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Gulag: A History

4.26  ·  Rating details ·  10,079 ratings  ·  841 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, 1st, 610 pages
Published 2003 by Doubleday
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c h r i s No not really, Stalin was a good guy. The people in the Gulags were mostly Nazis, white Russian anti-Semites, corrupt officials, other criminals from …moreNo not really, Stalin was a good guy. The people in the Gulags were mostly Nazis, white Russian anti-Semites, corrupt officials, other criminals from Tsarist Russia who led the ancien regime. In capitalism the poor are criminalized by the rich, while in the former USSR the working-class ran the state, so the old ultra-rich Tsarist exploiters were first sent to the gulags. In the US there are over 2 million non-whites in prison right now, these types of anti-communist books are just deflection.(less)

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I read history books because of my undying belief that as a human being, I am responsible for anything that humans do. If murder happens, it is because I have it in me as well. If kindness happens, it is because I am capable of kindness. This belief does not put me or humanity at the center of anything - I think anthropocentrism is one of the worst ways of explaining our existence - but rather connects me to every other human being that has ever lived, or will ever live. I believe in patterns - ...more
Jul 05, 2008 rated it really liked it
Shelves: russian, history
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
Brett C
Sep 29, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: soviet-studies
I learned a great deal from this book. This is a well-researched and scholarly book about a subject that is rarely discussed. The introduction was enough to sell me into wanting to know more. This book lays it all out: the beginnings of the penal system of Czarist Russia, the revolution, and into the apex of Gulag atrocities. The most informative was the life inside the camps: arrests, the prisoners, the guards, women & children, survival, and rebellion & escape.

The book goes all the way throug
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
Oct 02, 2013 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
A third to a fourth remains when I write this. I have 8 hours left of 27 hours and 45 minutes!

I am chugging along, but I'll tell you Gulag: A History is an exceptionally hard read. The topic is dark, and I am usually fine with difficult subjects, but this proves to be harder than I thought! The book is VERY thorough. Chapter after chapter covering every possible aspect of the Gulag camps. I have read a lot previously on the topic. References are made to much of what I have read before.....and y
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.
Apr 01, 2011 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
Mar 28, 2021 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: nonfiction
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 and mass murder, the better we will understand the darker side of our own human nature. This book was not written “so that it will not happen again,” as the cliché would have it. This book was written because it almost certainly will happen again. Totalitarian philosophies ...more
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
"No one wants to be told that there was another, darker side to Allied victory, or that the camps of Stalin, our ally, expanded just as the camps of Hitler, our enemy, were liberated... No one wants to think that we defeated one mass murderer with the help of another."

▪️GULAG: A History, by Anne Applebaum, 2003.

Appleabaum's exhaustive history of the network of forced labor camps/prisons that operated for decades across the whole of the USSR, in "every one of the USSR's twelve time zones" (pg15)
Mar 18, 2015 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
Apr 02, 2008 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. ...more
Elena Sala
Jun 25, 2020 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
GULAG (2003) is an impressive, documented history of the Soviet concentration camps. Anne Applebaum, a former Warsaw correspondent for The Economist, describes how a regulated, centralized system of prison labor—unprecedented in scope—gradually arose out of the chaos of the Russian Revolution. Applebaum researched newly accessible Soviet archives as well as camp memoirs and interviews with survivors to trace the Gulag's origins and expansion.

Although the Gulag reached its cruellest and most ext
Sep 08, 2018 rated it really liked it
What an unbelievably grim book. Dark topic non-fictions always take me a while to get through, especially when it's 600 or more pages.

People were ripped from their families for being too rich, something I didn't know about, with the rise of communism there was a harsh outlook on those living in luxury or above the means deemed appropriate and many of them were rounded up and put into these prisons, along with political opponents, petty criminals and anyone else the regime found to be bothersome
Czarny Pies
Apr 05, 2021 rated it it was amazing
Recommends it for: Readers ready for rough ride.
Shelves: european-history
Winner of the Pulitzer Prize for General Nonfiction (2004), the Duff Cooper Prize (2003), and the Samuel Johnson Prize for Non-Fiction Nominee (2004) easily merits a five-star rating on the Goodreads scale. Published in2003, forty years after Solzhenitsyn' "Gulag Archipelago", Applebaum was able to draw on an extensive body of academic works and memoirs written in Russian and Polish in order to bring the Anglo-Saxon world up to date on the state of knowledge of a remarkable and horrifying phenom ...more
Apr 04, 2007 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
La Crosse County Library
Review originally published September 2015

In 2017, a mere two years away, the world will recognize the one hundredth anniversary of the Russian Revolution: a violent, prolonged event that saw the demise of the nation’s once great tsarist empire and the rise of what would eventually become the Soviet Union. The first Soviet forced labor camps were established as early as 1918, and would quietly exist (in one form or another) for the next sixty-eight years, until Mikhail Gorbachev approved a g
Carol Bakker
Woe. The scope of Stalin's evil, the scale of suffering described in this book is suffocating. Though agonizing to read, it is important for understanding the Gulag. (Gulag is a Soviet acronym for the system of Soviet slave labor camps.)

