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Former People: The Final Days of the Russian Aristocracy

3.95  ·  Rating Details  ·  738 Ratings  ·  145 Reviews
Epic in scope, precise in detail, and heart-breaking in its human drama,Former People is the first book to recount the history of the aristocracy caught up in the maelstrom of the Bolshevik Revolution and the creation of Stalin’sRussia. Filled with chilling tales of looted palaces and burning estates, of desperate flights in the night from marauding peasants and Red Army s ...more
Hardcover, 496 pages
Published October 2nd 2012 by Farrar, Straus and Giroux (first published October 1st 2012)
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(showing 1-30 of 2,705)
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Nancy Oakes
Jan 06, 2013 Nancy Oakes rated it it was amazing
Shelves: history
I'm not so sure why people are so negative about this book, but I found it to be an extremely well written, captivating and eye opening account of the end of a class of people and how they struggled to adapt just to survive.

As always, stay here for the short discussion; for a longer one move on over to my online reading journal by clicking here.

At the center of this book are two families, the Sheremetevs and the Golitsyns. Count Sergei Sheremetev (1844-1918) descended from a line of aristocrat
Dec 20, 2012 Daniel rated it it was amazing
Shelves: history
Smith has written an interesting book which manages to both entertain and captivate the reader. I literally could not put it down. I would recommend this book to anyone interested in history, Russia or the Cold War. I am even planning on suggesting that the Russian history professor at my college incorporate the book into his course on the Cold War.
K. Redman
Mar 08, 2013 K. Redman rated it it was ok
Information overload! I consider myself to be erudite and scholarly, but this was like reading someone's thesis. The book takes a truly fascinating subject and makes it dry. Although there were family trees in the front, it was difficult to keep track of the different family members and time periods as things skipped around making everything disorienting. The research was meticulous, but it was a difficult read, I was hoping for something that was accurate but told the overarching story of this ...more
Edwin Mcallister
Mar 30, 2015 Edwin Mcallister rated it really liked it
It's interesting to read a history of the Russian revolution that does not focus on the pre-Revolutionary excesses of the Russian nobility. Smith's view of the Russian peasantry who murdered two million "class enemies" in the years after the war is pretty grim - ignorant, angry, dirty, sadistic. He has almost nothing good to say about Lenin, who despite being born into a noble family himself, was very explicit about the need to use state power to murder "former people," those the Bolsheviks deem ...more
Dec 16, 2012 Louise rated it it was amazing
The fate of the Romanovs after the revolution has been well covered but that of the other nobles has not. This book is the first that I know of to fill that gap. It profiles the Sheremetev and Golitsyn Families. Both had great wealth and for many generations were close to the tzars. Their fate helps to tell the story of early 20th century Russia.

The book begins with a list of family members, genealogy charts and some excellent maps. At first, I flipped back to these as I read, but given the many
Margaret Sankey
May 11, 2013 Margaret Sankey rated it really liked it
Haunting reconstruction of the chaotic and prolonged expropriation of stuff and crushing of the former Czarist aristocracy by the Bolsheviks. Using surviving documents, Soviet records and interviews with remaining family members in North America and Russia, Smith illuminates 1917-1935 through two families, the Sheremetevs and the Golitsyns, as they attempt to navigate the new world of Revolutionary Russia. He gives enough background that you know why the peasants want to kill them and destroy ho ...more
Mar 15, 2014 Emily rated it liked it
Shelves: nonfiction, 2014, history
This book opens by telling us that "Russian nobles were one of the first groups subjected to a brand of political violence that became a hallmark of the past century" and the author uses the Sheremetev and Golitsyn families to illustrate the wide variety of experiences of the former nobility, ranging from execution, to exile in the U.S. as a successful businessman, to moving in and out of the gulags multiple times during the decades between 1917 and 1945. The most striking thing was the way the ...more
Elizabeth K.
Jan 25, 2013 Elizabeth K. rated it really liked it
Shelves: 2013-new-reads
I confess when I first picked this up at the library, I was thinking it was going to be a Downton Abbey but with Russians kind of a book, and then it turned out to be a more serious history, with historical analysis and everything, so more of a dense read than I was expecting. But still awesome! And it will come in useful for at work when faculty ask me what I've read lately, because this doesn't seem as weird as saying The Black Stallion Returns which is usually what I've been reading.

