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Lenin: A Biography
Robert Service
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Lenin: A Biography

3.81  ·  Rating details ·  891 Ratings  ·  76 Reviews
Lenin is a colossal figure whose influence on twentieth-century history cannot be underestimated. Robert Service has written a calmly authoritative biography on this seemingly unknowable figure. Making use of recently opened archives, he has been able to piece together the private as well as the public life, giving the first complete picture of Lenin. This biography simult ...more
Published September 4th 2008 by Pan Publishing (first published 2000)
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Robert Service's Lenin is another effort at presenting the life and figure of the world's greatest revolutionary. Lenin's colossus has been written about before, both by sympathizers and detractors, who arrived at two totally different - and extreme - conclusions. This biography aims to present Lenin without making him a saint or a demon - which is an admirable and immensely difficult effort, if not downright impossible: Service himself isn't able to entirely extricate his own personal views on ...more
Feb 27, 2008 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
When I first read this book for A-Level History I thought it quite good. Coming back at it with more knowledge, I find Service's political and personal bias seeping through at every turn. The research is also not of the highest quality or depth, despite the advantages of historical perspective and access to the Russian archives. Better than Pipes, certainly, but to be taken with copious pinches of salt.
Kshitiz Goliya
Sep 27, 2013 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Lenin, from distance, is assumed to be a great humanist crusader of communasim - a champion of workers and peasents. He is considered to be the founder of a socialist state which Stalin led astray. On the contrary, he was a well to do upper middle class intellectual who spent most of his life away from Russia writing and debating and was never a famous personality till 1917 revolution. Besides being a boastful theorist who thought that only his interpretation of Marx was right, he was no friend ...more
Cheryl Astern
Apr 14, 2013 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
After reading this biography by Robert Service, I would read anything he wrote. He is currently a professor of Russian history at the University of Oxford, a Fellow of St Antony's College, Oxford, and a senior fellow at Stanford University's Hoover Institution. As an author Service is known for his 2000, 2004, and 2009 biographies of Vladimir Lenin, Joseph Stalin, and Leon Trotsky, respectively.

A real awakening, going way beyond the news media propaganda of my youth in the 1950-1960's. The book
Joseph Ryan
Robert Service is both a dull writer and certifiable jackass.
Service makes Lenin a real person. As the first great western biographer of Lenin, i.e. the first westerner to have access to previously suppressed archival materials, he vividly describes Lenin the person, Lenin the leader, Lenin the conniving politician. At times his analysis does seem to dwell for far too long on psycho-babble (e.g. how did the death of Lenin's father and brother effect him?, etc.) but the overall effect is to describe Lenin as a human.

Lenin was a product of his upbringing.
Dec 26, 2010 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Vladimir Ulyanov was born in 1870 in Simbirsk, a town in the Volga valley, to Ilya Ulyanov, a school inspector who had possibly Russian, possibly ethnic minority roots, and his wife Maria, who had Jewish and Swedish roots (her grandfather converted from Judaism to Orthodox Christianity with his two sons, and became an anti-Semite). Almost nothing was known about his early life until recently; for the fact that the young Vladimir liked Harriet Beecher Stowe's Uncle Tom's Cabin to be uncovered, th ...more
Mar 22, 2012 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: history
There are very few characters that have left quite as large a crater in the story of humanity as Vladimir Ilyich Lenin. The revolution that he spearheaded towards the start of the 20th century would set the whole world onto a different course after his death, the reverberations of which still being felt today. Opinions surrounding the man couldn’t be more divided. A popular opinion amongst those with more left-wing inclinations (an opinion that I, being ignorant of the matter, used to assume to ...more
Jul 27, 2012 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
One cannot understate the scholarly nature of Robert Service's Lenin. Here we have one of the most mythologized characters of the 20th century presented to us in entirely human form.
Service traces every aspect of Lenin's life, including some interesting background information on his father and grandfather, which can seem like a digression at times.
However, what we have is a complete portrait, including events that shaped his early life such as the execution of his elder brother Alexander and the
Babak Fakhamzadeh
More scholarly and not as readable as Service's Trotski, this book is still very much worth the time. Written after the Kremlin archives opened up on the more salient points of Lenin's life, the more interesting parts of the book are on Lenin's early life and his last years.

