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A People's Tragedy: The Russian Revolution: 1891-1924

4.26  ·  Rating Details ·  2,167 Ratings  ·  152 Reviews

It is history on an epic yet human scale. Vast in scope, exhaustive in original research, written with passion, narrative skill, and human sympathy, A People's Tragedy is a profound account of the Russian Revolution for a new generation. Many consider the Russian Revolution to be the most significant event of the twentieth century. Distinguished scholar Orlando Figes pres

Paperback, 1024 pages
Published March 1st 1998 by Penguin Books (first published 1996)
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Jun 14, 2016 Matt rated it it was amazing
If you thought the Season 5 finale of Game of Thrones was brutal, Orlando Figes wants to educate you. You don’t pick up a book like A People’s Tragedy with the notion that it’s going to be filled with newborn puppies, ice cream-giveaways, and people finding rolled-up-and-forgotten twenty-dollar bills in their pockets. If you do have that notion – well, you should really reread the title. Even so, the collection of misery in Figes massive history of the Russian Revolution is pretty overwhelming. ...more
Jun 25, 2012 Jerome rated it it was amazing
Shelves: favorites
First, Figes briskly deals with all those things you thought you knew about the Russian Revolution, Lenin, Stalin, Trotsky, Kerensky - the liberals, the Bolsheviks, the Tsar. Again and again, I realized I had picked up myths either promoted by those who lost, or those who consolidated, the Revolution. The mythmaking machine was going full tilt from 1917 onwards (particularly during the Stalinist and Cold War Years) and this book would be irreplaceable if only for stripping away so much that you ...more
An astonishing and grand overview of one of the most defining events of the 20th century - the Russian Revolution.

A powerful and convincing portrait of the madness and decay of Imperialist Russia to the total bloodshed of WWI and beyond. Portraits of all of the major figures - the inept tsar and his fat toady ministers, the futile attempts of the fledgling Duma, the insatiable drive for power of the Bolsheviks, and the intense suffering undergone by the masses of peasants.
Aug 11, 2012 Jim rated it really liked it
Shelves: history, russia
This is at one and the same time a very long book and a fascinating one. As a exhaustive study of Russian history from the reign of Nicholas II to the death of Lenin, it is epic in its sweep. The only reasons I could not find it in me to give it five stars are the following:

[1] Orlando Figes has developed a reputation for controversy. First, he wrote reviews for Amazon.Com under an assumed name (Birkbeck) in which he excoriated competing writers on Russian history, blaming them at first on his w
Mikey B.
This is a remarkable book on the Russian Revolution. It’s coverage from 1891 thru 1924 is detailed, but very readable. We are presented with a wide panoply of characters; Tsar Nicholas II, Lenin, Prince Lvov, Kerensky, Gorky and many more. This gives a distinctive personal feeling where history is populated by real people and provides us with a ground view of the turbulent events of Russia. It’s a brutal history.

Sadly, there were periods during the Tsar’s rule and the first months after the 1917
Elizabeth May
Feb 26, 2016 Elizabeth May marked it as to-read
Shelves: gb-research
Mr May just dropped this thing on my lap (it's like 1000 pages), said, "GOOD LUCK," and walked away laughing his ass off.

Feb 12, 2016 Palmyrah rated it it was amazing
This is probably the best single-volume work about the Russian Revolution ever printed in English. It was written after the Soviet archives were opened, making a vast mass of new material available to historians and significantly changing the story as it had been previously understood in the West. It is also the work of an author determined to present as full and true a picture as possible of what happened in Russia during those terrible years, a picture as free from bias and ideological distort ...more
May 11, 2014 Stefan rated it it was amazing
I found Orlando Figes' "A People's Tragedy" to be an excellent introduction on the topic of the Russian Revolution. Before proceeding, however, I would like to point out that this massive 800-page masterpiece can only be considered "introductory" by a professional historian or a history buff like myself. Therefore, this book is not really recommended for everyone.

I am ashamed to admit, but I had very little knowledge of the Russian Revolution prior to the reading of this book. What is undoubtedl
Joe Dumoulin
Jan 22, 2012 Joe Dumoulin rated it really liked it
I have read a few histories of the Russian revolution and civil war: from sympathetic (Deutchser and Trotsky) to unsympathetic (Pipes) to the hostile (Volkogonov), and the fairly even-handed Fitzgerald. It often seems like each of these authors is talking about different events and people who happen to be in the same place at the same time with the same names. One can, with effort, piece together a consistent picture of what happened and why, but you can't really be comfortable with conclusions ...more
Jun 12, 2012 Lizixer rated it really liked it
Shelves: 2012-finished
This is a painful read for a number of reasons.

