror: A Reassessment

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Publisher's Summary

The definitive work on Stalin's purges, The Great Terror was universally acclaimed when it first appeared in 1968. While the original volume had relied heavily on unofficial sources, later developments within the Soviet Union provided an avalanche of new material, which Conquest has mined to write this revised and updated edition of his classic work.

Under the light of fresh evidence, it is remarkable how many of Conquest's most disturbing conclusions have been verified. Many details have also been added, including hitherto secret information on the three great "Moscow Trials", the purge of writers and other members of the intelligentsia, life in the labor camps, and many other key matters.

Both a leading Sovietologist and a highly respected poet, Conquest blends profound research with evocative prose to create a compelling and eloquent chronicle of one of the 20th century's most tragic events.

©1990 Robert Conquest; (P)1992 Blackstone Audio, Inc.

What the Critics Say

"[A] terrifying record from the best of all commentators on Stalin's USSR." (Star-Ledger, Newark)
"[A] broad, well-documented portrayal....This remains an essential source." (Library Journal)

What Members Say

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  •  
    Michael Moore Bay Area, CA USA 03-27-13
    Michael Moore Bay Area, CA USA 03-27-13 Member Since 2005

    mcubed33

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    "Stalin's Gangster State"

    It is hard for anyone who has grown up in fortunate circumstances in the West to grasp on a gut level the full horror of the Soviet Union under Stalin. This book lays bare in excruciating detail the workings of an unscrupulous leader who was crude, vicious, vile and ruthless. Unfortunately, he was also clever and resourceful enough to achieve near absolute power in the Soviet Union by 1938. Stalin and those he advanced in the Communist Party knew no bounds. He ordered the murders of former close associates; directed his secret police to extract false confessions from prisoners by torture in order to persecute them in “show trials” or to justify their summary execution after review by a corrupted kangaroo court. On a broader scale his program in the early ‘30s to collectivize agriculture led to massive famines, terrorist shootings and deportations that caused the deaths of millions. Later in the ‘30s the arbitrary arrests and forced confessions of his purges and campaigns against so-called “diversionists, spies, and Trotskyites” led to prison and death for further millions in the now infamous “archipelago” of labor camps.

    The aim in all this was two-fold: eliminate all possible rivals to Stalin for supreme power in the Soviet Union and to force the public into compliance with directives from above through a regime of terror. Apparently, Stalin as well as others in the top echelons of the Bolshevik Party justified these methods to themselves, at least in part, as necessary for the greater good of moving society toward the ideal state envisioned by Marxist-Leninist theory. A criminal clique with vast political power who can justify their murders and cruelties by means of an extremist creed that squelches all qualms of conscience or moral restraint is a dangerous and fearful prospect. That certainly was the case in the Soviet Union from the 1930’s until Stalin’s death in 1953.

    That said, this book reads more like an encyclopedia or a catalogue of crimes rather than a vivid account of individual horror stories. It does a good job of describing and documenting the overall scope of the horrors perpetrated by the Stalin regime and to some extent continued by his successors. It is not, however, great literature in the sense of graphically depicting life under these regimes. “One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich” does that far better.

    7 of 7 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Amazon Customer Prairie Village, KS USA 03-19-12
    Amazon Customer Prairie Village, KS USA 03-19-12 Member Since 2005

    Larry

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    "A voice in the Wilderness"

    Robert Conquest fought a guerilla war against totalitatian communism in the halls of acedemia after the Second Word War. The academinc establishment was giving a free pass to monstrous regimes because they happened to seated on the correct side of the aisle. In the first edition this book was seen as blatantly slanted and misguided. His sources suspect. After the fall of the Soviet and access to the KGB material and other secret archives was available, Mr. Conquest was vindicated, but the event was marked by mostly silence from the left.

    This is an updated edition, taking full advantage of all the material that came to ligtht when the KGB archives were opened. You owe it to yourself to read this book. Remember what can happen when you lose trust in your neighbors and the State holds all the cards. Remember what results when madmen are allowed free reign in the name of 'progress'.

    This is a big book. It needs to be. The sheer scale of what happened is difficult to comprehend, even today.

    Frederick Davidson gives a clear and crisp reading. I can hear Conquest's humanity come through. Nicely done!

    13 of 14 people found this review helpful
  •  
    A Midwesterner in Jersey USA 07-01-09 Listener Since 2005
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    "Compelling and Devestating"

    It's easy to dismiss cold war mindset as "unreasoning paranoia" on the part of Mr. and Mrs. Middle America and opportunistic politicians like Joe McCarthy, but there was a reason why every President from Truman through Reagan regarded the Soviet Union with great suspicion, and that was its own demonstrated cruelty to its own people. Stalin's successors, to their credit, did much to dismantle the terror machine that Stalin and Lenin built, but its shadow still looms over the Russians today.

