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The House of Government: A Saga of the Russian Revolution

4.17  ·  Rating details ·  401 ratings  ·  95 reviews
The House of Government is unlike any other book about the Russian Revolution and the Soviet experiment. Written in the tradition of Tolstoy's War and Peace, Grossman's Life and Fate, and Solzhenitsyn's The Gulag Archipelago, Yuri Slezkine's gripping narrative tells the true story of the residents of an enormous Moscow apartment building where top Communist officials and ...more
Hardcover, 1096 pages
Published August 22nd 2017 by Princeton University Press (first published August 15th 2017)
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Mark I have. The reading by Rudnicki is expressive and easy to consume over the long course of this book. He seems to understand everything he is saying,…moreI have. The reading by Rudnicki is expressive and easy to consume over the long course of this book. He seems to understand everything he is saying, but doesn't overplay it or color the text. It's a fantastic reading, actually. The timbre and and tone of his voice have enough contrast to provide perfect clarity, but is easy on the ears over a long listening.(less)

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Jan 02, 2018 rated it really liked it
Shelves: history, slavic
The Omphalos on the Moscva

Like Simon Sebag Montefiore’s Jerusalem, The House of Government uses a limited geography as a focus to narrate an enormously important cultural history. This is the history of what can be called eschatological faith, the belief that the race of Homo Sapiens is destined toward a definite and definable end point. The two works narrate different strands of the same history, each with a distinctive virtuosity.

It is a common trope among Christian apologists that the modern
Mar 01, 2018 rated it it was ok
It is truly a rare time when I will admit defeat and label a book as DNF (did not finish). However, after completing 22% of this piece, I have decided that I cannot continue, lacking the ability to affix sufficient attention to the narration or glean much of the author’s message. Some of this surely lays at my own feet, but as many have said on Goodreads, life is too short to be burdened with a book that leaves you feeling miserable as you trudge along.

Being a lover of history and revolutionary
Feb 14, 2018 rated it it was amazing
"This is a work of history. Any resemblance to fictional characters, dead or alive, is entirely coincidental"

This is a monumental, long and detailed book that is both a history of the Russian revolution, a personal reflection on the literature it produced and a collection of family stories centred on a large apartment building known as the House of Government, which was built in the early 1930s to house the elite class of the Bolshevik regime. Slezkine's other central theme is that the
Sep 08, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Absolutely stunning piece of non-fiction that is hard to find nowadays. Found it by pure chance and now I believe it to be one of the best books on the revolution. A real jewel! The book is truly terrifying; it describes the lives the revolutionaries, those famous and less known, led well before the revolution, during it, and until their ultimate downfall. A reminder of how any revolution eventually devours its creators.
Roman Clodia
Feb 01, 2018 rated it liked it
So how to rate this?

As a piece of archival and documentary research, this is monumental and undoubtedly worthy of 5-stars.

But it’s less convincing to me as an academic thesis which seeks to offer millennial religious cults as an analytical model to make sense of the Russian Revolution – 3-stars.

And for me as a general reader with an informed (Figes' The Whisperers: Private Life in Stalin's Russia, Just Send Me Word: A True Story of Love and Survival in the Gulag, Nadezhda Mandestam's Hope
Jul 17, 2017 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: netgalley, history
Absolutely stunning. I thought this book was about an apartment building constructed for high Soviet officials (The House of Government), the people who lived there, and their fates during the purges of the 1930's and 40's. But it is so much more than that. This book is not for the faint hearted, or someone looking for a quick read. It is an 1100 page tome, a detailed account of the Russian Revolution led by the Bolsheviks - how it began, the lives and beliefs of the people who ran the ...more
Biblio Curious
My relationship to this book is complicated. Like a 1st date, it shows up charming as can be. After a few weeks, skeletons begin to tumble out of the closet revealing a few structural flaws.

Those first few pages were exquisite, the details are profound and resonating. The writing style reminds me of someone trying to recall strong memories of days long past in an attempt they will be preserved. These early chapters describe street scenes and scents in such detail, I'm sure folks who've actually
Jan 28, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: russian, history
A massively researched exploration of the Russian revolution from pre-1917 through Stalins’s terror, searching for the source of the true believer commitment of the early Bolshevists and the reasons it didn’t survive their generation. Slezkine doesn’t believe you’ll be convinced by one example, so he turns a fire hose of evidence on you at every turn. And a fire hose of convoluted prose. I listened, and at times just let the text wash past, figuring I was getting the gist of it. But in the end, ...more
Feb 21, 2018 rated it really liked it
When the Bolsheviks took power in Russia in 1917 they believe that the arrival of Communism - envisioned as a Utopian society on earth - was a rapture that they would experience within their own lifetimes. Having apparently discovered the Laws of History and successfully marginalized the competing ideological streams of the revolution, Bolshevik leaders and their cadres believed they stood on the brink of an imminent world-changing event that would bring heaven down to earth in the form of a ...more
Sep 16, 2017 rated it it was amazing
This is a great book that will I am sure come to be seen as a classic. Words like "epic" are thrown around too easily sometimes but are appropriate here. We are rapidly approaching the 100 year anniversary of the October Revolution and this is a fine book to read about it. Yuri Slezkine has written a history of the Russian Revolution focused on the time up until 1941 but also embracing its ultimate failure in the 1990s. The book is on the surface a history of a building - known as the "House of ...more
Nov 26, 2017 rated it it was amazing
This might be a cruel thing to say about a 980-page book, but if you want to claim to understand how the Bolshevik ideology penetrated and drove the Soviet Union (and therefore understand the Soviet Union), you need to read this book.

