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Gulag: A History

4.20  ·  Rating details ·  7,523 ratings  ·  550 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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4.20  · 
Rating details
 ·  7,523 ratings  ·  550 reviews

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Jul 05, 2008 rated it really liked it
Shelves: history, russian
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
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
Σωτήρης  Αδαμαρέτσος
Έργο αποκάλυψη! Διαβασμένο σχεδόν δύο φορές, περισυ και ξανά φέτος, το κολλοσιαιο έργο της Applebaum είναι μια γροθιά στο στομάχι! Και κυρίως ένα ξύπνημα από βαθύ λήθαργο...
Είναι απίστευτο πως όλες αυτές οι ιδέες και οι "λύσεις" της ανθρώπινης σκέψης που θέλησαν να διαμορφώσουν τον Νέο άνθρωπο ή τον κατά Νίτσε Υπερανθρωπο οδήγησαν με μαθηματική ακρίβεια στο προφανές: στην απόρριψη και συνειδητή μηδαμινοτητα και εκμηδενιση αυτού του ίδιου, του Ανθρώπου, χάριν μιας ιδέας.
Μέσα από τις σελίδες αυτού
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
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
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.
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
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
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
Bill Door
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
Mar 24, 2011 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: russia, us, history, 21-ce
Read 60% of this then my interest precipitously flagged. To recall a line from Candide: The book fell from my hands.
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
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
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
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.
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
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
Rachel Holtzclaw
this sure was about the gulag!
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
Mar 19, 2014 rated it really liked it
Shelves: non-fiction
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
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
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", 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
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
Jan 24, 2016 rated it really liked it
Eye opening. Amazing how this part of history seems to be left alone, especially in the West. Applebaum acknowledges this when she visits the prisons on her own. An interesting read and one that includes the power that literature and poetry has when many great Russian writers were finally able to get their works pertaining to these camps published decades later.
Peggy Warren
Jan 17, 2019 rated it really liked it
A vivid, gruesome history of Soviet concentration camps.
Alper Çuğun
Apr 12, 2012 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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

Mar 03, 2012 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
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
Oct 16, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Probably no review can do complete justice to the depth, breadth, and importance of this book. Written when researchers were able to gain better access to Soviet archives (which have since reduced access), this book provides a record of Gulag terror, Gulag society, and Gulag goals, aims, and failures--a record we might not otherwise have to such a comprehensive extent. It supports the veracity of the memoirs of Gulag survivors and compiles numbers (most of them stomach-turning) for how many peop ...more
Marisol García
La investigación es impecable, con una explicación que acude todo el tiempo a datos, contexto y citas para instalar el por qué, cómo, dónde y para qué de tanto (tanto, tanto) horror. Es justo que la autora reserve al principio y al final una opinión personal sobre el tema, pues la deshumanización no puede relatarse en una descripción objetiva. Pero esto es periodismo, y el gulag tiene un correlato literario y testimonial muy importante en los trabajos de varios novelistas y ensayistas rusos, y q ...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.

“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.” 12 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.” 8 likes
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