Find this title on Amazon, click on the "Look Inside" feature. Applebaum's introduction is available to read without purchasing the book. It answers the question that has plagued me for a decade: why, when the horror of Hitler's crimes are recounted, are not Sta
This is an outstanding immersion in a terrible time! At times this book was a bit overwhelming. Applebaum brings forward an avalanche of names, places and numbers, suspended in a fog of despair and tyranny. Yet she also brings forward lots of voices from memoirs speaking like ghosts from the past of these times. We cannot forget these travesties of tyranny - of people kept captive by fear and oppression. It is sobering to experience the 20th century's Soviet Union through Applebaum's perceptive ...more
Feb 11, 2010 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
Jill S
May 11, 2020 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: non-fiction
I'm not sure why I was so compelled to pick up Anne Applebaum's Gulag, a book dealing with a very dark and heavy subject matter, during the COVID-19 pandemic, but here we are.

This is a triumph of a history book. Applebaum manages to make a dark and complex history accessible and very readable. It does get a bit dense with facts, especially throughout the middle section, but I was compelled to keep reading. It may be because I have a fondness for Gorbachev, but I found the last section about the
Nov 24, 2012 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
Anthony Taylor
May 09, 2022 rated it liked it
Too long/too repetitive.

I made my way to this book via eminent historian Simon Sebag Montefiore’s list of essential reading on understanding Russia, which for me is a gold mine of great historical and cultural works recommended by someone I have a huge amount of respect for. I had also read Anne Applebaum’s Red Famine which I found decent, if not mind blowing.

From reading the reviews, seeing the great names (Antony Beevor, Richard Overy, Adam Zamoyski etc) written all over the cover of the book
A.L. Sowards
Applebaum is one of a few great new-to-me nonfiction authors I discovered this year. Her books are very readable and very well researched. I completely understand why this one received a Pulitzer prize.

Had Dante been born after Stalin, he could easily have described one of the circles of hell as a gulag. Applebaum has done a very thorough job of detailing the history of the camps and the types of experiences its prisoners suffered. It’s terrifying. Early in the book, Applebaum remarks on a worry
27 hours and 40 minutes unabridged.

Some of the primary sources frequently mentioned in this book are already well known in the West for their gulag writings: Shalamov, Solzhenitsyn, Dolgun, Dostoevsky, etc. But this book goes further in introducing us to the accounts of many others, including prison camp administrators.

The author visited the place where several camps had existed - in some cases museums, in others reclaimed by nature, with perhaps just a memorial at the site of one of the m
Mar 29, 2018 rated it really liked it
Anne Applebaum delivers an important, comprehensive, and damning history of the Gulag. The vast array of Soviet concentration camps originated in the Bolshevik Revolution and lasted until well after Stalin's death, with the final amnesty of political prisoners occurring in the mid-1980s. These camps held millions of criminal and political prisoners. Applebaum does a phenomenal job telling the history of the camp system and it's unfortunate prisoners. This is a must read for any student of Russia ...more
Michael Gerald
Jan 03, 2012 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
A great complement to the books, "The Gulag Archipelago" and "Nothing to Envy: Ordinary Lives in North Korea". ...more
Frank Stein
Mar 24, 2017 rated it it was amazing
This is an eye-opening look at a dictatorial bureaucracy run amok, and the consequences of that bureaucratic nightmare on real human beings.

Applebaum writes about the Soviet Gulag first as a narrative history and then as a social history. Her narrative history begins with the early Cheka (or pre-KGB) prison on the Solovetsky island monastery, in the White Sea, where a former prisoner named Naftaley Frenkel became a manager of the prison and, in true Soviet fashion, tried to turn it into a source
Rick Boyer
Jan 05, 2014 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
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Anne Elizabeth Applebaum is a Polish-American journalist and historian. She has written extensively about Marxism–Leninism and the development of civil society in Central and Eastern Europe. She has worked at The Economist and The Spectator, and was a member of the editorial board of The Washington Post.

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138 likes · 38 comments
“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.” 16 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.” 11 likes
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