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Symphony for the City of the Dead: Dmitri Shostakovich and the Siege of Leningrad

4.35  ·  Rating details ·  4,410 ratings  ·  1,103 reviews
National Book Award winner M. T. Anderson delivers an account of the Siege of Leningrad and the role played by Russian composer Shostakovich and his Leningrad Symphony.

In September 1941, Adolf Hitler’s Wehrmacht surrounded Leningrad in what was to become one of the longest and most destructive sieges in Western history—almost three years of bombardment and starvation that
Hardcover, 456 pages
Published September 22nd 2015 by Candlewick
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Jimmy Winokur I listened, and enjoyed both the book and the narration. With audiobooks about music, I often wish some music was included to hear what's being discus…moreI listened, and enjoyed both the book and the narration. With audiobooks about music, I often wish some music was included to hear what's being discussed. There, there were fleeting snippets -- too short to convey anything, really. I don't know what photos you reference -- but I found myself vividly visualizing much that happened. I guess I would have liked to see photos of the Leningrad perfomance of the Symphony, an amazing feat under all the terrioble circunmstances.(less)
Jimmy Winokur Amazing that a 10 year old would read, comprehend and enjoy this. I am impressed!

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Jan 29, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Every now and then a book comes along that blows me away and Symphony for the City of the Dead: Dmitri Shostakovich and the Siege of Leningrad is one of those books.
A riveting story of the music of composer Dimitri Shostakovich along with an extensively researched
history of the siege of Leningrad.

I was vaguely aware of this composer and to be honest had only a little interest in reading this book, I had an audio copy downloaded for such a long time and never felt compelled to listen to it unti
Abby Johnson
Jul 05, 2015 rated it it was amazing
Holy cats, you guys. THIS BOOK. It's a masterpiece. At once a fascinating biography, a testament to the power of music, and a riveting World War II story that I bet your teens don't know much about (I certainly didn't). Your performing arts kids, your WWII and history buffs, DON'T LET THEM MISS IT. ...more
Oct 22, 2015 rated it really liked it
In Symphony for the City of the Dead: Dmitri Shostakovich and the Siege of Leningrad history is very clearly explained starting with Bloody Sunday in 1905 and continuing through the Siege of Leningrad. The history presented is woven around the central figure Dimitri Shostakovich(1906-1975). You get history and biography together. Little of his life after the years of the siege is presented. The central focus is nevertheless the role of music, and particularly Shostakovich’s in the siege.

I have
Feb 23, 2016 rated it it was amazing
One of the best things about this book for me is how it shed light on a period of Russian history that I had heard about but had never really understood on a gut level. The book took me from the 1917 Russian Revolution when Czar Nicholas II was overthrown to the take over by Lenin a few months later and on to the reign of Stalin and the siege of Leningrad by the Nazi army. History is told best in the particular. This turbulent and painful period of Russian history is woven around the life story ...more
Joy D
Well-constructed non-fiction that weaves together a biography of Dmitri Shostakovich with the key events in the history of the Soviet Union during his lifetime. It portrays how events influenced his music, and how his music, in turn, influenced and inspired the people. It tells of the rise of Lenin, Stalin’s Great Terror, the German invasion of Russia during WWII, the Siege of Leningrad, and the Cold War.

The author discusses Shostakovich’s many compositions, focusing on details of his writing hi
I'm still reeling from this book, and think I will be for quite a while. It was the kind of book that I had to put down often, just to be able to process the horror that the Russian people experienced. There's all kinds of horror in here: at the hands of the state, at the hands of the Germans, at the hands of people you thought were your friends. Anderson does an amazing job of bringing the realities of what it must have been like to live through Stalin's purges and the siege of Leningrad to lif ...more
Annie (Sad Water Bottle)
"Most symphonies...are built only of tones, nonlinguistic sounds vibrating in the air, and somehow, we take them to heart and feel that they speak to us more deeply than words ever could."
4 Stars // 85%
There are a lot of classical music-related books that are not for everyone. The Noise of Time, for example, is a similar book, yet it's not as accessible as Symphony for the City of the Dead, which stands out in the fact that anyone can fall in love with it, whether classical musician or not.
Chris Burd
I should give myself more time to compose an appropriate review, but I want so badly to hand everyone a copy of this book that I'm going to rush to get the word out. Biography, history, philosophy and sociology all collide in this brilliant book - and I am not going to be able to say enough good things about it.

