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The Russian Revolution: A New History

3.78  ·  Rating details ·  306 ratings  ·  48 reviews

In The Russian Revolution, historian Sean McMeekin traces the origins and events of the Russian Revolution, which ended Romanov rule, ushered the Bolsheviks into power, and changed the course of world history. Between 1900 and 1920, Russia underwent a complete and irreversible transformation: by the end of these two decades, a new regime was in place, the economy had colla
Hardcover, 496 pages
Published May 30th 2017 by Basic Books
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3.78  · 
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 ·  306 ratings  ·  48 reviews

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Jan 25, 2018 rated it really liked it
“Power is not a means; it is an end. One does not establish a dictatorship in order to safeguard a revolution; one makes the revolution in order to establish the dictatorship…The object of power is power.”
- George Orwell, 1984

Russian history is a vast subject, and there have been written many vast books that attempt to capture the enormity of Russia’s oft-convulsive drama. Accordingly, the first thing that struck me about Sean McMeekin’s The Russian Revolution is its relative brevity. At 352 pag
shorter than I expected (there are 150 pages of notes, references etc) but captivating like a page turner novel; the main thrust (argued well) is how preparing for 1917, Russia was actually very well positioned to defeat the Central powers who were the ones on the verge of meltdown, but a weak Tsar with no inner circle worth mentioning and reeling from Rasputin's assassination in December 1916, talkative but ineffective politicians, able to stir trouble but ultimately not to control it, and gene ...more
Although at times a little dry and challenging given the sheer cast of players and military units this is a well-structured and informative overview of the revolution.

It is perhaps a shorter book than one might expect for such a period of change and impact, but with substantial sources and references the author is able to wave his view of events and how these took a country from a regime of monarchical superiority to one of non-monarchical self-elected superiority.

Of interest to me was not only
Erik Graff
Jan 14, 2019 rated it really liked it
Recommends it for: Russian revolution(s) fans
Recommended to Erik by: Kelly Kingdon
This is a revisionist history of the political convulsions wracking Russia from, roughly, 1905 until the twenties. It's conservative, politically speaking, reminiscent of Schama's 'Citizens' and its handling of the French revolution. Both go to great lengths to underscore how good the prospects were for the ancient regimes of Russia and France, if only they'd been allowed time to reform themselves gradually. The big mistake, in imperial Russia's case, was to become involved in WWI. The biggest b ...more
Sep 23, 2018 rated it really liked it
I am currently very focused on the ascent to power of Communism in Russia, not because it had anything to recommend it, but for the lessons it can teach us. Some of those lessons are ones the author of this book, Sean McMeekin, wants to impart—the dangers of left-wing ideology, primarily. Those are valuable lessons, certainly, but if we haven’t learned them after many decades of left-wing horror shows, we’re not going to learn them from this book. The lessons I am seeking, therefore, are more dy ...more
Mark Mortensen
Oct 03, 2017 rated it really liked it
Shelves: russia, wwi
The author, Bard College professor Sean McMeekin, is certainly an authority on the Russian Revolution surrounding World War I. I was not able to fully absorb the abundance of facts and material, which I found overwhelming and a bit dry at times, but I did comprehend an overview. The revolution had several factions and it appears that the one best at propaganda, as well as plundering gold and treasures, achieved control and authority. I’m most thankful that my reading was for pleasure and not a m ...more
Aug 22, 2017 rated it really liked it
Sean McMeekin is a wonderful historian. His recent books on the run up to WW1 and the end of the Ottoman Empire are really well done. In his most recent book, he presents a "new history" of the Russian Revolution to take advantage of the opening up of state archives following 1990. His intent is to relay what happened and try to avoid the meshing of history and ideology that has happened in either Soviet accounts of the events or in extraordinarily critical Western accounts (Pipes and others). T ...more
Russell Pryor
Jul 14, 2017 rated it did not like it
What I learned from McMeekin: Lenin and the Bolsheviks worked for the Germans. The tsar wasn't too bad (but he did get bad advice at critical junctures). Kornilov and Denikin were good, patriotic Russians who would've probably done a fine job running the country. The Bolshevik "coup" was easily avoidable.

If you're interested in a moderate, dispassionate presentation of a fairly reactionary, monarchist view of the Russian Revolution, McMeekin is the place to go. It's not so much a "new" history,
Barry Smirnoff
Jul 22, 2017 rated it liked it
Shelves: finished
I can not recommend this book to the general reader. I seems that McMeekin has decided to go against the prevailing views about the Russian Revolution and conjure up his own interpretation of the events and their significance. His major theme is that the Bolsheviks won the revolution because they received the financial support of the Germans. The theory of "German Gold" goes back to the Right Wing Newspapers during the time of the revolution. He seems to have concentrated his study on the moveme ...more
Jan Chlapowski Söderlund
* * * * - I really liked this account of the Russian Revolution.

