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Former People: The Final Days of the Russian Aristocracy
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Former People: The Final Days of the Russian Aristocracy

3.88 of 5 stars 3.88  ·  rating details  ·  481 ratings  ·  113 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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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.
Nancy Oakes
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
K. Redman
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
Elizabeth K.
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
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
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
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
Jul 20, 2014 Max rated it 4 of 5 stars
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
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
Karen Blinn
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
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
☽ 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
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
Carey Combe
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 3 of 5 stars
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.
Hope you all like my new book! Is it bad to say I did?!
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
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
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
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
Jan 14, 2013 Gail rated it 1 of 5 stars
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
Alexandra Grabbe
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
Aug 16, 2014 MeriBeth rated it 1 of 5 stars
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
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
Gloomy Sunday
Former People discusses a topic that has not found much acknowledgment so far: the destiny of the Russian nobility after the revolution. Douglas Smith accompanies two once powerful and important families throughout the years following the revolution. By writing about actual people, whose names, photos and previous life stories, we see in the first part of the book, the stories are very personal and touching. Diaries, letters and other first-hand sources are used to let us know how these people f ...more
Anson Bentley
Revealing the consequence of extreme, disproportionate overindulgence and imbalance by the haves over the have nots resulting in a philosophy/ideology of 'All must be equal at any cost' which was, not only tellingly hypocritical, but, the scourge of the 20th century and beyond. Very fitting and timely as a reminder of the present situation the world finds itself in. Beware, lest history repeat itself and thrust upon mankind a new monster much more evolved, sophisticated and sinister than before.
Angela Pezel
I had mixed emotions about this book. I think that initially I thought I was going to be reading about the members of the Russian Nobility who were living in exile around the world. This was not to be the case.

The book is centered around the lives of two families, the Sheremetev and Golitsyn. Members of both these families remained in Russia under the Soviet Regime. The book details the countless arrests, interrogation, and harassment that many people faced under Communist rule. The ever increa
A well written and researched book with many interesting details about the lives of the Russian aristocracy after the revolution. The book was marred by the author's (admitted) pre-aristocracy bias. Now, I am not going to apologize for the excesses of the Bolsheviks, and even less so for Stalin, but Smith's bias is really rather silly. Just because one side was cruel and lawless, does not mean you have to admire the other. the people he asks us to like enslaved 80% of the Russian population and ...more
Petra X
For a long book it says so little. Or perhaps, coming from Russian peasants as I do, I didn't have the right frame of mind, the right sympathies to appreciate it. I did appreciate the plight of the 'former people' but didn't care about them at all. 3.5 stars.
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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 through
More about Douglas Smith...
The Pearl: A True Tale of Forbidden Love in Catherine the Great's Russia Love and Conquest: Personal Correspondence of Catherine the Great and Prince Grigory Potemkin Working the Rough Stone: Freemasonry and Society in Eighteenth-Century Russia Skazani Ostatnie dni rosyjskiej arystokracji

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