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Gulag : A History

4.16 of 5 stars 4.16  ·  rating details  ·  3,920 ratings  ·  295 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 US Edition, 610 pages
Published April 29th 2003 by Doubleday
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Nicholas and Alexandra by Robert K. MassiePeter the Great by Robert K. MassieCatherine the Great by Robert K. MassieThe Gulag Archipelago 1918-1956 by Aleksandr SolzhenitsynNatasha's Dance by Orlando Figes
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Pulitzer Winners: General Non-fiction
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Community Reviews

(showing 1-30 of 3,000)
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Karen
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Applebaum tells the story of the gulag in fascinating detail, using newly available Soviet archives and published and unpublished memoirs from those who survived the camps.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
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
Nathan
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
Raymond
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
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
Jeremy
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
Rick Boyer
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
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
Alper Çugun
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
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
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
John
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.
Carolyn
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
Good intro to soviet history but not very deep....narrative not analytical
Tim Giauque
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
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
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
Robert Kiehn
Great book, well researched and written and a big book at almost 600 pages but a page turning and interesting read, filled with accounts of people that survived life in the Gulags of Russia during the Soviet Union's reign, many famous Gulag survivors/memoirists as well are quoted and featured in this book, covering the History of Russia's Gulags starting from the 1800's, with a focus on Stalin's reign of terror and regime (from the 1920's to 1953 when Stalin died of a stroke) that imprisoned, to ...more
Lauraadriana
The title says it all this book is a look into the Gulag, the organized labour camps that housed million of convicts in the Soviet Union from the early 20th century until well into the 1980s...this is an incredibly well researched and tightly documented book. Anne Applebaum gained access to information that had never been released and related it in this books in way that was readable and interesting.

I was fascinated by the personal accounts and also by her take on the propaganda machinery that o
...more
Susie
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
Jerome
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
"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
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
Todd
"[W]hile the symbol of one mass murder fills us with horror [Swastika], the symbol of another mass murder makes us laugh [Hammer and Sickle]" (xviii). Applebaum also goes on to say that at the time the book was written films about the Gulags were non-existent, yet there were plenty of films featuring "cartoon Russians" like Ivan Drago; there were also multiple movies made about Nazi Germany, but again, no serious consideration of the Gulags. This is the basis of her book, she builds an account t ...more
Claire Rose
Absolutely brilliant book. I borrowed it from a colleague ages ago planning to read it as preparatory reading for The Gulag Archipelago and then House of Meetings (had just seen Martin Amis reading from House of Meetings, but I wanted to know more about the subject before reading it). Finally got round to actually reading Gulag after it had sat on my shelf for months because it was (very briefly) mentioned in Zona by Geoff Dyer, and reading that and seeing the film it was about (Stalker by Tarko ...more
Keith
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
Michael Gerald Dealino
A great complement to the books "The Gulag Archipelago" and "Nothing to Envy: Ordinary Lives in North Korea", this book provides the bigger picture as well as the individual level of the evil that was the Soviet gulag.

Showing the history of the gulag system from the Bolsheviks' appropriation of the existing camps under the Tsarist system to its massive expansion by Stalin and his minions, "Gulag" proves that the "concentration camp" system had its roots not in Nazi Germany but in the Soviet Unio
...more
Karina Gaige
It's impossible to read this book without thinking of the repression currently happening in Russia - imprisonment of journalists, gay people, anyone who criticizes the government ("enemies of the people") - it's as if this is something ingrained in the culture and established a century ago with the creation of the gulags. There's a frightening quote (one of many) about how even during Perestroika the government wouldn't release innocent political prisoners for fear of revealing that the whole sy ...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.” 8 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.” 4 likes
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