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The Gulag Archipelago, 1918 - 1956: An Experiment in Literary Investigation, Books I-II

(The Gulag Archipelago 1918-1956 #1-2)

4.33  ·  Rating details ·  7,209 ratings  ·  539 reviews
Volume 1 of the gripping epic masterpiece, Solzhenitsyn's chilling report of his arrest and interrogation, which exposed to the world the vast bureaucracy of secret police that haunted Soviet society ...more
Mass Market Paperback, 660 pages
Published 1974 by Harper & Row (first published 1973)
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Jon Gill Yes, this is abridged. The full version is more than twice as long and has a little less continuity; he abridged it for clarity and unity, since he wr…moreYes, this is abridged. The full version is more than twice as long and has a little less continuity; he abridged it for clarity and unity, since he wrote it over decades, and wanted people to actually be able to read it. In many ways, it's part diary, part definitive history, part protest. Further abridging wouldn't have hurt, but I think this is as far as he could bring himself to self-edit.

I agree that you should get a version that has the author's notes, because they are helpful in understanding the further context, or in updating what happens later in some events or characters (since he is making notes on things he writes over the period of decades). Many references will still go over non-Russian readers' heads, but that's okay, and you'll still grasp the larger concepts.

While the abridged version is very long (I'm still only halfway through), there is a good level of continuity and a wide variety of tone that makes it much more readable than many nonfiction books this size. Be prepared to take a long time, and just chew on the pieces as they come. Also arrange to be reading something happy and fun on the side, in case it drags you down a bit. His sarcasm will sometimes help, but I still recommend a nice walk in the sunshine with your favorite fiction for those necessary times.(less)

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Oct 08, 2012 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I went for a walk this afternoon, strolling around the unfamiliar student district near Chosun University. It was pleasant just to be out and about, looking at stuff, breathing in air lightly spiced with the peculiar sewage-and-market smells of urban Korea. As I often do, I stopped off at a café, where I sat and dicked around on my iPad for an hour. Then I came home and put on a load of laundry. And that was about it.

Is my itinerary of any conceivable interest to anyone? Hardly. But listen now:
Sep 07, 2007 rated it it was amazing
Recommends it for: Soviet history buffs, Russian literature fans
One of the most compelling non-fiction texts I've ever read. I naively picked this up after reading One Day In The Life of Ivan Denisovitch thinking it would be a longer version of a similar concept. Instead, it turns out this mighty work is half well-researched investigation into the processing of Soviet political prisoners and half personal account of the author's own experience in the "sewage-waste disposal" that led to the gulag.

I'll concede that Solzhenitsyn's personal accounts are the rea
This work is not simply a testament and memorial to the victims of the Gulag, it is also a testament to Solzhenitsyn's courage and righteous anger. That he was once a victim of Gulag himself only underlines that courage, for he could easily have gone back in again for writing this testimonial. And while current figures (1.5 – 2 million) for the numbers of those who died in the Gulag are much less than those estimated by Solzhenitsyn in this book, it still boggles the imagination to think that, a ...more
Sep 23, 2007 rated it it was amazing
This is not an easy read, and nor was it ever meant to be. It was originally written in Russian for Russians, and the odd sensibilities and colloquialisms that irritate many of my fellow Anglophones reflect this fact. It's extremely dense, and I probably won't get to the other four parts in the near future. However, anyone with an interest in the history of Communism, the Soviet Union, or political repression in general should read it. Yes, it's tedious, and it is tough going if you've never tak ...more
Apr 18, 2018 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: favorites
"What about the main thing in life, all its riddles? If you want, I'll spell it out for you right now. Do not pursue what is illusory - property and position: all that is gained at the expense of your nerves decade after decade, and is confiscated in one fell night. Live with a steady superiority over life - don't be afraid of misfortune, and do not yearn after happiness; it is, after all, all the same: the bitter doesn't last forever, and the sweet never fills the cup to overflowing. It is enou ...more
May 01, 2020 rated it it was amazing
Mr. Solzhenitsyn’s work is the living monument to decades of unimaginable Russian miseries, which echo even unto this day, sadly. What The Gulag Archipelago lacks in poetic magic, it more than makes up for as a remarkable chronicle to the boundaries of the human condition along several dimensions. I’m looking forward to the next volume.
Jacob Aitken
Solzhenitsyn, Aleksandr. The Gulag Archipelago: A Literary Investigation I-II. New York: Harper & Row Publishers, 1974 [1973].