This book by Sean McMeekin is the first one on the topic of the Russian Revolution which I have read. I have previously read more than the average non-Russian person about Russian history, but I am in no way an expert on the subject.

"The Russian Revolution: A New History" portrays the Bolsheviks as ruthless semi-gangsters, who are mainly driven by a will to power. They disguise this power-hunger with a veneer of political jargon an
Aug 22, 2017 rated it liked it
Shelves: history
A little dry, but very informative. The author does not try to minimize or justify the atrocities committed during this bloody revolution.

From the epilogue: "If the last hundred years teaches us anything, it is that we should stiffen our defenses and resist armed prophets promising social perfection. The Russians who followed Lenin in 1917 had good grounds for resenting the tsarist government that had plunged them into a terrible war for which they were unprepared, and they had little reason to
Christopher Shoup
Mar 13, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: 2018, owned
Communism is the worst. Lenin was terribly lucky in his enemies, which was unlucky for the 25 million Russians who died as a result of his coming to lower instead of a Constitutional Romanov monarchy.
Alex Moskalyuk
Jun 19, 2018 rated it liked it
Good insight and analysis of the events, plenty of historical references and overall great research. Gets dry occasionally, but overall covers a quite captivating storyline of the world's bloodiest regime.
Dec 20, 2017 rated it liked it
Sean McMeekin's book is interesting and readable - sometimes grippingly so. His fresh perspective on the Revolution stabs at the myths and legends of a seminal moment in modern history, and his take on the military situation for Russia in 1917 is extremely well-written. For the most part, his chronological narrative drives the reader very surely through the utter turmoil of the Tsarist-to-Leninist years, depositing them around Lenin's death in 1924.

So yes: it is worth a read. But this is despite
Dec 26, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: history, library
An enlightening account of the Russian revolution, written succinctly but with enough detail to provide clear understanding of the events. Starting in the late 19th century, McMeekin lays out the seeds of discord already having been sowed. Moving into the early 20th century, we see a war-weary Russia and frustration among soldiers. With ww1, this was prime opportunity to capitalize on this discord for the orchestration of the coup against the Duma. Even though the Bolsheviks did not have the maj ...more
Jimmit Shah
Aug 24, 2017 rated it it was ok
Shelves: history
Although I am not an expert on the subject, I don't think the book portrays Lenin's role objectively. It does provide a good summary of events that led to and followed the October revolution but seems to have been written with an agenda in mind. Does not seem to be a reliable source of information on the subject.
Jul 28, 2018 rated it liked it
History as conservative agitprop. McMeekin is out to demonstrate that the Bolsheviks came to power because of a small, organized coup d'etat that had little to no popular support. They were helped by Imperial Germany's support (d'uh, although McMeekin assigns a far greater role to the Kaiser in World War I than Wilhelm's generals and governments did; McMeekin keeps having the emperor making decisions that impact policy. Surely not by 1916?), the general ineptness of Kerensky and Rodzianko, and t ...more
Apr 07, 2019 rated it really liked it
Shelves: history
I suppose some American Historians (as with many other American takes on History) know that their great nation (forget the indigenous people's) was forged in Revolution, and that like everything else, the Americans know how to get things right. Sean McMeekin's "new" History of the Russian Revolution is very pleased with its "newness" and wants to big up some aspects of the Revolutionary milieu, whilst also justifying its "new" post 1991 archival trawl through "new" stuff.
To be fair McMeekins' bo
Taylor Burrows
Nov 26, 2017 rated it it was amazing
I ended up liking this book on the Russian Revolution more than I thought I would. In terms of writing style, I feel like one of the strengths of the book is what other readers might have felt was a flaw. This was, in particular, Sean McMeekin's occasional comment on his personal opinion on any given event being elaborated on. Granted, it isn't quite as often as the typical complaint might suggest, but more often than not I find the input insightful.

The biggest misleading notion about the book i
Jul 10, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: non-fiction
As a North American, the Russian revolution is an alien historical tale that happened a hundred years ago in a far off distant land. What is relevant today is that the same utopian promises and brilliant propaganda messages that seduced not so many Russians but many westerners of the time have continued the seduction with new generations. McMeekin’s final sentence in the book is a warning to the people of today that they should be careful what they wish for, for they might just get it.