During a semester studying abroad in St. Petersburg, I first heard the story of Shostakovich and his 7th symphony. That story has stuck with me for 20 years, and this book is able to arti
Dov Zeller
This is a long book and a library book, too, and I didn't read it as carefully as I likely would have had I owned it. Maybe I will get it out of the library again at some point. That said, I enjoyed what I read, and learned quite a bit, not just about Shostakovich, but about the shifting conditions. I was fascinated by how happy Shostakovich was in his early life though there was a lot of hardship. It seemed happiness in adverse conditions was not an unlikely outcome when people feel connected t ...more
Powerful, sad and moving. This historical account of the role Shostakovich and his 7th Symphony played during the Siege of Leningrad is a true testament to the strength of the human spirit. That I got this from a 2 dollar shop makes it probably one of the best bargains of my life.
Robert Sheard
Dec 16, 2019 rated it really liked it
This was terrific. Hitting both my love of classical music and one of my favorite reading subjects (WWII), this recounts what is an almost unbelievable story of the Russian people during the siege of Leningrad (St. Petersburg), and the writing of Shostakovich's 7th Symphony during the siege. And the audiobook includes snippets of the famous symphony as Anderson describes the work's creation. ...more
Christina (A Reader of Fictions)
In general, I’ve been reviewing all the books that really move me in full. Obviously, I’m not doing that for Symphony for the City of the Dead, mostly because I’ve never really been sure how to write a comprehensive review for nonfiction, since that seems to come down in large measure more on the accuracy of the information which I can’t really speak to.

In all my years studying history, I’ve always been most fascinated by the World War II era. One of my other favorite bits of history to study wa
I would compare this book to The Family Romanov: Murder, Rebellion, and the Fall of Imperial Russia in that it's marketed toward an upper-level YA reader in the nonfiction vein, yet both are too convoluted and dense to be interesting for most teen readers.

I was interested in reading it for the history of the time period, the slice of life of musician Shostakovich, and how it all affected St. Petersburg/Leningrad all for learning more but for also having visited Russia (though not St. Petersburg
Oct 11, 2018 rated it really liked it
Shelves: audio-books
So, so, SO good! Why only 4.5 Stars, you ask? I reserve 5 star ratings for books I will read over and over. And while this book was illuminating, educating and astonishing - i'm likely good with the one reading.

Still - everyone who thinks they know all about WW2, or wants to know more - should read (or listen to) this! The author did a thorough job of researching and an excellent job of presenting. You feel like you're walking the streets of St. Petersburg/Leningrad or Moscow. Though I've not l
Dec 26, 2015 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: reviewed
It feels like it's been a good year for nonfiction. This, the Steve Sheinkin... This is a powerful piece of work about the life of the Russian composer Shostakovich, who wrote the titular symphony for Leningrad - the City of the Dead. It's almost exhausting in its comprehensiveness. It's detailed and meticulously told and very interesting at the same time; it also retains a degree of author presence, particularly when pointing out how unreliable certain sources are.

It's a funny thing, that autho
Book Riot Community
It's only out today, but Symphony for the City of the Dead has already made this year's National Book Award longlist. As it should - Anderson has written an amazing account of the atrocities that occurred in Leningrad when Hitler's forces surrounded the city, in what was to become one of the longest and most destructive sieges in Western history. Composer Dmitri Shostakovich was trapped in the fighting, and went on to write an amazing symphony that lifted spirits and beautifully commemorated the ...more
Jessica Schwartz
Apr 25, 2015 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: nonfiction, favorites

