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August 21, 2010

Book Review: Lenin by Robert Service

by Al Neal

Lenin by Robert Service is an academic biography covering the life and events surrounding Vladimir Ulyanov; better known as Vladimir Lenin, father of the Russian workers revolution. The book begins with the opening chapters focusing mainly on Lenin's family lineage from both his father and mothers sides. This was in my opinion critical, because it revealed to the reader a few unknown facts about Lenin's background covered up by the Soviet government as to forever make him an infallible working class hero. Among things revealed were Lenin's ties to the Jewish community on his mother's side, which makes perfect sense in the context that later in life he worked very closely with the Jewish working class. It also gives us a glimpse at how Lenin came to be brought up in a semi-wealthy environment, thanks to his father's governmental position in education. It should also be mentioned that after the author's introduction, he gives us a complete listing of all the known Ulyanov family members, along with a short list of the variations of names, and nicknames that Lenin had over the years.

As I read this book, not once did I feel overwhelmed with information, the author did a masterful job in making it an interesting read all the way through. Some of the best moments in this book, deal with Lenin's personal family life, and individual traits. But as with any work of history, one has to realize that a lot of what is written, may also be speculation rather than fact; Mr. Service has done a great job explaining what is fact and what is speculation, allowing the reader to decide for themselves based on evidence provided what truly occurred . An example of this can be found when dealing with Lenin's marriage to Nadezdha Konstantinova Krupskaya and their relationship's dynamics. I bring this up due to a lot of speculation behind the marriage; in once case it is mentioned that the marriage was a front done out of convenience due to his exile. The reason for this is at the time before his arrest and exile, there were two women in his life that garnered his attention, but he was unclear in any of his writings and letters who he preferred. Another good possibility for the doubts occurred after his death at which time the Bolshevik government did as much as possible to cover up any indiscretions that might have painted a black mark on his moral character. Throughout the book I was amazed at the fluidity of it and the descriptions of his personal charisma, both positive and negative.

It would be wonderful if I could say that no aspect of this book was negative, but there were a few parts of the book that were. One of the little bits of confusion I found was that at any given point in time within a chapter the author quickly changed from using Lenin's given name to a nickname. There is nothing wrong with showing a reader the variation of names he went by but it was the fact that he did it so often. It almost felt as if you were no longer able to follow what was occurring within the chapter. I will give credit to the author for giving the reader a list of Lenin's known names. But I am sure most readers, including myself would not have the patience to jump back to the list for a reference of the name, especially once you make it halfway through. Other than that little drawback it was very hard to find any other negative criticisms, most of the speculation was given to the reader, his detail when it came to listing his notes and works cited shows us his dedication to the study of Russian History. I also appreciated the details when it came to Lenin's personal relationships with Leon Trotsky and Joseph Stalin, in a way it gave us a glimpse of events to come, which is included in the epilogue that covers the years following Lenin's death and the many changes that occurred following Joseph Stalin's grab of power and the exile of Leon Trotsky; who was looked as to be the next in line following Lenin.

In conclusion, I would recommend this book to readers whether academic or non-academic who want a gripping historical tale to immerse their minds in. What is found within the pages is not only an excellent addition to the many volumes dedicated to Russian history, but also a piece worthy of being used by future historians as a work of reference.

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