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The House of the Dead: Siberian Exile Under the Tsars

3.92  ·  Rating details ·  241 ratings  ·  45 reviews
It was known as 'the vast prison without a roof'. From the beginning of the nineteenth century to the Russian Revolution, the tsarist regime exiled more than one million prisoners and their families beyond the Ural Mountains to Siberia.

Daniel Beer's new book, The House of the Dead, brings to life both the brutal realities of an inhuman system and the tragic and inspiring f
Hardcover, 512 pages
Published July 7th 2016 by Allen Lane
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3.92  · 
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 ·  241 ratings  ·  45 reviews

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Jul 14, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Fearsome and meticulous study of the system of Siberian exile of the old Russian Empire, focusing on the period from the early 19th century to the empire's fall in 1917.

The whole of Russia east of the Ural mountains, if it was separated and left to be its own country, would still be the largest single nation on earth. As early as the 16th century, it was proposed that this vast hinterland, still populated by native tribes and a few fur trappers, would serve as a useful dumping ground for the cr
"Siberia's prisons also proved indispensable weapons in the government's campaign to crush the 1905 Revolution, but they were a double edged sword. Crammed with embittered and hostile revolutionaries, they became not simply places of containment and punishment but also incubators of the vengeful, implacable hatred that would erupt across the empire in 1917."
An unflinching review of the Tsarist dream of convict exile and colonisation of the Siberian wastes, the attempted exploitation of the regio
Marsha Altman
Sep 02, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Woohoo! I feel so accomplished for finishing this book, which took me an unusually long time (1 week) to read because it was so packed with information. Most of it was very interesting, but it could FEEL like a slog on occasion.
Jan 06, 2017 rated it really liked it
I first heard about this book while reading a couple of histories about the Romanov dynasty and its end in WWI and the Russian Revolutions of 1917. This is a book about the Romanov system of internal exile to Siberia, especially from 1800 until the beginning of WW1. Beer takes his title from Dostoevsky's autobiographical novel of his time in Siberian prisons. In terms of sources, Beer makes good use of a vast array of source materials that have been made available in Russia in recent decades. Th ...more
Apr 10, 2017 rated it it was amazing
I think this would be a good read even if you aren't a Russian history buff like me. If you are, it's amazing. The author has synthesized a massive amount of historical research into an epic account of centuries of exile and suffering in the great "prison without a roof." Chapters that provide a broad overview alternate with chapters that focus on the moving personal stories of particular individuals or groups. Some, such as the Decembrists and Dostoevsky, are famous; others might have been forg ...more
Nov 16, 2016 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: politics, history
Simply, a masterpiece of 'forensic scholarship'. (No point in regurgitating summaries posted; words fail - at least, my words fail. Yet another case of [human] 'good intentions' producing [human] unintended consequences, but on a tragically huge scale.)
Tom Johnson
Mar 02, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
well written, exhaustively researched (I am a worthy judge of that?). Now I would like to read Dostoevsky's 'Notes from the House of the Dead'. (I've read 'The Idiot', a surprisingly humorous book, even if it is a grim humor, Dostoevsky is an author deserving of his accolades). I've just ordered Tolstoy's Resurrection (another book frequently referred).

The brutality never ends - this sentence by Beer (paraphrased) sums it up, 'By the end of the nineteenth century, Imperial Russia was a society
Lauren Albert
Oct 06, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: history-world
A very good look at exile to Siberia under the Tsars. He briefly discusses Siberia after the revolution but I did wonder if he's planning a book about it.
It's not as easy a subject as I imagined--There was not one kind of exile and there was not one kind of person exiled. Different classes often (though not always) got treated differently for example. People were also differentiated by what part of Siberia they were sent to--climate and labor being the main differentiators. Were they sent as la
Becky Loader
Jan 29, 2018 rated it liked it
I have never really read much about Siberia, and how the Russians used its vast expanse.

The sheer brutality used on offenders by the Russians is almost too much to bear, and I use "offender" as a generic term. The powers that be could find something to make almost everyone an "offender." Beating and mutilating people before exiling them to Siberia was routine. The penal colonies were expected to thrive and populate the area so that the rich mines could be tapped for wealth. Ugh.

Very well writte
Meghan W
Jul 08, 2018 rated it really liked it
Excellent! An amazing read. It's a horrifying history. Well researched and written.
May 19, 2017 marked it as abandoned  ·  review of another edition
Whoops. This sounds like something I wanted to read, but it was not. No offense intended to Beer at all - it seems very well-researched and informative, if this is the kind of thing you want information about.
Sara Whear
This book wasn't bad, but I found it a bit of a slog. Part of the problem was that there was no particular through-line being followed (no one person's life, or story of a single historical incident, etc.) and so it felt disjointed at times. It also wasn't particularly chronological which would have helped make it easier to follow. Again, it wasn't bad, I just had no trouble putting it down and was never particularly excited to start it again.
Steve Cunningham
Oct 24, 2016 rated it it was amazing
This is an extraordinary book in many ways. In documenting the colossal waste of human life and resources that the Romanov regime expended in banishing social and political undesirables to the farthest and most remote reaches of the Russian Empire, it serves in some respects as a pre-revolutionary companion piece to Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn's The Gulag Archipelago 1918-1956, and demonstrates that while Tsarist exile lacked the industrial scale and bureaucracy of the Stalinist Gulag, it was every b ...more
Jan 27, 2017 rated it really liked it
This is an amazingly detailed and exhaustively researched look at the system of Siberian exile from the early 19th century up until the Bolshevik revolution. The author tackles this immense topic by separating each chapter into different periods of time as well as different aspects of exile. He makes the important distinction between those sentenced to penal labor and exile and the physical and emotional punishments they endured.
Throughout the book, I couldn't help reflecting on how shortsight
May 21, 2017 rated it really liked it
Shelves: history
Didn't actually finish it. Excellent account of Russian punishment... Siberian and otherwise. Also picked up lots of Russian history along the way.
Kate Hackett
May 27, 2017 rated it really liked it
They exiled a bell.

