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Gulag: A History

4.17  ·  Rating Details  ·  5,199 Ratings  ·  374 Reviews
The Gulag--a vast array of Soviet concentration camps that held millions of political and criminal prisoners--was a system of repression and punishment that terrorized the entire society, embodying the worst tendencies of Soviet communism. In this magisterial and acclaimed history, Anne Applebaum offers the first fully documented portrait of the Gulag, from its origins in ...more
Hardcover, First Edition, 610 pages
Published April 29th 2003 by Doubleday Publishing
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Nicholas and Alexandra by Robert K. MassieCatherine the Great by Robert K. MassiePeter the Great by Robert K. MassieThe Gulag Archipelago 1918-1956 by Aleksandr SolzhenitsynNatasha's Dance by Orlando Figes
Best Russian History Books
8th out of 305 books — 255 voters
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Pulitzer Winners: General Non-fiction
8th out of 58 books — 201 voters


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Community Reviews

(showing 1-30 of 3,000)
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Karen
Jul 29, 2008 Karen rated it really liked it
Shelves: history, russian
I have been reading some memoirs about the Soviet Gulags, and I discovered that I didn't have enough knowledge of Russian history to process what I was reading about individual experiences. Consequently, I picked up Applebaum's book.

Her book was precisely what I needed. She presents a very systematic explanation of the gulags in three sections: 1) the historical precedents prior to Stalin's regime and the rise of their power under Stalin; 2) Day-to-day life in the gulags; and 3) the dismantling
...more
Eric
This is a fantastic book. It is a must-read for anyone who has any illusions about communism. It sucks. It is evil. It belongs in the dustbin of history.

Anne Applebaum tells the story of the gulag in fascinating detail, using newly available Soviet archives and published and unpublished memoirs from those who survived the camps. Their stories are chilling, to say the least.

In the Introduction, Applebaum discusses the differences and similarities between the Nazi death camps and the Soviet camps.
...more
Tasha
Mar 17, 2013 Tasha rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
A 5 star read without a doubt. This book impacted me on so many levels, I was absorbed and utterly fascinated with every word I read. My family is from Russia (I am a first gen American) and many of the events and situations which occurred in this book related to my family history. It's impact was tremendous as I learned so much of what had happened and what it must have been like for my family living (and eventually escaping) during Stalin's reign. As a young girl I heard stories of my grandfat ...more
Jeremy
Jul 19, 2014 Jeremy rated it it was amazing
Jesus Christ. With the possible exception of a few books on the Holocaust, this is the single most painful work of non-fiction I've ever encountered. The portrait of the Soviet work camp system that Applebaum develops examines, in painfully minute detail, every single aspect of life in and around the Gulag system, from the highest levels of Soviet politburo administration, down to the lowliest starving, walking damned in the most far flung Siberian penal cell. And she brings a staggering deluge ...more
Dawn
I highly recommend this book to anyone interested in the era, country, politics, WWII or even just the Gulag itself.