It primar
Karen Blinn
Dec 29, 2012 Karen Blinn rated it it was amazing
Douglas Smith has written about the "former people" who lived in the Soviet Union from the founding of the USSR until Stalin's death. They were those who were aristocrats in tsarist times. This is a disturbing but fascinating book as it reveals the depth of the Bolsheviks' hatred toward these people. The equivalent of racism, there was nothing the former people could do to remove the stigma from themselves as it was only based on who their ancestors were. They could be model citizens and hard wo ...more
Jan 27, 2013 Pctrollbreath rated it really liked it
Shelves: history
This is a well written and interesting book which highlights an aspect of history that is not well known. I found it a difficult, but worthwhile, read.

For a book about "former people", the real eye opener was just how connected they remained even after their fall from power. A regular theme is how these ex nobles immediately start pulling favours from high ranking red officials as soon as something bad happens. Not always successfully, but with enough success to suggest that the relationship bet
You may say 'oh, this is a book about rich idle people who got what they deserved'. Or 'why should I care about what happened to a bunch of rich guys whose estates got burnt to the ground?' Well yes, these were rich people. Specifically, these were people from two branches of aristocracy, Sheremetev and Golitsyns -- two very powerful, very rich families. Yet the book is heartbreaking. You may think they got what was coming, but surely these people did not deserve the fate given to them by the Bo ...more
Nov 05, 2015 Liviu rated it really liked it
(review written Nov 2015) I actually read this book a while ago, either early this year or late last year but in a period when I was away from Goodreads and I only remembered it now when looking for some other related books and Goodreads showing it

It's fairly long and not that easy a read as it follows various branches of a few Russian aristocratic families and their destinies after the revolution, so sometimes names/relations can be confusing

For someone who grew up under a communist regime the
Jul 20, 2014 Max rated it really liked it
Shelves: russian
Former People is a revealing look into the end of an era and the chaos that followed. Smith shows the sweep of early 20th century Russian history personalized by the details of two extended noble families: The Sheremetevs and the Golitsyns. The details become overwhelming and tedious at times as Smith tracks numerous family members with similar experiences and similar names. It is easy to get confused and the text can feel repetitive. For example, accounts of pillaging and burning of estates dur ...more
Jan 15, 2013 James rated it really liked it
Douglas Smith offers an up-close view of the fate of two major Russian Aristocratic families -- the Golitsyns and Sheremetevs -- as well as many others related to them following the Russian Revolution of 1917 and through to the Stalin era and WWII. He carefully notes how the transition from privilege, luxury and political eminence within the Tsarist state came suddenly and with incredible brutality as the revolution swept across Russia. How these aristocrats managed to survive in an increasingly ...more
☽ Moon Rose ☯
I remember being confused with Russia and the Soviet Union when I was still a very young student. Growing up during the last remnants of might of Communism and still unfamiliar with the legacy of tsarism, I thought at first that they were two different countries. It was only much later on that I understood that they were one and the same country separated only in history by an ideology that aggravated a massive sprout of hysteria, changing the political and social landscape of the country into t ...more
Feb 07, 2016 virgodura rated it liked it
The premise - the untold story of the super elite - is an odd one; when you think about 'unheard voices' and 'untold stories', you don't generally think of Muscovite princes and Lithuanian royalty. One of my profs in undergrad joked that every other Russian emigre wrote a memoir on their revolution experiences and indeed Nabokov plays with the idea of the tedium of the tragic emigre story in A Russian Beauty. But, I suppose it's true that the majority of nonfiction works that discuss the effects ...more
Feb 09, 2016 Denis rated it it was amazing
When a book of History is devoted to the fate of the Russian aristocracy during and after the revolution, one, prejudiced, may wonder: first, is that a subject really worth reading about and, second, wouldn’t such a project be a very partial, and therefore biased, vision of the cataclysmic events that shaped the fate of Russia in the last century? Douglas Smith, from the first to the last page, and with a palpable conviction, shows us how wrong we may have been to hold such assumptions. Whatever ...more
Carey Combe
Nov 17, 2012 Carey Combe rated it liked it
I think the scope was too large (i have read better accounts of all the events) but I thought the conclusion tied it all up so well (maybe better at the beginning), I gave it an extra star.
Nov 16, 2012 Laura rated it liked it
Recommended to Laura by: Bettie
From BBC Radio 4 - Book of the Week:
By Douglas Smith. Revealing account of what happened to the Russian aristocracy in the Bolshevik Revolution. Read by Robert Powell.
Oct 11, 2012 Wendy marked it as to-read
This was highly recommended to me by the owner of our local indie bookstore. He said he read it in 24 hrs. - couldn't put it down.
Jul 18, 2012 Douglas rated it it was amazing
Hope you all like my new book! Is it bad to say I did?!
Alexandra Grabbe
Nov 16, 2014 Alexandra Grabbe rated it it was amazing
How does an upstart regime strip members of an established elite of its humanity? Once the initial murders are committed, continue harassment through arbitrary arrests and debase the deposed class further by referring to any surviving members as “former” people. The Bolsheviks, who took power in Russia at the Revolution, treated the aristocracy this way. By following two aristocratic families, historian Douglas Smith shows that the Soviets may have wiped out the nobility as a class, but their at ...more
Jun 04, 2014 Ann rated it really liked it
This powerful, exhaustively-researched book chronicles the purposeful Russian government war on the "elite" which lasted until the "Khrushchev Thaw" following Stalin's death in 1953. (The fact that it is referred to as the Khrushchev Thaw only underlines the terror for this reader who grew up during the days of that alleged thaw.) Smith tells his story through two Russian families and their progeny: the Sheremetevs and the Golitsyns. At times the minute detail is overwhelming, but because it is ...more
Jul 20, 2013 Inna rated it liked it
Rather disappointing, I'm afraid. Admittedly my expectations were very high. Smith, after all, is the author of a wonderful book on Russian free masons Working the Rough Stone. In addition the topic is very interesting and the author was in possession of much data. I can also see why some people enjoyed the book - Smith is an excellent writer. The main problem I had was that he did not really attempt to analyze his data. He ended up telling a very sad story about the tragic fate of Russian arist ...more
Emi Bevacqua
Dec 11, 2013 Emi Bevacqua rated it did not like it
Shelves: non-fiction, euro
This was like reading some other family's genealogy, it wasn't history presented in a way that felt relatable; for me it felt a chore.