A bell.

To Siberia.
Oct 16, 2018 rated it did not like it
Shelves: junk
Another academic paper pusher spitting books in order to climb the ladder up to the best pension plan government can provide.

Chapter 2 opens with this paragraph:

> Over the course of the nineteenth century, convoys of prisoners marching across the Ural Mountains into exile would pass a simple 3.5-metre column made of plastered bricks. Standing in a forest clearing some 2,500 kilometres east of St. Petersburg, it bore on one side the coat of arms of the province of Perm and the word “Europe”; o
Jun 10, 2017 rated it liked it
Siberian exile was not just an enduring penal institution; it was also formative for an important strand of Russian literature and culture. So Beer has a lot to cover here, and he does give a sampling of issues and ideas from across the nineteenth century (somewhat broadly defined, since exile was still used up to the fall of the Romanovs). The account is skewed towards the greatest hits of Siberian exile; because they were literate, and had elite connections that would get their stories out, gr ...more
Aug 16, 2017 rated it liked it
A fairly unremitting litany of the tsarist atrocious program of exiling political and criminal miscreants to Siberia during the 19th century. For the most part it's a complete, depressing and repetitive catalog of all the ways the exiles could be mistreated, and most assuredly there were many.... There are a few interesting stories about the cases of particular individuals; they were a welcome relief from the endless list of statistics. I really don't think the book improved by listing what see ...more
Aug 30, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: history, russia
I was tempted to put this book on my horror shelf, but my horror shelf is for fiction. When I read about the ship wreck of the Batavia, I couldn't believe the atrocities committed by the leader of the mutineers. The Siberian exile system under the czars was decades, if not centuries, of atrocities. The history of Sakhalin Island was the worst.

Sometimes, in the case of the last two books I have read, I find the epilogue to be the best part of the book. In this case, the revolutionaries who orcha
Roger Taylor
Jan 10, 2018 rated it it was amazing
A remarkable book describing the system of exiles and prisons in Siberia during 300 years of Tsarist
Russia. While I long knew of the existence of the practice of exiling political opponents to Siberia, I had never realized just how horrendous the system really was. By the time the reader reaches the early years of the 20th Century, he or she can feel the sense of hatred and thirst for retribution among the exiles. It is difficult to feel much sympathy for the Tsarist system that was swept away
Jun 18, 2017 rated it really liked it
A more 'weighty' volume to digest (in content) , Beer scatters nuggets such as this one to nourish ones strength to endure in the face of oppression, suffering and insurmountable obstacles.

["Do not become angry and embittered, face down cruel fortune with a cool head. Renunciation, spiritual harmony, concentrating on scholarly work – these are the best, the only ways of ignoring the weight of your fetters, of not being marked by them, so that when they are finally removed, you will still be you
Lauren Johnson
Jan 23, 2018 rated it really liked it
An interesting historical perspective of the Russian Exile system, starting around in the mid 18th century. This historiography looks at the political, economical, and social implications behind Russia's 'civil executions'. It explores the failures of the Tsarist govt's process of sending convicts, no matter their degree of offense, to Siberia in the hopes that the banishment would create an extension of Russian influence. Instead, it helped cultivate and stir nationalist ferver as the rest of W ...more
Michael Samerdyke
This is a superb book.

I had read Kennan's "Siberia and the Exile System" years ago, but this book goes much deeper and includes much more. We see how the Siberian experience changed over time from the Decembrists to the 20th Century, and relations between convicts and settlers. I am very impressed with the detail and thought of this book. Beer also writes very well.

One of the best Russian history books I have read. Highly recommended.
Apr 24, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
It was grim reading, what with its dead children in luggage and insertion of horse hair into incisions in the penis in order to mimic syphilis and its litany of torture and privation and gleeful human rights violations, but it details an epoch of history that I have seldom considered or explored. It does get repetitive with its constant enumeration of knoutings, birchings, and floggings, but it never quite veers into the unforgivably tedious.
Jun 28, 2017 rated it liked it
Informative. Appeared to be quite thorough. I must admit I skimmed the last 100 pgs or so in a bid to finish it. There weren't quite as many personal stories as I had anticipated. I feel more informed about the different rebellion movements against the Tsarist regime particularly about the Decembrists and the different Polish rebellions. I'm glad I read it.
Daniel Farabaugh
This was a good read. It focused more on the notable exiles than the common exile but that may have been due to the amount of sources available.
Daniel Palevski
Sep 04, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
An extensive history of the penal labor camps and forced migrations to Siberia during the time of the tsars, as well as the failed (and ultimately successful) revolts that led to them.
Sep 18, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Absolutely superb...the book that I wish I could have written. My favourite read of the year...
Edward Sullivan
A fascinating, expansive account of the vast, horrific penal system created by Imperial Russia. A vivid, insightful, and enlightening history.
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