The vastness of the Gulag is astounding. From small camps to giant and from city prisons to tents in Siberia and all sizes in between. The variety of work that was required was also quite extensive, from manufacturing to logging to mining to channel building.
With the quality of life that prisoners had to endure and how unprepared both they and their captures were I am surprised t
...more
Nathan
Apr 04, 2007 Nathan rated it it was amazing
In one of my college history classes, a student asked the professor who killed more people - Stalin or Hitler? The answer: we don't know and it doesn't matter - they were both the embodiment of evil. This book is very detailed history of the physical form of that evil and does an amazing job of detailing both the causes and effects that the system had on everyone involved from the police, to the guards, to the horrific effects on the prisoners. It is extremely well written - I had a hard time pu ...more
Scottnshana
Apr 25, 2015 Scottnshana rated it it was amazing
It would be easy to stop reading after the introduction, where she tells us that "the Gulag did not emerge, fully formed, from the sea, but rather reflected the standards of the society around it. If the camps were filthy, if the guards were brutal, if the work teams were slovenly, that was partly because filthiness and brutality and slovenliness were plentiful enough in other spheres of Soviet life. If life in the camps was horrible, unbearable, inhuman, if death rates were high--that too was h ...more
Raymond
Feb 11, 2010 Raymond rated it it was amazing
I probably never will get all of, "Gulag," read. Anne Applebaum's awesome, masterful, 586-page history of the Gulag, the labor/concentration camps of the Soviet Union, overwhelms me. A key question which must arise in the minds of most American readers is how and why we know and hear so much of the Holocaust, Nazi Germany's assault upon millions of people, but we know and hear so little of the Gulag. There is at least one important distinction. The German camps came to be outright death camps; p ...more
Nicholas
Feb 24, 2016 Nicholas rated it really liked it
Eye opening. Amazing how this part of history seems to be left alone, especially in the West. Applebaum acknowledges this when she visits the prisons on her own. An interesting read and one that includes the power that literature and poetry has when many great Russian writers were finally able to get their works pertaining to these camps published decades later.
John
Apr 02, 2008 John rated it it was amazing
Shelves: soviet-history
Among the best accounts of Stalin's system of concentration and labor camps that I know of. She describes not only the organization, operations of the camps as well as life within them, but she also explains the role of slave labor in the development of the Soviet economy and in war production. Very well written, and entirely engaging - despite the horror in the tale. Clearly deserving of the Pulitzer Prize that she was awarded - if I recall correctly.
Susie
Sep 01, 2008 Susie rated it it was amazing
I was just going to give it five stars and write, "Gulag! Nuff said," but then I thought that might be a little disrespectful to the 28.7 million people who went through the Gulag or related camps, psychiatric hospitals, prisons, exile and deportation, and the somewhere between 10 and 20 million who lost their lives as a result. People were sentenced to years in the Gulag for such "crimes" as being late to work, or because someone informed on them, or for literally nothing at all. Some people we ...more
Alper Çugun
Apr 12, 2012 Alper Çugun rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Caught this review from my old Dutch blog:

Gelukkig weer een boek uitgelezen (de stapel naast mijn bureau wordt alleen maar hoger, niet lager): het schokkend indrukwekkende “Gulag” van Anne Applebaum. Ik weet dat de dingen die in het boek staan grotendeels echt gebeurd zijn, maar het leest weg als een Kafka-esque beschrijving van de Inferno.

Het is bizar hoe normaal corruptie, marteling, diefstal en moord toen waren. Hoe normaal het was om mensen te reduceren tot minder dan mensen, tot objecten. D

...more
Joanna
Dec 08, 2012 Joanna rated it liked it
She's a fine journalist, but she's no historian. It seems well researched, and certainly well-footnoted, but it basically comes across as a mind-numbing tale of how millions of people, represented by a group of selected memoirists, suffered terribly for dubious political/philosophical reasons.

I think it's a good attempt at trying to approach a historical era from the point of view of the victims, rather than the perpetrators, but it also shows how difficult that is to carry off. I'm still waiti
...more
Rick Boyer
Jan 18, 2014 Rick Boyer rated it it was amazing
An absolutely brilliant and crucially important work, which details the history of the Soviet Gulag system of forced labor camps, from the end of the First World War to the end of the Soviet Union in 1991. Exhaustively researched and containing numerous reminiscences from camp survivors, and details from official government archives, Anne Applebaum presents a picture of Soviet repression that is equal parts horrifying, sobering, educational, and nearly beyond belief. This is an important work fo ...more
Rick
Mar 19, 2014 Rick rated it really liked it
Shelves: non-fiction
This is first rate history but difficult reading as you might suspect from its topic. Applebaum presents a strong, unblinking examination of the history of the Soviet gulag, the system of Communist prison camps that in Solzhenitsyn’s metaphoric naming spread across the Soviet Union in a vast archipelago of intentional brutality, targeted murder, malign indifference, exposure, overwork, disease, deprivation, and starvation. Everything, including the heroically stubborn survival of prisoners suffe ...more
Mikey B.
Page 102 (my book) from Stalin and Beria
“an enemy of the people is not only one who commits sabotage, but one who doubts the rightness of the Party line.”... women were arrested as “wives of enemies of the people” and the same applied to children.