    26 of 29 people found this review helpful
  •  
    03-05-10
    03-05-10 Listener Since 2009
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    "An Excellent Piece of Research"

    Superb account of one of the most disturbing events of the 20th century

    8 of 9 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Maratrushka 06-27-15
    Maratrushka 06-27-15
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    "Brilliant in every way"
    What made the experience of listening to The Great Terror the most enjoyable?

    Conquest's combination of research and writing are unsurpassed.


    What about Frederick Davidson’s performance did you like?

    Terrific reader, Davidson is one of the greats. His slightly acerbic, sardonic tone was perfect for this important work.


    2 of 2 people found this review helpful
  •  
    joseph a. guthrie 12-09-14 Member Since 2017
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    "Need re-sensitizing to reports of U.S.torture?"
    Would you consider the audio edition of The Great Terror to be better than the print version?

    The Great Terror's strength is it's exhaustive detail. However, if I was attempting to read this book, I expect I would get bogged down. Listening to it carries me along


    Who was your favorite character and why?

    Andrey Vyshinsky, Stalin's chief prosecutor. Exemplar of the banality of evil.


    What does Frederick Davidson bring to the story that you wouldn’t experience if you just read the book?

    His mimicking of voices


    Did you have an extreme reaction to this book? Did it make you laugh or cry?

    Stunned...I had no idea


    Any additional comments?

    No

    2 of 2 people found this review helpful
  •  
    brian 09-10-13
    brian 09-10-13 Member Since 2017
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    "The Extent Revealed."
    What did you love best about The Great Terror?

    The new information it gave.


    What was one of the most memorable moments of The Great Terror?

    I'm afraid I can't pick one.


    Have you listened to any of Frederick Davidson’s other performances before? How does this one compare?

    I hadn't before.


    If you were to make a film of this book, what would the tag line be?

    Let the Truth be Revealed.


    Any additional comments?

    I must have for anyone studying Stalin and the USSR in general.

    1 of 1 people found this review helpful
  •  
    John M. Vittone 08-24-15 Member Since 2005
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    "Cadre"

    CADRE: It's pronounced CODRAY not CODDER. I had to find the print edition to find out what the narrator was saying. The author used the word cadre on almost every page and it was maddeningly mispronounced every time. Minor quibble but it was grating.

    6 of 9 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Celina Nichols Louisville, Kentucky United States 01-08-13
    Celina Nichols Louisville, Kentucky United States 01-08-13 Member Since 2013
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    "Disappointed"
    Would you recommend this book to a friend? Why or why not?

    I would recommend this book with reservations. It does a very god job of explaining things that I saw and heard while I lived in Russia. Jokes finally made sense! On the other hand, as a librarian and a scholar, I had major problems with this work. It lacked objectivity and several facts have since been proven to be false.


    Who would you have cast as narrator instead of Frederick Davidson?

    The narrator mispronounced a lot of words. I found it very difficult to stay in the "story" because I frequently missed pieces while I mentally translated the words into Russian.


    Did The Great Terror inspire you to do anything?

    This book inspired me to look for the primary source materials and to learn more about the various people mentioned.


    Any additional comments?

    This book is strongest when it presents the bare facts of different events and when it quotes official documents. For now I recommend the book, but I am looking for something better.

    5 of 8 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Douglas Atlanta, GA, United States 06-17-17
    Douglas Atlanta, GA, United States 06-17-17 Member Since 2015

    I like to read but listening is better.

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    "The Definitive History of the The Great Purge"

    Despite being written long ago, this is as complete a history of The Purge (or as author Robert Conquest refers to that period, "The Terror") as you will find. Originally written in the late 1960's, Conquest was able to amend the text in the early 1990's following the collapse of the USSR and the "opening of the doors" so to speak to the West.

    This is an updated/revised history, but as Conquest notes in the introduction, the information that came out of the Soviet Union following the end of the Cold War confirmed the claims of the original publication (many of which had been doubted). The author’s intro is humorous in a way, as rather than having someone else talk about how good/important his book is—as is the norm—Conquest himself does so, and reports on all of the people who have told him so.

    This is an amazing history of the period. It is an exhaustive recounting of Stalin’s purges, show trials, and secret assassinations. The book is full of truly staggering numbers and data that will shock Western readers. The book contains literally hundreds of names, and listeners will have to be content with not being able to keep track of everyone mentioned.