What I lik
Kenneth Barber
Sep 21, 2018 rated it really liked it
This book tells the events leading up, during and the civil war after the revolution. The author gives the background of conditions in Russia before the revolution. He also traces the unrest present in Russia and the Revolution of 1905. Radical groups abounded and assassination was common since the 1890’s. Socialist, both radical and moderate, combined with communists and other radical groups forced the Tsar to abdicate in February,1917. These groups formed a provisional government which soon fe ...more
Chad Foster
Jul 26, 2017 rated it really liked it
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
victor harris
Jul 04, 2017 rated it it was ok
Entertains an interesting thesis that Russia was not in as bad a shape in 1916-17 as most accounts imply and that the collapse of the Romanov Dynasty and ascent of the radicals was not a foregone conclusion. The author quite properly shows sufficient evidence to make the case that the bulk of the Russian military was still intact when events spiraled out of control in Petrograd in February, 1917. Ultimately Czar Nicholas could have averted his abdication but for a series of blunders by himself a ...more
Kevin English
Apr 06, 2019 rated it it was amazing
I listened to this in preparation for the final season of which will cover the Russian Revolution. It should be out later this year (2019).

As an excellent play-by-play on the Russian Revolution, the book takes the reader through modern Russian history up to the point of the February revolution that overthrew the Tsar and proceeds to navigate communist takeover of Russia in detail. The author doesn’t hold back on exposing the cold, calculating, evil nature of t
Apr 19, 2018 rated it really liked it
The book is an excellent complement to a more in-depth study of the Russian Revolution, Fidge's "A People's Tragedy" for example. The book provides new insight on Lenin, Trotsky, and other Bolcheviks that McMeekin was able to gather from Russian archives that have now fully opened up. He provides insight on the extent to which Lenin played the German card to effect his revolution. The statistics the author provides offer details on the famines the Bolcheviks provoked, sometimes willingly, across ...more
Kian Williams
Jun 21, 2018 rated it liked it
I'd love to be more expert in the events of the Russian Revolution for the purposes of judging this book. I've read a few critical reviews from those in the field (calling some interpretations into question, but without criticizing of the narration of events), which likely tilted me from a tentative four stars to an equally tentative three.
McMeekin's assertion of Russia's renewed military strength in 1916 upended what I'd been taught about the war, and he is convincing. His portrayal of backroom
Eduardo Garcia-Gaspar
Jan 30, 2019 rated it really liked it
Shelves: historia
Un libro reciente que aprovecha la disponibilidad de registros históricos soviéticos abiertos después del colapso de la URSS. El autor comienza con el viejo régimen desde finales del siglo 19 hasta principios del 20, describiendo un país débil pero posible que comete el gran error de entrar a la I Guerra Mundial. Así van sucediendo las cosas, narradas con lujo de detalles y nombres, hasta llegar a la Revolución de febrero de 1917 que depone al zar y meses más tarde al golpe de estado de octubre ...more
Jan 09, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Sean McMeekin is quickly becoming one of my must-read authors. Much like The Ottoman Endgame, The Russian Revolution: A New History explores one of the great seams of history in the modern age as the Russian Empire fell and was replaced by fanatical communist state. His careful writing beats back the powerful founding mythology and propaganda of the Soviet Union to reveal a more complex, uncertain, and traumatically unpredictable sequence of improbable and unimaginable events from prior to World ...more
Mar 11, 2018 rated it really liked it
Very informative up to the "Army on the Brink" (chapter 12). Then I was lost in too many names and places. In short, I learned that Nicholas II should have listened to the Mad Monk (Rasputin) who, correctly foresaw the demise of both the Tsar's family and Russia itself. And it seems quite clear that Lenin was a paid agent of the Germans. I am rather new to this subject matter, but am indebted to McMeekin for getting my feet wet. I will return to this book when I am better informed about this ama ...more
Mike Stewart
Nov 24, 2017 rated it liked it
Good, straightforward history of one of the 20th century's most significant events. Seldom, if ever has a foreign agent succeeded to the degree Lenin did in 1917. It was a close run thing, and if not for the fatal mistakes of his opponents, the history of the last century would have been very, very different. Despite the passage of time, the ruthlessness, duplicity, hypocrisy (always excused by Lenin's belief that the end always justifies the means) and undeviating focus on their goals by Lenin ...more
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“The only mercy Trotsky granted the Germans, as formal negotiations began at Brest-Litovsk on December 9, was not to show up in person.” 0 likes
“Trotsky's assault on Kronstadt in March 1921 marked a point of no return. There was no longer even a whiff of pretense that the Communist government had the support of the people over whom it ruled. The Red Terror had been aimed at "class enemies"; the Civil War was a struggle against "imperialists and White Guards." Even the peasant wars had pitted, in theory at least, proletarians against "capitalist farmers." But now the world's first "proletarian" government had begun slaughtering urban proletarians, too. It is no wonder that "Kronstadt" became, in addition to a black mark on Trotsky's record, a byword of Bolshevik betrayal for European socialists who refused to bow to Moscow.” 0 likes
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