It will not be easy. Slezkine tells you exactly what he is going to use his 980 pages for, and how his story will unfold. He spends the first third describing how Bolshevism is and is not like other Millennialist ideologies (that is, ways of thinking that focus on a
Jul 14, 2019 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
real life Soviet Game of Thrones, basically
Oct 18, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: non-fiction
"Revolutions do not devour their children: revolutions like all millenarian experiments, are devoured by the children of the revolutionaries. The Bolsheviks, who did not fear the past and employed God-fearing peasant nannies to bring up their children, were particularly proficient in creating their own gravediggers."

A dense, but very readable book on the rise and fall of Communism in Russia. I thoroughly enjoyed an insight into the country which dominated my own for so many years. There are
Jan 16, 2018 rated it it was amazing
This is a fabulous book about the Bolsheviks. The book uses the House of Government, a building built after the Bolshevik’s took over power in Russia to tell the story of the people behind the revolution. This book is an indepth telling of these people through the use of their diaries and letters. A well researched book and an excellent story. If you like a detailed history about the people behind the Russian revolution then I highly recommend this book.
Julian Cribb
Jan 22, 2018 rated it really liked it
For those with an appetite for the Russian 'long read' this is a superb book - Tolstoyan in scale and concept, minutely detailed and containing much to ruminate on about human nature and its flaws. Slezkine traces a soaring arc from the zeal and idealism of the young revolutionaries exiled to Siberia or scattered through Europe who were seized with the vision of building a brighter, fairer world – only to become the blood-stained practitioners of the Revolution, the brutal and uncaring ...more
Omar Ali
Feb 09, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Yuri Slezkine has written a number of interesting books, and “The House of Government; a Saga of the Russian Revolution” is his latest and greatest offering. At over 1000 pages, it is not a lightweight book, literally or metaphorically. What he does is follow the lives of a large number of Bolshevik revolutionaries, from their origins as young rebels (they were almost all very young; very few were over 40 when they took over the largest country in the world) to the heady days of the Bolshevik ...more
Feb 12, 2018 rated it liked it
There are books that should be wonderful because of the research and intellectual strength they convey. I'm afraid this almost 1,000 page study of the Russian Revolution through the lens of the "House of Government" built across the Moskva River from the Kremlin by the Bolsheviks isn't one of them.

This massive structure became home to thousands of different Soviet officials (high, mid-level officials) after the Revolution and cosseted them with bourgeois conveniences that undermined their
Peter Tillman
Jan 22, 2018 marked it as to-read

"The Germans smuggled Lenin back to Petrograd from Swiss exile in a sealed train car. It is worth dwelling on that sealed train car: Had Lenin not arrived in Petrograd in April 1917, the 20th century as we know it would not have happened.
... history had known many other millenarian sects, but not on this scale. This book is about the possibilities and limits of social engineering. When in 1934 Evgeny Preobrazhensky said, “It has been the greatest
Barry Smirnoff
Sep 07, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: finished
A very interesting book that is a group biography of the top personnel of the Communist in Moscow during the years of NEP and Stalin. The evolution and interrelationships of this group are fascinating. The book not an easy read. 1100 pages, small print, and it must weigh 20 pounds, so you are exercising just by holding it. It is amazing that Slezkine could synthesize all this material and remain true to his focus on the ideology and lifestyle of this group. About his theory that Leninism is a ...more
Feb 24, 2018 rated it it was amazing
This book is probably one of the most interesting and detailed (1200 pages) books on Russia’s generation of Old Bolsheviks. It contains many insightful thoughts and examines this cadre of post revolutionary leaders from a number of aspects, but it might not be for everyone.

The author has a unique and, in my opinion, a very insightful way of explaining the mentality that made the Russian Revolution. He sees it as a secular millennial cult. This makes a great deal of sense given the outbreak of
Oct 28, 2017 rated it liked it
This is not an easy book to read. I got it from the public library and had three weeks to make my way though it and finished it on the last day - and I will confess to only glancing at some of the pages towards the beginning. There is almost 1,000 pages to get through here.