Specifically, Service pulls the saint Lenin from his pedestal, showing that Lenin, like Stalin, or Trotski for that matter, had no qualms about terrorizing millions, if needed.
If anything, what differed between Stalin on one
Sarah Furger
Sep 27, 2012 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I haven't read anything by Robert Service before this biography, and I must say that I will devour his other books. His biography of Lenin did what so many others failed to do. It took a polarizing, political, ideologue and made him a man. A man, with hopes, and dreams, and failures and feelings. I am a Marxist myself, and I found Lenin's conception of the vanguard convincing even before this book. If you're at all interested in the life of V. I. Lenin, please read!
P. H.
Oct 28, 2008 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I hated Lenin until I read this book. I never have read his actual work, but I enjoyed reading about his very bourgeous existence and feeling justified for having disowned him as a noble man for so long--but at the end of the day, cowards have run this world for a millennia anyway.
David Alexander
Jan 13, 2009 rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
Poorly written and poorly organized. Fails to elaborate on any details of how Lenin interacted within the Bolshevik organization. Also fails to provide any real insight into Lenin's ideological development or theories. May as well read a Wikipedia entry with a timeline. Very disappointing.
Emin Kiraz
Aug 18, 2014 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Took a long time to finish, but I thinks it worths. Well-written and detailed biography, ending with a rather short but critical analysis on the evolution and use of Leninism after his life.
Chris Green
This is a biography of Vladimir Lenin, the father of modern communism. He is arguably the most important political figure of the 20th century. His achievements are largely felt in the world today. The governments of China, North Korea, Vietnam, and Cuba have evolved from his life. At its height, communism ruled over the population of one-third of the entire world. Lenin came to this infamy from an unsuspecting childhood, until the death of his father and eldest brother. Lenin's life is a complic ...more
Czarny Pies
May 31, 2014 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: Anyone interested in World History
This book is a must read for anyone wishing to learn how the Communists came to power in Russia, consolidated their position and then successfully promoted Soviet Communism through-out the world.

Service presents a compelling picture of Lenin during his childhood and adolescent years. Lenin was born into the lower aristocracy. His father was an estate manager. Lenin's experiences from his youth left him with a lasting dislike and distrust of Russia's agricultural classes. Lenin's views in this ar
Mihai Popa
Apr 30, 2012 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Such a book is highly important first of all as a... service for the historical truth, whatever the historical truth may be, and I understand it here as a succession of real facts and characters recorded and explained objectively and accurately, as they happened. The biography of Lenin written by Robert Service refers to and benefits also from the Soviet secret archives; accessing them enabled the author to write about real events and facts, far from the traditional Soviet hagiographical literat ...more
Nov 29, 2011 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: history
Service's biography of Lenin is excellent. It gives a clear picture of Lenin's personality as well as his political thought and machinations over time. The book is, however, narrowly concerned with Lenin; do not expect a history of Russia in the first quarter of the 20th century. The context provided by Service is thin. For example, in one chapter he emphasizes Lenin's marginal status, even among emigre revolutionaries; in subsequent chapters, we learn of Bolshevik activism in Russia and the eme ...more
George Parks
Mar 21, 2013 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Well done, a biography that shows the drive behind Lenin's passion, and the unusual pathway this intellectual elite took to create the "dictatorship of the proletariat." It is important to undestand that the man's intent in the sense of what he dreamed it would accomplish was not necessarily evil, but rather it was unrealistic. And in the end his ideology became so important that his hypothetical ends (never achieved) justified the means. The means were, chaos to create order, classism, collecti ...more
Oct 27, 2014 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This is an excellent biography. Well researched, and well argued when the author questions some of the prevailing myths about Lenin. The picture of Lenin as a person as well as a politician and ideologue is especially well done. A sobering portrait of a dedicated, ruthless revolutionary.
Debi Robertson
Jun 17, 2014 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
An excellent read. Service is a little repetitive when it comes to family/names. I got it after the third time! This man and Churchill had a lot of similar personality traits. If you like Russian history this is definitly a good one.
Dense and meandering biography on Lenin, who remains an impenetrable figure. Good focus on his early life, but it starts to lose focus after an endless recounting of meetings and conferences and denunciations.
Summary of Argument:

