Towards the end of this book, I began to think of the musical Les Misérables. The latter, better known story portrays revolutionaries as singing heroeTowards the end of this book, I began to think of the musical Les Misérables. The latter, better known story portrays revolutionaries as singing heroes of pure soul and devoted to reason over the darkness of superstition and corruption. Dostoyevsky gives us a more honest vision of the soul of the secular revolutionary. They are indeed devoted to reason, but they have forgotten what Hume has argued, that reason itself cannot tell us what goals are worth pursuing in life and which are not. The revolutionaries argue among themselves, each sure that "Reason" supports their personal vision for the future exclusively, but unable to prove it. In the end, the common bond that allows them to act in concert at all is the destruction of whatever currently exists.
This book is incredible. Outside of Mavriky Nikolaevich, I don't think I liked a single character, and his only saving grace was being so weak willed that the others (including his wife) treat him as a doormat. Stavrogin, who ironically is viewed as a superior being by all of the others, is the closest to being likable largely because he seems so lost, so without purpose to drive himself forward toward the nonsense the other revolutionaries are committing, but this sympathy is obliterated completely in Stavrogin's Confession (if you read this book, make sure it includes this chapter; Russian censors tried to remove it, and not for political reasons). I'm not sure which Verhovensky I would rather meet less, though obviously I know which one would more likely lead to my death.
The Possessed (better translated as The Demons) gives a disturbingly prophetic look into modern life. The old way of doing things is corrupt and weak; it is openly mocked and without the force of tradition is rapidly collapsing upon itself. The new way isn't a way at all, but merely the desire to destroy the old way. Once that is gone, new traditions are impossible to create, while new goals are obviously artificial and not eternal. Most are purely material beings unable of handling a higher thought, but the few who are truly gifted, those who think reflexively upon life, live in world of chaos. Unable to return and unable to move forward, they become destructive of themselves and of others purely for something to do. Most of them honestly believe in their various causes; they trick themselves into believing their actions are still connected to improving the world. Shatov, Shigalov, Liputin, Erkel, perhaps even the younger Verhovensky fall into this category, but Kirillov and Stavrogin are above even that. They see the emptiness of the new causes as clearly as the corruption of the old. It explains their aloofness from the revolutionary movement and their ultimate ends. ...more
A damn good book. One of those rare books where you feel like starting it again the second you finish, not because you think you'll find something hidA damn good book. One of those rare books where you feel like starting it again the second you finish, not because you think you'll find something hidden the first time but because you like the character enough to want to keep reading about him. ...more
Dead Souls is a witty and insightful look into both 19th Century Russia and human nature everywhere. The second part kind of comes apart a little, butDead Souls is a witty and insightful look into both 19th Century Russia and human nature everywhere. The second part kind of comes apart a little, but as I understand it Gogol's death kind of got in the way. ...more
Outstanding book. In all of Solzhenitsyn's books that I've read, I've found myself wishing there was a sequel just so I could know what happened to alOutstanding book. In all of Solzhenitsyn's books that I've read, I've found myself wishing there was a sequel just so I could know what happened to all of these characters later on. His social criticism is presented in an intensely personal way that both emphasizes the problems being highlighted without becoming pedantic. It's obvious reading this book that Solzhenitsyn is recalling events he personally lived through. ...more
Lenin's books are not worth reading. Calling upon people to destroy the state is easy enough; building up something after that, not so easy. ClaimingLenin's books are not worth reading. Calling upon people to destroy the state is easy enough; building up something after that, not so easy. Claiming that people will magically fall in love with laboring for others doesn't actually solve the problem, even if Marx (the great prophet) declared it so.
Also, I can't help but mock the "scientific" nature of Lenin's plans. As we all know, Russia was indeed ripe for communism. If only we could all live in a world as good as the Soviet Union! Oh, wait...