Fascinating and beautifully written. I will be thinking about this book for a long time.
Steve Smits
Aug 20, 2015 rated it liked it
Symphony for the City of the Dead is a well-researched history and political analysis of the Soviet government's impact on the arts centered around Dmitri Shostakovich and his work, particularly his masterful seventh symphony -- the Leningrad Symphony. The book touches deeply on the manipulation of the arts and artists to further the political and ideological aims of the Communist state. Shostakovich, recognized then and now as one of the 20th century's most accomplished composers, was profoundl ...more
Feb 10, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: just-finished
An extraordinary achievement. A penetrating gaze into the not-too-distant past into a chapter of history I imagine most people understand only in broadest brushstrokes, and through the haze of propaganda. The humanity and the horror of the people who lived under 20th Century European despotism is laid bare here, as the talents and survival of one nervous, brilliant composer are caught in the tug-of-war between Stalin's schizophrenically incompatible objectives, and then between Stalin and Hitler ...more
Sep 26, 2015 rated it it was amazing
My visit to Leningrad in 1989 still haunts me in large part because I had been completely ignorant of the huge role the Russians played in WWII and the enormous price they paid. All over Russia old WWII vets sat, in their uniforms covered with medals, in parks and on street corners and were paid great respect. M. T. Anderson's story about Shostakovich's life and the importance of his music to Russians and the war effort was another eye-opener for me. He spares no detail in describing Stalin's pu ...more
May 24, 2017 rated it liked it
This book really wasn't bad - the first third though, was, torturous. To really pull through that first leg of the book and gain momentum was extremely difficult. But after I finished the book, I've realised that it really wasn't that bad honestly. ...more
This is an important story. I learned more than I expected. Then I started freaking out about some parallels between this and our world right now. Then I was blinded by hope. That’s important.
Ashleigh (a frolic through fiction)
Originally posted on A Frolic Through Fiction

*Thank you to the publisher for sending me a copy in exchange for an honest review

As much as I love learning about history, reading books about it can be a bit hit or miss. Especially when they’re as long as this.

Which side was this book on?

Well…both, actually. It was both a hit AND miss.

It took me awhile to get into. Like with most books, I went into this knowing barely what it was about, and somehow missed the fact it was a biography. Not just that,
Sep 30, 2015 rated it it was amazing
This is one of the best books I have ever read. Anderson writes so movingly and eloquently about the nature of evil (not just in the Fascist dictators in the book but also in the roving gangs of cannibals during the Siege of Leningrad and other cases of human beings brutalized out of their veneer of civilization) and of fear and deprivation. He reflects on his historiographic process, evaluating sources for his YA audience and keeping multiple versions of events in mind, reflecting on the conseq ...more
Jana Light
Aug 13, 2015 rated it it was amazing
This book. Oh my word. Any book about the Eastern front of WWII is going to be dismal, so this is not a lighthearted read, but the way Anderson uses the development of Shostakovich's Seventh Symphony to frame his telling of it emphasizes the courage and resilience of humanity that cannot be suffocated even when subjected to one of the most brutal periods of human history. Anderson accomplishes many wonderful things here, so many that it's hard for me to describe what exactly he's doing and why i ...more
Kristen Freiburger
Jan 18, 2020 rated it it was amazing
That’s it, I’m ruined for all other books in 2020 and it’s only January. I completely devoured every single word. Some books you learn from, some books make you feel something, some books call you to action, this book...did all three. I’d give it 10 stars if I could. Brilliant! Thanks to my amazing pal, J-9, for another epic recommendation!
Just so fantastic. I learned so much about Shostakovich and Leningrad and Russia as a whole that I never knew. I have names of other people and things to learn about, and more of Shostakovich's music to listen to. Just so so good. ...more
Monica Edinger
Apr 25, 2015 rated it it was amazing
Wow. This is a feat.
Barb Middleton
Feb 29, 2016 rated it it was amazing
Stalin was a paranoid and cruel dictator that killed millions of Russians crippling his economy, government, Arts, and military long before World War II even broke out. While the Germans laid siege to Leningrad during the war, it was Stalin that initiated the "first siege" during his Great Terror and Five-Year Plan. Like most despots, he murdered anyone that disagreed with him, repressed free will, free press, violated human rights, and ruled with terror. Popularity and capitalist notions could ...more
May 04, 2019 rated it really liked it
To review Symphony for the City of the Dead: Dmitri Shostakovich and the Siege of Leningrad by M. T. Anderson there are at least two points to be made in coming to the bottom line. Objectively speaking this is a well written and researched book. Purely objectively it is not the best written history book and perhaps was targeted to an advanced student rather than a sophisticated consumer of history books. Second it portrays one of the deliberately horrible crimes perpetrated by Nazi Germany. In c ...more
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Matthew Tobin Anderson (M. T. Anderson), (1968- ) is an author, primarily of picture books for children and novels for young adults. Anderson lives in Cambridge, Massachusetts.

His picture books include Handel Who Knew What He Liked; Strange Mr. Satie; The Serpent Came to Gloucester; and Me, All Alone, at the End of the World. He has written such young adult books as Thirsty, Burger Wuss, Feed, The

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