In his book, Robert Service paints a picture of Lenin that strikes the balance between the Soviet image of a kind grandfather and the totalitarian school's power-hungry bloodsucker from hell. Service's ultimate goal was to bring together the private and the public aspects of Lenin's life, connecting Lenin the revolutionary with Lenin the man (indeed, he argues that one cannot be explained without the other), which could only be possible after the opening of the archives in 19
Jan 28, 2017 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 2017
A serviceable (pardon the pun) biography of one of the most important personages of modern times. Stalin, of whom there is several acclaimed recent biographies, stood as a sort of colossus. Lenin was more of a enigma. You can learn rather a bit about the Soviet Union and indeed Europe reading a Stalin biography. But if you would like to learn about the October Revolution, you would be wise to get a book on the October Revolution, so to really get a understanding of the context surrounding it. Wh ...more
Kenghis Khan
Dec 11, 2016 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Gripping writing from an author whose visceral dislike of his subject is very clear. Service in essence sums up Lenin as a "bookish fanatic" who seems to have taken a highly idiosyncratic approach to socialism, much less to changing the world. I tend to be sympathetic to Service's main argument that in essence Lenin's considerable penchant for authoritarianism set up the Soviet state for not only failure but for causing considerable suffering. In many respects Lenin comes across more as a Peter ...more
Stuart Brown
Feb 25, 2017 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: history, biography
A thoroughly enjoyable review ("enjoyable" might not be quite the right word) of Lenin's life and character. The author appears to have been one of the first Western scholars to get unimpeded access to the old Soviet archives, and there is a lot of fascinating (and horrifying) detail. If nothing else, any lingering apologias for Lenin and any claims that the Soviet Union only went astray under Stalin should be resoundingly put to rest. Lenin was a monster, albeit a bookish, nerdy one: the casual ...more
Benjamin Eskola
A few reviews of this that I’ve seen have talked about how unbiased this biography is. That’s nonsense. Actually, I don’t think that being “unbiased” is even possible, and certainly not necessarily desirable, as long as authors — and readers — are honest about their biases. Service doesn’t seem to make much of an attempt to hide his bias; indeed, at some points he openly expresses his antipathy towards Lenin and towards socialism in general, so it’s difficult to support a claim of neutrality her ...more
Michael T.
Lenin set the template for the entire 20th century experiment with Marxist socialism, known in my youth as Communism. Thus, it is worthwhile to look into the man & his motivations, his strengths & his shortcomings, to see how much of the failure of these experiments is innate in the Marxist socialist ideology itself, and how much of them might have come from this particular adherent to that ideology. For, whether he intended to or not, Lenin gave us Stalin, Mao & Pol Pot, and , to a ...more
Mar 20, 2011 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: history
I just finished Robert Service's biographies of both Lenin and Stalin. His are probably the definitive biographies in that he is the only person to have written with access to Soviet records available since the demise of the USSR. It's interesting to compare both figures.

Both were cruel and dictatorial. While Lenin had no problem ordering people to be shot or sent to the Gulag, his demeanor was more hard hearted and apathetic to his victims. Whereas Stalin actually seemed to enjoy his persecutio
Robert Gore
This may not be Robert Service's fault, but I found this book somewhat tedious, perhaps because Lenin's life was wrapped up in squabbling, power struggles, ideological battles, and long exiles from Russia. One would think that there is enough drama in Lenin's life, and in the October Revolution, to make this biography more interesting. I think that Service could have delved less into the inside political baseball of Lenin's life, and much more into Russia itself. Lenin did not venture much outsi ...more
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I know more about Service than about Lenin 2 27 Oct 15, 2012 11:36AM  
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Robert Service is a British academic and historian of modern Russia and the Soviet Union. He is a professor of Russian history at the University of Oxford and a Fellow at St. Antony's College, Oxford.

He is the author of the highly acclaimed Lenin: A Biography, A History of Twentieth - Century Russia, Russia: Experiment with a People and Stalin: A Biography, as well as many other books on Russia's
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