Page 241 Vladimir Bukovsky
“In our camps, you were expected not only to be a slave laborer, but to sing and smile while you worked as well. They didn’t just want to oppress us; they wanted us to thank them for it.”

This is a book that is horrific in scope
...more
Keith
Mar 20, 2012 Keith rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This was definitely and eye-opening, thought-provoking and at many point a very disturbing read for me. I truly had no idea why these "Gulags" were established and the immense amount of people (soviets and foreigners) that were prisoners in these labor camps. Nor did I know that there were staggering amounts of "Gulags" spread out across the USSR, especially ones very close to the Artic. There was one chapter in this book that astonished me and left me horrified with an actual lump in my throat. ...more
Jessica
So this is good, but it's a bit TMI for this reader. About three hundred pages in, I was like, "Okay, I get it. Being in the Gulag really sucked, and these camps weren't well-run. Wow, are we really gonna run through how bad it was in even more detail??" I mean, you pick up that it sucked pretty quickly, and then there's like five hundred more pages describing how MUCH it sucked. So again, yeah, the casual student of the Gulag might be savvy enough to avoid the 600 page history, and might not ne ...more
Sarah
Gulag: A History is an amazingly detailed overview of a system I knew nearly nothing about. The writing, while being dry, is full of amazing, rich facts and, while it can become overwhelming at points, it’s spiced up nicely by personal accounts and literature Applebaum uses to underline the points she’s making. This is an incredibly important account of a dark period of history, and will leave readers with a fresh and well-rounded understanding of life in Soviet Russia if they are willing to wad ...more
Carolyn
Jan 25, 2014 Carolyn rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
A very important book that should be assigned in school, but never will be. For some reason unknown to myself, who is sadly without a higher formal education, I can never understand why the evils of communism are all but hushed up in our current system of education.
Out of all the things that stood out in this book, one thought in particular kept coming to my mind. The prisoners who worked the hardest were offered greater benefits (which weren't really fabulous, but most certainly, the differe
...more
David
Sep 06, 2010 David rated it liked it
Shelves: european-history
Good intro to soviet history but not very deep....narrative not analytical
Marisol García
La investigación es impecable, con una explicación que acude todo el tiempo a datos, contexto y citas para instalar el por qué, cómo, dónde y para qué de tanto (tanto, tanto) horror. Es justo que la autora reserve al principio y al final una opinión personal sobre el tema, pues la deshumanización no puede relatarse en una descripción objetiva. Pero esto es periodismo, y el gulag tiene un correlato literario y testimonial muy importante en los trabajos de varios novelistas y ensayistas rusos, y q ...more
Ярослава
Feb 12, 2016 Ярослава rated it really liked it
Shelves: history
Ура, нарешті догризла - довше місяця читала по крапелиночці. Як може книжка на такому цікавому матеріалі бути така нудна? Думаю, проблема - у відсутності наративу: в авторки немає якогось центрального аргументу, вона просто тематично групує відомості про різні царини життя у ГУЛАГу (транспорт, їжа, діти, етц.). При тім наводить якісь анекдотки, навіть може окремо цікаві - але в сумі виглядає як барахолка, тому читати відверто нуднувато. Але інформації цікавої доста! Всякі цікавинки наберу якось ...more
Desi
Dec 23, 2015 Desi rated it really liked it
This was an important book to read. Even as a Soviet historian (in another life), there were many aspects of the history of the Gulag I did not know, particularly from the war years and the post-war era.