First and foremost, it does not spare you with detail of how badly people suffered during this period. Life became very, very cheap. It demonstrates that wholesale slaughter of Jewish communities was not invented by the Nazis. It also firmly places Bolshevism in the same life-denying, destructive category as fascism and National Socialism, linking it to a philosophy, born out of the blood of the first World War, that the next stage in evolution was
Jul 18, 2008 Lisa rated it it was amazing
I wanted to know what would motivate a country to adopt Bolshevism. Figes does an excellent job with the subject. It has given me more perspective on Russian politics and culture today than I ever would have had otherwise. As with slavery and its lasting effects on American politics and culture, Figes shows how serfdom has a similar effect on Russia today. Definitely helps that it is an easy read.
May 16, 2009 Stuart rated it it was amazing
Prof. Orlando Figes, of Oxford University, is unquestionably an authority on Russian history, and better yet he has the skill of a top-rate writer. He presents compelling narrative of the sad stories interwoven throughout Russian history, from both a macro- and micro-scopic perspective. This book well deserves its acclaim.
Trayan Sarafov
Jul 02, 2013 Trayan Sarafov rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Много подробна книга за причините, довели до Червената революция. По прекрасен начин се обясняват всички процеси, които са довели до зараждането на тези настроения сред руския народ. Обръща се сериозно внимание на вината, която носи царския режим за идването на болшевиките. Проследени са и няколко чисто житейски история, както и се върля повече светлина върху образа на Распутин. Трудът е впечатляващ откъм обстоятелственост на източниците и съблюдаване на действителните факти от този период. Стил ...more
Cecilia Hendricks
Jan 12, 2016 Cecilia Hendricks rated it it was amazing
This is undoubtedly one of the most intense things that I've ever read. It was highly intelligent and informative. It helped me see the Russian Revolution in greater detail. But man alive, this was a mighty endeavor. It was a hard but good read.
Jan 04, 2010 Sarah rated it really liked it
Shelves: non-fiction
I cannot believe I finally finished this book. I've been reading it for nearly a YEAR. It's superbly written but (/and?) very, very detailed. Not really designed for the type of commute-reading I do these days. I do recommend it to all, though.
Jared D.
Nov 11, 2015 Jared D. rated it it was amazing
Shelves: russia
Spoiler Alert: Anastasia doesn't live through this version of the Russian Revolution. Sorry but Walt Disney lied to you...

'A People's Tragedy' is an oustanding account of Revolutionary Russia (covering the years 1891-1924). The author, Orlando Figes, covers the subject in the scope that it merits while at the same time interweaving personal accounts of ordinary citizens as well as key historical figures. Despite the book being quite long, Figes is able to keep the reader engaged throughout by pr
Christian Dibblee
Nov 07, 2014 Christian Dibblee rated it really liked it
Shelves: european-history
Orlando Figes' work took me two full months to read. It is dense yet fascinating, and packed with so much detail I could barely be able to really remember a lot of it.

1.) The subtext of this book might as well be "It Sucked to be a Russian Peasant." From the famine of 1891 onwards, the peasants as a class are subjected to various regimes, none of whom seem to care too much about their well-being. The only exception might be the brief liberal movement in 1905, but otherwise the peasants had to de
Jan 21, 2014 Ramsey rated it it was amazing
Shelves: history
Books like this are why I love reading history. It is expansive in scope, effectively combines narrative and scholarly analysis, strikes a balance in emphasis between personalities and trends, conveys the human impact of grand events with telling details from individual lives, is beautifully written, and shows deep empathy. The Russian Revolution was a tragedy on a grand scale, and Figes convincingly argues that Stalinism was not an aberration, but rather, a more or less natural progression.

Titus L
Sep 23, 2012 Titus L rated it it was amazing
Golden Towers, White Russians, Black Hundreds, Red Terror and Revenge.

A Peoples Tragedy is a harrowing insight into how the Russian Revolution far from being a smoothly organized transition into a harmonious Socialist society was actually a process of ongoing opportunism, compromise and cruelty, deft footwork, boot-work and brutality by the intellectual leaders who managed to hang on to their ideological bull and extinguish all resistance to their deadlier Autocracy posed under the guise of the
Nov 10, 2012 Richard rated it really liked it
Shelves: 2012
The quarter thimble full of knowledge I've had about the Russian Revolution came from John Reed's, Ten Days that Shook the World that I read about 40 years ago, the movies, Reds, and of course, Dr. Zhivago. Maybe that would be an eighth of a thimble. I also can't say as I retained that much info, and could probably name the actors in the movies more easily than the luminaries of the Revolution.

Lately, I've been reading Alan Furst's fabulous espionage novels in the Night Soldiers series. The book
Wendell Mckay
Aug 15, 2008 Wendell Mckay rated it it was amazing
Orlando Figes' magisterial narrative history of the Russian Revolution is little short of miraculous. Though it certainly isn't flawless--Figes' occasionally bitchy asides can be entertaining, but grow a little smug in a distinctively British way after a while--A PEOPLE'S TRAGEDY scores on so many levels that it seems almost churlish to point out flaws (not that this'll stop me). First and foremost is the fact that Figes manages to clearly convey the events of the Revolution, their contexts and ...more
Very detailed and very well-researched. It's well-written up until the end--all the political maneuvering of the 1918-1920 years and the level of detail Figes went into about it made my eyes cross. I'd actually count this as a point against Figes writing, since I'm familiar with the Russian Civil War era already and find it quite interesting...and yet Figes' discussion of it just about put me to sleep.