I have a relatively strong background in Soviet history and culture, although I am no longer a specialist in that area. I completed a BA and then MA in what was called "Soviet area studies" in the last 70s-early 80s. This
John Plowright
Aug 04, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Some of the most high-profile victims of Stalin’s purges, namely, those who as privileged party members, were accommodated in the House of Government - the huge, forbidding apartment block opened in 1931, on the Moscow River’s embankment - were able, once Khrushchev sanctioned de-Stalinization, to have plaques erected there in memory of their loved ones. Some even sought to have the relevant family apartments converted into museums, as secular shrines to the departed, although Moscow’s housing ...more
Oct 24, 2017 rated it it was amazing
A few years after the 1917 Revolution it was decided to build a House of Government on a muddy island in the Moscow River to house the Soviet Bolshevik elite. Designed on an enormous scale, the vast complex contained apartments, courtyards, a theatre, library, gym, hair salon, post office, cinema, laundry, shop, day care centre, clinic and social club. Everything the new revolutionary class could possibly want to turn their lives into the bourgeois paradise they had fought to destroy. The first ...more
Titus Hjelm
This is a strange book. I’d love to hear the story how it ended up published as it is. As we know, publishers (even university presses) love ‘big books’, because page count seems to give them an aura of profundity. Perhaps this is how The House of Government ended up having two weak books and one interesting one in it. The interesting and well-executed book is the story of the title. Although the story of the house and its inhabitants takes up less than a fifth of the book (possibly even less), ...more
François Boucher
Oct 01, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: favorites
Stunning book, that every reader interested by Soviet history will love to read.
It is densely populated by so many characters of the Russian Revolution and their personal histories, from the beginning of their political awakening at adolescence, through the revolutionary wars, the Second World War, and the Stalinian purges, as seen through the stories of the immense appartment building where so many lived, right across the River from the Kremlin.
Extremely well researched. A gripping read.
Bob Peru
Sep 28, 2017 rated it really liked it
sprawling and intimate. the world of revolutionary russia writ both large and quotidian.
Feb 25, 2018 rated it liked it
Why three stars when everyone else is giving it five? Because I felt like I was reading three different books squished together. First there was the book comparing Bolshevism to religious millennial sects, then there was the comparative literature book, then there was the history of the families of the House of Government. While the first two strands that are woven into this tome are surely interesting, they are not really what I was interested in when I picked up the book. I felt that at least ...more
Carolyn Harris
Dec 26, 2017 rated it really liked it
The House of Government begins "This is a Work of History. Any resemblance to fictional characters, dead or alive, is entirely coincidental" and what follows is a thousand page Russian history book that reads like a classic Russian novel complete with interconnected families, political intrigue and sudden rises and falls and fortunes. Slezkine examines Moscow's "House of Government," the residence that housed some of the most prominent figures in the USSR during the 1920s and 1930s and their ...more
Miroslav Beblavy
Jan 02, 2018 rated it it was amazing
A weird book. Very, very long, mixing history, religious theory and literary criticism, but in a mesmerizing way. Bolsheviks literally as a millennial sect - and what that means. Extremely highly recommended
Antonio Nunez
May 27, 2019 rated it it was amazing
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“The scapegoat is a central figure in human life. A community that feels threatened identifies groups or individuals responsible for the crisis, casts them out by killing or expelling them, comes together healed and renewed, and attempts to forestall the next crisis by restaging the original event in ritual or else by wondering how it could have punished an innocent lamb (and trying to identify groups or individuals responsible for the delusion).” 5 likes
“In 1932 Pravda published a short story by Ilf and Petrov, titled 'How Robinson Was Created,' about a magazine editor who commissions a Soviet Robinson Crusoe from a writer named Moldavantsev. The writer submits a manuscript about a Soviet young man triumphing over nature on a desert island. The editor likes the story, but says that a Soviet Robinson would be unthinkable without a trade union committee consisting of a chairman, two permanent members, and a female activist to collect membership dues. The committee, in its turn, would be unthinkable without a safe deposit box, a chairman's bell, a pitcher of water, and a tablecloth ('red or green, it doesn't matter; I don't want to limit your artistic imagination'), and broad masses of working people. The author objects by saying that so many people could not possible be washed ashore by a single ocean wave:
'Why a wave?' asked the editor, suddenly surprised.
'How else would the masses end up on the island? It is a a desert island, after all!'
'Who said it was a desert island? You're getting me confused. Okay, so there's an island, or, even better, a peninsula. It's safer that way. And that's where a series of amusing, original, and interesting adventures will take place. There'll be some trade union work going on, but not enough. The female activist will expose certain deficiencies - in the area of due collection, for example. She'll be supported by the broad masses. And then there be the repentant chairman. At the end you could have a general meeting. That would be quite effective artistically. I guess that's about it.'
'But - what about Robinson?' stammered Moldavantsev.
'Oh yeah ..., thank for reminding me. I'm not wild about Robinson. Just drop him. He's a silly, whiny, totally unnecessary character.”
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