Few books are written with raw, electric energy. Solzhenitsyn’s work can only be labeled as a testimony to the 20th century and its postmodern politics. His work is a triumph of the human spirit. As is commonly noted of classics, this book is quoted yet rarely read. You will see blue-pilled virtue cons quote it about “human dignity” (and liberals ignore it altogether), bu
Apr 29, 2015 rated it really liked it
Even for someone familiarized with the era and events, this book has been one of the most difficult reading experiences of the past years. Yet, one should push through and read all of it, in all its gore. We must never forget these events that shaped human history and influence it today - we must look at it straight in the eye and make sure we don't repeat this. A requiem for human pain and endurance in the face of complete absurdity and an ode to the spirit, that strives to be free even in the ...more
A story I've told more than a few times: when Mr. Solzhenitsyn died in 2008, I thought that an appropriate time to read this book. So I took it with me on a business trip (I found a receipt in the book from 8/19/2008) and read quite a bit of it with much interest. I was so wrapped up in the book, in fact, that I was surprised when I felt the plane begin to slow down. "Could we already be to Newark? Gosh, that seemed like a short trip." In fact, when I looked out the window, we were slowing down ...more
Jul 02, 2010 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 2010
This is the kind of book that is talked about, and quoted more often than it is read. In God's providence, Solzhenitsyn was arrested and spent years in the Gulag. What miserable irony that a man of Solzhenitsyn's literary talent spent time in the Gulag allowing him to expose the horrors of Soviet communism to the world.

This book is an important testament to the wicked ideology of communism. It is clear from this first volume alone that Soviet communism was a far greater evil than the Nazism of H
Cassandra Kay Silva
May 17, 2020 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: history
I started reading this series after a verbal altercation with an individual over my American upbringing and challenged notions about the Soviet Union and its actuality. As someone who does not like being challenged on their assumptions unfairly, I took up the challenge of reading the canon of the Gulgag in an attempt to gain an awareness of something that apparently I was fundamentally missing.

Oh had sadly true that statement is. How fatefully unaware my assumptions regarding humanity tyranny a
This book should be the bible for those who keep praising Soviet Union. It should finally open their eyes. And if this book wouldn't be able to do it, I'm afraid, nothing would. ...more
Patrick Peterson
20 Jan 2018
I read this about 1973-4.
What an incredible and incredibly depressing history of the Soviet Gulag.
Evil Empire shattering documentation.

It was history in less than 20 years!
Aug 30, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: history
Prison in a civilized society should be limited to setting apart those who would be a threat to others if allowed freedom. They should not be deprived beyond this. There should be regular meals, exercise and diversions such as TV and reading. Humanity should not end at a prison gate because a prisoner is still human. Though there are countries that practice this, for most societies prison is a place for punishment right up to torture regardless of all the evidence that it is counterproductive.

Aug 28, 2016 rated it it was amazing
This is the review for only the first volume, I'll review the other two.
It's hard to chose a starting point for this review as it is one of the most interesting literary experiments I know of. It is a mixture of Solzhenitsyn's own thoughts on various subjects which are not quite philosophy, but are certainly philosophical, his reflections on what it was like going through the process of being sent to a gulag (by the end he is still in a transitory prison) and a detailed history of the Soviet ju
Max McNabb
Dec 03, 2017 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This is the book that forced even French intellectuals like Sartre to admit the Soviet dream was a nightmare (though they were quick to rebrand their socialist agenda, concealing it under the guise of postmodernism). Every SJW who has ever marched in a protest under the banner of the hammer and sickle should have their eyelids taped open and be forced to read this unremitting chronicle of horror. Confront them with the evil that the (supposedly) good intentions of socialists unleased on the 20th ...more
Feb 28, 2008 rated it it was amazing
Recommends it for: everyone
This might be the best book written in the twentieth century. It is, of course, an important historical document. Its six books one by one deal with the entire experience and history of the GULAG system; not just in terms of events but in the effect words and concepts have on reality. Here is where this book transcends history and rises to greatness. Solzhenitsyn uses the GULAG system to define the moral bankruptcy of the society and the philosophy that produced this nightmare, barbed-wire world ...more
One of the most intensely human books I have read in a long time - which is the exact opposite of what I had expected. Why? Because this is a treatise cataloguing a crushing system of tyranny and brutality. It painstakingly details systematic DEhumanization... AND YET what the book is really about are the zeks within the system and their ability to find spiritual strength and dignity in the abyss. In the utter ABYSS.