Where I really discount the book is where I see subtle bias creeping in between the lines. Orla
Matthew Griffiths
Without a shadow of a doubt the best book I read this year. An excellent in depth account of the progress of the Russian revolution and the way in which it was undoubtedly a tragedy for the Russian people. Figes charts the course which the revolution took in its early days and demonstrates that for all the hopes of the people that ultimately Russian civilisation was not yet ready for the utopian dreams of the intelligentsia. He also highlights the numerous missed occasions by both the monarchy a ...more
Nov 02, 2010 Laura rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
An incredibly comprehensive history of the Russian Revolution. Figes's prose is interesting, and his book quite engaging. Despite the incredible density of detail, it manages to flow well. I only abandoned it because it was far too detailed for my current (very limited) knowledge of Russian history, and went far beyond my own learning goals in this subject. I was looking for an entry-level overview of Russian history in the late 19th through 20th centuries. This book, for its many virtues, just ...more
Jim Hale
Jan 10, 2014 Jim Hale rated it it was amazing
Shelves: russian, history
Sweeping, magisterial, and highly readable, Figes manages to make sense out of one of the most complex events in world history. His insights and judgments are always fair-minded, but the facts he brings to light remove any doubt that the Communist Revolution was an epic tragedy. There were several times I stopped to think how similar the language used by Lenin to demonize the Kulaks is similar to what we're hearing today about "the rich...."
This book should serve as warning to anyone who thinks
Oct 09, 2015 Imelda rated it it was amazing
Figes has written an incredibly thorough and very engrossing history of the Russian revolution, tracing it from its roots in Alexander III's reign, through the upheaval and brutal repressions of Nicholas II, and all the way through to Lenin's death and Stalin's ascendancy. It is, surprisingly, also very readable. Although it took me almost 2 months to complete - it started to feel like a family member - I always found the book very hard to put down. Every page was engrossing, every story had ano ...more
Ronan Mcdonnell
Feb 16, 2016 Ronan Mcdonnell rated it really liked it
It's not often such a dense history can hold the attention of the casual reader at all turns. This however is different. It's a large work that you feel only scratches the surface of the vast conflict.
You come away with a number of inescapable conclusions. The Russia that emerged was not the one that most people wanted. A civil war will never set a country on a true path, when it's future is in the victors hands, ie the most ruthless and violent. No sides in the Russian conflict come out well,
Ashok Sridharan
Jan 31, 2015 Ashok Sridharan rated it it was amazing
This book has to be one of the finest works on history ever. Brilliantly researched and narrated, the characters of this work remain with you. Its been a dozen years since I read this book and yet much of it remains vivid in memory.

It has to be one of the most tragic stories ever narrated by any historian. In an age when revolutions are happening across the world, especially the Middle East, its an ominous reminder of the damage that the sudden collapse of existing regimes can do in the absence
Jan 30, 2016 Sam rated it it was amazing
This is a very well-written and insightful book about the Russian Revolution. The prose flows incredibly well and, despite being a 800 page book, it reads like it's only 300 pages. This is definitely a book I would read again and would recommend to anyone interested in Russian history.

Like all really good history books, this book does a fantastic job understanding the revolution within the context of its time and presents all sides of the conflict. He eventually divides his attention on the Rom
Jun 04, 2014 Gobasso rated it it was amazing
Shelves: history
I decided to read a mini course about the Russian Revolution for reasons I explain below. This book was a great beginning for several reasons. It's background chapters are a superb introduction to Russian history and politics in the three decades prior to the Revolution. Using the stories of individuals to illustrate how different groups of citizens responded to the Revolution made the history very real. It's use of new archival information seems to substantiate the authors opinions about the Re ...more
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Orlando Figes is a British historian of Russia, and a professor of history at Birkbeck, University of London.
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“The link between literacy and revolutions is a well-known historical phenomenon. The three great revolutions of modern European history -- the English, the French and the Russian -- all took place in societies where the rate of literacy was approaching 50 per cent. Literacy had a profound effect on the peasant mind and community. It promotes abstract thought and enables the peasant to master new skills and technologies, Which in turn helps him to accept the concept of progress that fuels change in the modern world.” 11 likes
“For all too many of these high-born revolutionaries, the main attraction of 'the cause' lay not so much in the satisfaction which they might derive from seeing the people's daily lives improved, as in their own romantic search for sense of 'wholeness' which might give higher meaning to their lives and to end alienation from the world.” 10 likes
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