    Conquest also offers a very interesting psychological look at Stalin. I believe that after listening to this book in its entirety, many readers may give more credence to the theory that Joseph Stalin was every bit as evil as Adolf Hitler, and perhaps even worse. Remarkably, the purges become repetitive and the listener may become bored for a time. Certainly, many readers will be aghast at the utter pointlessness and senselessness of the purges. If this occurs, I would suggest taking a break from listening and coming back later. For the most part the book is a page-turner in spite of the repetition and seemingly incomprehensible nature of the subject matter.

    This book will make Western readers uncomfortable at times. It’s tough to learn of the Western Allies ignoring and tolerating Russian atrocities during the War. It will be stunning to readers to find out about the amazing number of people in the west who bought the Soviet line about the purges and trials.

    I do feel compelled to let potential listeners know that this book is not by any means an introduction. Readers who are totally unfamiliar with the subject may be overwhelmed. Unfortunately, not much background is given to the subject. This of course can’t be held against Conquest, but for those who are not as familiar with Russian history it may be a bit of a disappointment. Things just sort of begin; for the less informed listener it may not even be clear what year or period of history it is.

    The narrative begins with Lenin writing about who he thinks his successor should be. At first things do not move too fast, which will be good for those who are not super versed on the topic, but that changes fairly soon and we’re bombarded with names. At this point the lack of background and explanation becomes more detrimental if the reader is not already well informed on the subject.

    The name situation is no small issue. Even readers with a decent knowledge of the topic would—I am thinking—know previously only about 15% of the 25 to 30 (if not more) names bandied about by the author within the first few chapters. Of course this is even more of a problem for English readers because the names themselves are unfamiliar, rather than merely the characters. This is as opposed to say, someone who doesn’t know much about the American Civil War, and thus is unfamiliar with Grant, Lee, Jackson, et al but is at least familiar with those common English names, and so will have an easier time keeping them separate.

    In some ways, hearing the names spoken as opposed to reading them may be better for English readers, as Slavic and eastern European names can often look like consonants jumbled together willy-nilly rather than a pronounceable/readable word. But I think for some readers it could be just the opposite. Also, in this particular case I would guess many listeners will have an urge to perhaps keep a list of at least some of the different names and maybe an identifying note in order to get more understanding. In such a case, not being able to see how the word is spelled is a hindrance. My only suggestion is to try and keep track of the beginning of the name, like the first letter or syllable. This may help, but it will be confusing none-the-less. I think you just have to sort of accept that you aren’t going to remember every name and just try and get as much as you can.

    As authors commonly do, Conquest says from the start that certain topics which he has dealt with in detail in other books will be handled more superficially in this book. This is of course appropriate, as this book has a different focus from another. And it’s understandable in terms of an author’s natural inclination to have readers become interested in reading his or her other works.

    However, there are many important topics which set up the subject of this book (The Purge) which are wholly or almost entirely missing from this book. The Romanov dynasty; the czarist system; Nicholas II; the Duma; World War I; the October Revolution; the Civil War—all of these issues are at best only referenced in passing, and at worst neglected all together. It’s not that these topics need to be gone over in detail, but they seem to warrant at least some attention for the sake of background and context.

    The Five Year Plan is one topic which I was disappointed to see glossed over. In speaking about Stalin’s gradual consolidation of power, the author talks about the devastating famines of the early Five Year Plan collectivization period, and says that he covered this period from 1930-33 in his book Harvest of Sorrow, and thus is not going to do cover it again here. However, it would seem that the years 30-33, while not a part of the “The Purge,” were at least part of “The Terror” of Stalinist Russia, so brief mention of it during the part of the book describing Stalin’s rise to power hardly seems sufficient.

    Having said all this, it’s important to note that Conquest’s topic is strictly the period known as “The Great Purge,” so in reality, it makes sense that he deals only superficially with the surrounding years. However, the listener/reader should know going in that this is a history of a very specific period. The war period is dealt with only briefly, Indeed, the period of time from the abrupt end of the purges through Stalin’s death are not really covered in detail. Conquest does offer a nice epilogue concerning the way that Russia has dealt with the legacy of the Stalin period since his death at the end of the book.

    Now on to the narration, which is always crucial for me. We could not ask for a more perfect narrator for this book than Fredrick Davidson. His accent and style help convince the listener, and at some point you will totally forget that the narrator is separate from the writer. For me, that is the highest achievement for any narrator.

    0 of 0 people found this review helpful

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