Lenin

The Man, the Dictator, and the Master of Terror
Narrated by: Jonathan Aris
Length: 20 hrs and 3 mins
4.5 out of 5 stars (334 ratings)

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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)]

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  • Overall
    3 out of 5 stars
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    3 out of 5 stars
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    3 out of 5 stars

Lenin totally took an extra piece of that cake.

It's a strange idea that a writer would sit down to devote years of their life to writing a book on someone they despise so much. It's not just the hatred of socialism or the USSR which I expect, but Jonathan Aris goes out of his way to veer away from any story he's telling to elaborate on whether Lenin was staying in a room that was nice or if he had a meal that tasted good. Every little detail of his shoes or clothes or food or comfort in transportation is noted, as if to say "see, this man who advocated for a a system with no class system had luxuries in his life". This is, of course, a tired ideological argument that has nothing to do with socialism. Socialism has never been for any socialist about giving more to the poor. It's about restructuring society so there are no poor, where every human being has a say and control over their life. Lenin could have stuffed himself with delicious food and lived in obscene luxury and it would not be in anyway a hypocrisy. It doesn't matter how the USSR actually turned out, how Lenin lived, how rough and autocratic the soviet system turned out to be. None of these have anything to do with how much comfortable Lenin was in exile. There is no hypocrisy there, no matter how much these bad historians with an ideological axe to grind want to make it. You don't have to like Lenin. You don't have to be a socialist. You don't have support socialism or socialist states. You can abhor the USSR. Just do history. Be a historian. Write a history of your subject without constantly injecting your own issues into the history.

8 people found this helpful

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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

11 people found this 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 people found this helpful

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    4 out of 5 stars

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.

10 people found this helpful

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Outstanding!

Outstanding portrayal of Lenin as a human being as well as a power-hungry, ruthless utopian ideologue.

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Solid

As a general rule, I try to take note of the general ideological persuasion of an author, especially when it conforms a little too neatly with my own biases. Truth be told, i don’t know much about Sebestyen, though the dedication to Robert Conquest at the very end, along with some level of association with the Hoover Institute, should be enough to prepare the reader for a biography that leans negative on the subject matter.

So yes, this is a biography critical of the man, and told from a western and anti-communist perspective. Nonetheless, the book reads like a factual account, and is very engaging. Bottom line: I learned a lot about Lenin, which was the point.

And he was a complicated man indeed. Undeniably intelligent, but inflexible. Power hungry, but idealistic. Driven by concern for his people, but totally lacking in empathy. On this point, I was reminded of a character quirk highlighted by Dostoevsky in The Brothers Karamazov: the more a person is eaten up by love of mankind and revolutionary zeal, the more he intolerable he finds individual people. Perhaps Stalin was hinting at something similar deterioration of empathy when he said that the death of one is a tragedy and the death of millions is a statistic (if he even did say that). Lenin also had this trait in spades - his sister was apparently shocked at his indifference toward charitable work geared toward alleviating the suffering from a famine as pittance compared to revolution.

A particularly horrifying episode was the way in which Lenin dispensed with the Romanov’s, children and all. It just goes to show that those who do make history commit acts which, to the rest of us proletariats, are horrifying.

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Outstanding

Jonathan Aris narrates Victor Sebestyen’s biography on Lenin with clear diction and with a well modulated tone. He also handles the Russian pronunciations smoothly and in a commanding way. I wouldn’t mind listening to him narrating more Audible books and less of the dreaded John Lee who is cropping up in more and more Audible books I use.

This is an absorbing book on a twentieth century revolutionary and dictator that changed the course of Russia and the USSR and the history of the world from 1917-1989. Very readable and accessible, it captures the circumstances of Lenin’s time and his movement and moment at that place to capture power. Anyone interested in the current state of affairs with Putin and the US and the world would find this book timely and appealing.

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Excellent Biography!

Excellent information and narration. Really enjoyed the detail. Felt I got to know Lenin and the people who surrounded him. Honestly couldn’t put it down.
Narration further enhanced this book. Highly recommend.

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Interesting history

This is an interesting history that neither hide nor embellishes the truth. It has so many important details it was glossed over in my history classes about many things are only recently known. Great achievement!

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A true master

This book portrayed Lenin's live in such details that it made one feel like they were there.