Applebaum used innumerable memoirs to help tell her story, and although I sometimes felt that perhaps I was reading too much of the stories of a small set of people ("him again?"), most of the people who died in or passed through the Gulag did not tell their stories and we have to let those who
...more
Kseniya Melnik
May 13, 2015 Kseniya Melnik rated it it was amazing
Shelves: gtomy-consulted
Absolutely breathtaking work of historical research. A must read for anyone who wants to begin to better understand not only USSR and contemporary Russia, but also America (part. its foreign policy), the world, and, more importantly, human nature.

This quote sums it up: "The more we are able to understand how different societies have transformed their neighbors and fellow citizens from people into objects, the more we know of the specific circumstances which led to each episode of mass torture a
...more
Tim Giauque
Dec 03, 2014 Tim Giauque rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: non-fiction
Reading Anne Applebaum's Gulag is like watching a really well-made, interesting, profound film that shakes you enough that you know you never want to watch it again. It's broad and deep and incredibly thoroughly researched, and nearly every page describes suffering and horror and injustice. This is not for the faint of heart.

That said, though, it's a fascinating look at a hugely significant part of twentieth-century world history that almost nobody really knows about. I think it's fair to say th
...more
Chad Sayban
Feb 03, 2014 Chad Sayban rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: nook-book, good, own
From a historical perspective, Gulag is an in-depth treatise on the creation, evolution and eventual dismantling of the immense Soviet concentration camps that became known as the Gulag. Far from a set system, the Gulag evolved with the changing needs of the Soviet Union – or the changing moods of Stalin – resulting in dramatic differences from era to era, or even camp to camp. Anne Applebaum writes a detailed accounting of the entire Gulag system from beginning to end. A commendable work of sch ...more
Jerome
Dec 02, 2014 Jerome rated it really liked it
Comprehensive and informative, but not much new here. Still, Applebaum gives us a good account of a horrific system of forced labor that was totally uneconomical. The entire system promoted the proliferation of falsified statistics and generally worthless projects. It was also interesting how strong the economic motivations for the system were, both for the Bolsheviks and later Stalin. Applebaum shows both the logistics and horrors of the gulag system, as well as the stupidity of it.

In a chapter
...more
Steve
Feb 07, 2010 Steve rated it it was amazing
"Gulag: A History" is an exhaustive but still reader-friendly chronicle of the Soviet system of forced labor
prison camps that sprang up shortly after the Bolshevik revolution of 1917, then eventually dissolved after the death of Josef Stalin in 1953.

Author Anne Applebaum breaks the whole story down by category, starting with arrest (one could
find oneself sentenced to ten years or more for merely overhearing a joke about Stalin), transit,
back-breaking work, starvation rations, eventual releas
...more
Derrick Lim
Jan 12, 2013 Derrick Lim rated it really liked it
Anne Applebaum's Gulag is the next natural choice of reading if one, even remotely, enjoyed reading Solzhenitsyn's One Day In the Life of Ivan Denisovich, which I did tremendously, and has the curiosity to explore the immense quasi-legal prison system of the Soviet Union.

The book is very detailed, chronicling the founding and often illogical reasons that Lenin and Stalin's regimes had for wanting to incarcerate such a large prison system, most of which were essentially very inefficient slave-lab
...more
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Journalist and Pulitzer Prize-winning author who has written extensively about communism and the development of civil society in Central and Eastern Europe. Since 2006, she is a columnist and member of the editorial board of the Washington Post.
She is married to Radosław Sikorski, the Polish Minister of Foreign Affairs. They have two children, Alexander and Tadeusz.

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“The dominance of former communists and the insufficient discussion of the past in the post-communist world is not coincidental. To put it bluntly, former communists have a clear interest in concealing the past: it tarnishes them, undermines them, hurts their claims to be carrying out 'reforms,' even when they personally had nothing to do with the past crimes.” 9 likes
“If the Russian people and the Russian elite remembered - viscerally, emotionally remembered - what Stalin did to the Chechens, they could not have invaded Chechnya in the 1990s, not once and not twice. To do so was the moral equivalent of postwar Germany invading western Poland. Very few Russians saw it that way - which is itself evidence of how little they know about their own history.” 5 likes
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