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Publisher's Summary

A fascinating biography of the man who helped launch the Russian Revolution, which uses the personal - including Lenin's key relationships with the women in his life - to shed light on the political<./b>

Since the birth of Soviet Russia, Vladimir Lenin has been viewed as a controversial figure, both revered and reviled for his rigid political ideals. Still, he continues to fascinate as a man who made history and who created the first Communist state, a model that would later be imitated by nearly half the countries in the world.

Drawing on new research, including the diaries, memoirs, and personal letters of both Lenin and his friends, Victor Sebestyen's unique biography - the first in English in nearly two decades - is not only a political examination of one of the most important historical figures of the 20th century but a portrait of Lenin the man. Unexpectedly, Lenin was someone who loved nature, hunting, and fishing and could identify hundreds of species of plants, a despotic ruler whose closest ties and friendships were with women. The long-suppressed story of the complex love triangle Lenin had with his wife, Nadezhda Krupskaya, and his mistress and comrade, Inessa Armand, reveals a different character from the coldly one-dimensional figure of the legend.

Sebestyen also reveals Lenin as a ruthless and single-minded despot and a "product of his time and place: a violent, tyrannical and corrupt Russia". He seized power in a coup, promised a revolution, a socialist utopia for the people, offered simple solutions to complex issues, and constantly lied; in fact what he created was more "a mirror image of the Romanov autocracy". He authorized the deaths of thousands of people and created a system based on the idea that political terror against opponents was justified for the greater ideal. One of his old comrades who had once admired him said he "desired the good...but created evil". And that would include his invention of Stalin, who would take Lenin's system of the gulag and the secret police to new heights.

Bringing Lenin to life for the first time as a complex human being, Sebestyen casts a new light on the Russian Revolution, one of the great turning points of modern history.

©2017 Victor Sebestyen (P)2017 Random House Audio

Critic Reviews

"[An] excellent, original, and compelling portrait of Lenin as man and leader." (Simon Sebag Montefiore, author of The Romanovs)
"A vivid and rounded picture of Lenin the man. Serious and deeply reserved, the great revolutionary had few friends but loved at least two women deeply, and at the same time. Lenin's life has been told before, but Sebestyen brings to the task a gift for narrative and for describing his rich cast of characters." [Margaret MacMillan, The Oldie (UK)]

What members say

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  • Jim
  • Holland, TX, United States
  • 01-04-18

The Wrong Faction Won

Sebestyen’s emphasis is on narrative, telling a story rather than giving multitudinous obscure facts. He has new details from Soviet archives but they don’t derail the biography. Good for him. I now understand the difference between Menshevik and Bolshevik factions: the former wanted popularist socialism after the Tsar fell that would be nationally participatory, the latter wanted strict central control by a committee that would force true communism. The masses are NOT revolutionaries, said Lenin; the most revolutionary thing they ever do is form labor unions. A cadre of iron-willed professional revolutionaries must take power to direct everything and keep the transformation from socialism to communism on track. True to his theories, Lenin instituted tight and frightful central control after 1917, ordering thousands of foot-draggers executed. Bolshevik committees chose what was best for the masses and pushed their choices through at whatever the cost in suffering. Ends justifies means. Sebestyen portraits Lenin as a generally decent and often kind man when interacting person-to-person: brilliant since childhood, very loyal to friends who stayed loyal to him, living simply, having the common touch speaking to workers, polite, personally tidy, playing with children, prone to tantrums and grudges, a fanatic socialist, near nervous breakdowns several times from revolutionary zeal. This man who was all that ordered the deaths of hundreds of thousands he perceived as in the way of the workers’ state, although he never witnessed the killings personally. The sight would have unhinged him. Nevertheless, necessary executions, Lenin preached, are how revolutions are sustained to bring change. The true revolutionary realizes this and steels himself to what he has to do—or, in Lenin’s case, what he told others to do. Sebestyen writes that, regretfully, this horrible tenant marked Soviet Communism for decades—all traceable to Vladimir Ilyich Ulyanov’s original thinking on seizing and maintaining control to serve the overall good. I enjoyed this book. If this era of history interests you I recommend buying it. It’s 20 hours long so figure 2 weeks to get through it.