The Russian aristocrats are made to suffer greatly, they are sad and tired and hungry and poor. And then they manage to throw amazing parties, and their children excelled in their academics. Next the aristocrats were murdered and died of illness and starvation. And then they enjoyed culture and arts and traditions of nobility. Then the aristocrats were humiliated
Jan 30, 2014 Shawn rated it it was ok
Well..., I suppose he wrote the book he intended to write, just not the one I intended to read.

I love this subject matter. The time, the place, the people fascinate Me. I go through periods of "binge reading" on the Romanov's, so I was beyond excited to get into this. Until I got into it.

I give this an extra star for the laborious effort it must have been to research and gather all of this information, but it can really only garner a single star for the laborious way in which it is shared. He
Interessant (biografie-achtig over de adel!). Jammer dat het minder een biografie was dan verwacht, maar dat komt door het versnipperde bronnenmateriaal.
Wat me ronduit stoorde, is dat de stambomen niet volledig zijn. Daardoor was het soms lastig om te volgen welke Dimitri/Vladimir/Anna/Jekatarina er bedoeld werd ...

Maar wel een enorm leerzaam boek over een gruwelijke tijd.
Jan 14, 2013 Gail rated it did not like it
Recommends it for: Nobody
What I thought was going to be quite a fascinating book about other families of the Russian aristocracy, besides the Romanovs, turned out to be quite plodding. I closed the book at page 93. There's too much information, too many characters (can't get your head around), too many details and too many footnotes. There were even misleading and incorrect directives for the black-and-white photographs.
I have read plenty of books on Russian history (primarily of the Romanovs) and all of them have been
Jul 29, 2015 Kelley rated it it was amazing
This book, Former People, caused me to deeply ponder the fate of the Russian aristocracy/nobility during the Revolution and beyond in that country. My own family history is deeply rooted in these times as some of my family, who were among the aristocracy who were forced to flee Bolshevik Russia eventually to end up in the U.S., losing most all possessions in the process. While I've known this part of our family story for my whole life, I have never really considered what it was truly like for th ...more
Aug 16, 2014 MeriBeth rated it did not like it
Recommends it for: No one
Recommended to MeriBeth by: Librarian
Shelves: history
An extremely dense book, Former People, attempts to tell the story of the Russian Aristocracy during the years of the Russian Revolution and the first generations afterwards, generally up to the Stalin era. Here I must emphasize the attempt portion of the previous sentence. There is so much information presented in a dry, scholarly way that it is almost impossible to absorb the material much less connect to the content. The book focuses on two families in particular while also trying to generali ...more
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Douglas Smith is an awarding-winning historian and translator and the author of four books on Russia. He studied German and Russian at the University of Vermont and has a doctorate in history from UCLA.

Over the past twenty-five years Smith has made many trips to Russia. In the 1980s, he was a Russian-speaking guide on the U. S. State Department’s exhibition “Information USA” that traveled througho
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