What's that you say, classical liberals? Those who lead the revolution will be reluctant to give up their absolute power? No way! ...more
Simply incredible. So much to say about so many aspects of human life that I can't sum it up, you'll just have to read it for yourself. And to think,Simply incredible. So much to say about so many aspects of human life that I can't sum it up, you'll just have to read it for yourself. And to think, this version I read was the censored one! Solzhenitsyn, like Dostoyevsky, was a ridiculously talented author, capturing the reader's attention with fascinating characters revealing amazing depths in human nature. ...more
I leave this book wondering why the Battle of Tannenberg isn't more widely studied by military history buffs. The Germans, initially caught off guardI leave this book wondering why the Battle of Tannenberg isn't more widely studied by military history buffs. The Germans, initially caught off guard by the rapid speed of Russia's invasion of East Prussia, manage to defeat an enemy twice their size due to their better command structure, logistics, and by the incredible blunders made by their enemy, not least of which includes sending plans through telegraph wires without encoding them first. Though a work of fiction, the battle itself is presented accurately in its main points. It vividly illustrates von Clausewitz's notions of "fog of war"; Solzhenitsyn does an incredible job showing the confusion that reigns for an army commander even before contact is made with the enemy, as poor Samsanov does not even know where his own corps are, while higher command keeps sending contradictory orders that only reach the general days latter. The notion of "friction" is keenly displayed as well. It is one thing to push a flag on a map, but it is quite enough for the thousands of hungry and tired soldiers that flag represents to push their way through forests and lakes without roads. An understanding of terrain is key in any battle, but it is one the Russian high command failed to grasp from their headquarters hundreds of miles to the rear. It also tends to help when the army commanders have even a basic respect for one another, rather than feuds going back decades, and when officers are appointed by seniority rather than skill one has to accept the consequences.
A very instructive work on command gone wrong. It's applications are by no means limited to the sphere of the military. As a literary work, it could have used some revisions (I skimmed chapters 61 and 62 out of a 64 chapter book), but in the main it was an enjoyable read. Characters like Samsanov and the fictional Voroyntsev are imminently likeable despite their flaws. Voroyntsev in particular keeps the story moving, the only staff officer from General Headquarters who "gets it" and spends time at the front.
Overall, the book was worth the time put into reading it. Solzhenitsyn always is. ...more
This short book is remarkable. The versatility of the human spirit to adapt to almost unimaginable situations, to redefine goals and be content with tThis short book is remarkable. The versatility of the human spirit to adapt to almost unimaginable situations, to redefine goals and be content with them, is put on full display. Not to mention the miserable conditions of life under Communism. My first encounter with Solzhenitsyn; I love Russian literature and he certainly deserves to be listed among their best authors. ...more
I have never been disappointed reading Dostoyevsky. A very solid shot at Utopians who believe mankind can be marshaled into a beautiful society.
The nI have never been disappointed reading Dostoyevsky. A very solid shot at Utopians who believe mankind can be marshaled into a beautiful society.
The narrator is a pathetic prick, which makes it all the more disturbing to agree with him or see similarities in personality at various points throughout the book. There were a few moments when I had to ask, Am I an asshole? That may be a question we should all ask a little more often, but if the narrator has proven anything it is that some people would not change even after making that remarkable discovery that they are indeed miserable creatures.
One of those books that could be dangerous to an unstable mind. Dostoyevsky isn't praising this man but merely pointing out that such people exist and that everyone has such traits. Chernishevsky (a good author in his own right) tried to create a perfect, rational being in the form of the character Rakhmetov, but such a man does not exist. I read What Is to Be Done in college for a class on Russian history, it is too bad it was not coupled with this book rather than just with Turgenev's Fathers and Sons.
A vile screed against a man who pointed out holes in the Soviet system and mainstream Marxist thought. Kautsky asked how a violent revolution could beA vile screed against a man who pointed out holes in the Soviet system and mainstream Marxist thought. Kautsky asked how a violent revolution could be prevented from collapsing into an oligarchical dictatorship, rather than the rule of the people. Lenin does not address that problem but rather accuses Kautsky of betraying Marxist thought. Marx is basically treated like prophets in the Old Testament, infallible.
Ironically enough, the all mighty History has proven Lenin wrong. Mankind will always have factions, and so long as the iron law of oligarchy remains, there will always be a distinction between those who have political power and those who do not. The larger the group of people, the more necessary it is. Marx never described the post revolution time in any detail for a reason: it ain't possible. ...more
This book is a difficult read, due to its dry subject, but the lessons are very important considering events in Afghanistan today. The Russian GeneralThis book is a difficult read, due to its dry subject, but the lessons are very important considering events in Afghanistan today. The Russian General Staff does a decent job of pointing out what went right for them (though they overestimate their own effectiveness often) and see some of the problems that defeated them, but fail to offer any ideas as to how the U.S.S.R. could have won the conflict. Certainly worth reading to clearly identify the problems we face, though you will not get the answers to those problems in this book....more