5 of 5 people found this review helpful

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Excellent Bio of a Key Figure of the 20th Century

This is an excellent bio of Vladimir Lenin, one of the key figures of the twentieth century. Lenin was a fascinating figure, who succeeded against incredible odds in creating the first Communist nation the world had ever known. Lenin’s entire adult life was unwaveringly focused by his rigid ideology and personal sense of historical destiny. As a virtual dictator in Russia in following the 1917 revolution, he could be ruthless and murderous. Yet Lenin was occasionally capable of compassion and even possessed a sense of humor of sorts. The author does a fine job of fleshing out Lenin as a person, as well as a historical figure. The book provides a closeup view of the Russian Revolution, the left-wing revolutionaries who made it happen, and the chaotic early days of the Soviet Union. We also learn of Lenin’s relationships with those closest to him, including his comrades, his mistress, his wife, and his mother, as well as Lenin’s hobbies and interests. The Berlin Wall has fallen and only a handful of Communist still remain in the world. Yet Lenin still seems like a modern individual, and his ideas about economics and class conflict remain germane to the controversies of the present day. The narrator does a very good job, adding drama where called for and providing different voices for the historical figures who are quoted from time to time. Highly recommended.

8 of 9 people found this review helpful

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  • Richard
  • Fair Lawn, NJ, United States
  • 12-20-17

Like a People Magazine bio of Lenin

Interesting history of Russia during Lenin’s life, but the book was disappointing in its almost complete lack of addressing or insight into the political principles and objectives of Lenin and how they differed (or not) from other historical characters and eras that were discussed in the book

4 of 5 people found this review helpful

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Great book. Great reader.

A rare combination of great writing and great reader. You will leave understanding Lenin -- and therefore why Communism became synonymous with genocide and totalitarianism.

1 of 1 people found this review helpful

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Great primer and introduction to the Soviet History

Victor Sebestyen paints a broad and fairly objective portrait of the man Lenin. He neither deifies him or slanders Lenin, put provides an accurate account of the man Lenin with his particular quirks, failings and strengths. The author squarely places Lenin within his time and life of a Russian revolutionary in the last declining years of the obsolete, absolute monarchy of the Romanov Dynasty and how he directly and inadvertently established a « communist » dictatorship of the « proletariat », which was a façade for the absolute monarchy it replaced.

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  • Andy
  • Westport, CT, United States
  • 03-06-18

Great overview of the Lenin and the Bolsheviks

This is a very well-written and informative book about the events that transpired in Lenin's lifetime, and a glimpse into his personal life and psychology.

The author is set up with the inherent problem of making the book about Lenin, while also explaining the complex historical events he was a part of. He mostly succeeds, but I was hoping for deeper analyses of Lenin's psyche and motivations.

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Worth the time

Would you listen to Lenin again? Why?

Yes. This a very interesting and thorough book. I learned a great deal about the history of Russia and socialism.

What other book might you compare Lenin to and why?

I haven't read any other books on the history of Russia.

What about Jonathan Aris’s performance did you like?

Very good pace and tone. Easy to digest.

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

The cult

Any additional comments?

Good listen if you are interested in the ill's of socialism and the history of Russia.

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Good

But not great - think a bit more depth on what drove Lenin to how he ruled and why could have been included

1 of 3 people found this review helpful

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Lenin

not much is known about Lenin. This seems to be a very objective book . well narrated

0 of 1 people found this review helpful

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A dispassionate account of a cruel misguided man

Lenin cared about nothing but power and no one whom he did not know personally. It is a very grim story without remorse or redemption.

1 of 6 people found this review helpful