Richly illustrated, brilliantly written. It is a full, captivating, meticulously
Oct 30, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recently I read some article in which the author stated that in order to comprehend the twentieth century, one has to read three authors: Michel Houellebecq, George Orwell, and Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn. Houellebecq, a contemporary French writer, writes primarily about the emptiness of Western society and the increasing influence of Islamic norms and values in the West. Orwell wrote about any social injustice he encountered: the rise of fascism and national socialism, the economic exploitation of h ...more
Sometimes (like today) when I have had a really long day at work, and nothing seems to be quite going my way, or I'm verbally assaulted by one or more parties, or I have to do too much math and my brain melts a little, I think that the idea of being in the Gulag sounds pretty nice right now.

Of course I'm not serious, and if you think I am, you shouldn't be reading my reviews.

But on days like today where it just doesn't seem like things could get much worse, it's hard not to think of Solzhenitsyn
Dec 23, 2007 rated it it was amazing
Recommends it for: Russion Lit/History buffs, with strong stomachs
Although this was really tough to slog through, by its end, I'm on the edge of my seat to read more. I hadn't known this was a seven part work, encapsuled in three volumes. I agree with another reviewer--it is hard to rate this (volume 1) with a certain number of stars, the implication being that everyone should read it--this is not your pollyanna bedtime story. But it is such an IMPORTANT work. Thank you to those who've translated it and distributed it. I hope all who value the first volume go ...more
Andrew Hove
May 11, 2020 rated it it was amazing
Good lord this book struck a chord. When you're having a tough time with the current pandemic, read this book and you'll realize things ain't that bad.

The sheer depravity of the ruling party in the early 20th-century soviet union will boggle the mind.
Jonathan Maas
May 28, 2017 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Solzhenitsyn is a hero for writing this, a hero for all humanity.
Dan Graser
Jan 05, 2019 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
It was just over 10 years ago that I read the abridged version of Solzhenitsyn's, "Gulag Archipelago," and committed to eventually reading the whole thing as I was transfixed by the shortened version of the work. This year I actually will live up to that commitment!

Here in the first volume of this Nobel-Prize winning work which Time Magazine dubbed, "The Best Nonfiction book of the 20th Century," the story begins with an appropriate amount of context and background information given to properly
Jun 19, 2010 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
It's taking me a long time to get through the Gulag Arhcipelago. I have to add a leaven of more cheerful books to sustain me, but that unfortunately makes me feel like I can't keep a very accurate mental picture of the details.

Still, when I first opened Volume 1, I couldn't help feeling a thrill of excitement imagining the lightning bolt this book was in its time and how it must have felt to obtain it secretly, read it hurriedly -- and nervously! -- and again pass it on.

I have heard, and I bel
Paul Szydlowski
Apr 07, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Relentless doesn't begin to describe this book - and this is just Volume I, detailing arrest, trial and transport within the Soviet prison system under Stalin. Beyond the cruel torture tactics, outlined numerically 1 through 21 (or more, perhaps), the capricious reasons behind arrests and sentences and the general misery surrounding this memoir of imprisonment, lies insight into human nature - how a nation can fall prey to the evils of those at the top, the acquiescence of those being ruled and ...more
Corinne Wasilewski
Jul 31, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Horrific book, but, important history. My husband, a Pole, is well versed in this period of Soviet history but me, a Canadian, knew nothing. Why is this not taught in school? I haven't even noticed it in my son's university history offerings. ...more
Michael Perkins
Jun 02, 2015 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
new article: the author who brought down an empire...
Oct 27, 2019 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: deep-knowledge
Highly recommended
Nathan Albright
Nov 25, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: challenge-2018
This book is without a doubt a classic, and it is one that I have been familiar with for a long time, but which I only recently started reading.  Having heard some of the quotes from this author before and having read them, it was quite interesting to see the context in which they appear, and to see this work as an example of a man trying to come to grips with his own humanity and the inhumanity of his place and time.  Few books are as damning a statement about the immorality of ideologies, espe ...more
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Aleksandr Isayevich Solzhenitsyn (Russian: Александр Иса́евич Солженицын) was a Soviet and Russian novelist, dramatist, and historian. Through his writings he helped to make the world aware of the Gulag, the Soviet Union's forced labor camp system—particularly The Gulag Archipelago and One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich, two of his best-known works.

Solzhenitsyn was awarded the Nobel Prize in

Other books in the series

The Gulag Archipelago 1918-1956 (4 books)
  • Fängelseindustrin (Gulag-arkipelagen, #1)
  • Evig rörelse (Gulag-arkipelagen, #2)
  • The Gulag Archipelago, 1918-1956: An Experiment in Literary Investigation, Books III-IV
  • The Gulag Archipelago, 1918-1956: An Experiment in Literary Investigation, Books V-VII

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