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The Unquiet Ghost: Russians Remember Stalin
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The Unquiet Ghost: Russians Remember Stalin

4.17  ·  Rating details ·  584 ratings  ·  59 reviews
Although some twenty million people died during Stalin’s reign of terror, only with the advent of glasnost did Russians begin to confront their memories of that time. In 1991, Adam Hochschild spent nearly six months in Russia talking to gulag survivors, retired concentration camp guards, and countless others. The result is a riveting evocation of a country still haunted by ...more
Paperback, 352 pages
Published February 4th 2003 by Mariner Books (first published 1994)
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4.17  · 
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 ·  584 ratings  ·  59 reviews

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Mar 15, 2013 rated it it was amazing
This is not my usual genre of books to read. After reading the fabulous epic "The Bronze Horseman" trilogy, I wanted to read more about Stalin-era Russia.
This is a great book. During Stalin's reign of terror (1924-1953), he was responsible for the mass murder of 20+ million of his own citizens, either by execution or by working them to death as slaves in his many gulags (forced labor prisons). Not until almost 40 years after Stalin's death and the end of the Cold War (1989), did "The Great Silen
Tamsin Ramone
May 22, 2015 rated it it was amazing
Adam Hochschild's writing abilities are unsurpassed. The manner in which he handles this sensitive topic is well researched, informative, interesting and respectful. Hochschild hasn't found it necessary to embellish on the terribly sad stories he has been told and as such you get a very clear picture of how Russians remember Stalin, the great purge and the times and silences surrounding the life and death of this dictator. Even after speaking to people who worked as guards, or relatives of guard ...more
Jul 08, 2011 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: 5-star
i enjoyed this book so much, because it didn't just explore the horrid things that had occured during the Stalin years -though there was enough of that to get a REALLY clear idea of what had happened - but it also explores the years immediately after.... the years before glasnost. if Stalin's great purge was Russia's apocalypse, the post-apocalypse was the great silence that followed it. AND i really like the study Hochschild makes of the phenomenon and his reluctance to blame, as if he wrote it ...more
Aug 28, 2011 rated it really liked it
A tough book to read, not because it isn't good - its as good as Hochschild's others - but because the story isn't over. There is a sense of beginning and end with WWI and even the Congo atrocities - clearly the events affect today, but they are generally considered part of the past. The Purge lives on in survivors, in the education system, in pretty much every part of Russian life. Hochschild could not be a detached observer, telling a story and providing analysis - the open wounds were everywh ...more
Marik Casmon
Jul 11, 2012 rated it really liked it
This book, copyrighted in 1994, is a kind of political travelogue. Its objective, shortly after the dissolution of the Soviet Union, was to take advantage of the thawing of the flow of information in those days. Specifically, the author took his family to live in Russia and while there, he examined the effect of Stalin's policies on the Russian people, including everyone from gulag prisoners to guards to those who remained neither. If is fairly well-written, but its greatest virtue is its anecdo ...more
David Groves
Books that arise from oral history are often riveting, and since this one covers one of the most riveting and dramatic periods in world history, it is engrossing. The stories that the author tells have the ring of truth about them, featuring unexpected twists, unlikely victims, even more unlikely survivors, and double-reverse endings. More than one story left me with moist eyes, covering the breadth and depth of emotions and ambitions that make up a life. The author is a fine writer with good, s ...more
Dec 13, 2014 rated it it was ok

Adam Hochschild spent 6 months in Russia in 1991 and interviewed Russians who were grappling with their memories of the Stalin Era. He was lucky to visit Russia at a very opportune moment. Former gulag camps were available to visitors, plenty of people who lived in the Stalin era were still alive, and mass graves had recently been opened. Through his talks with perpetrators and surviving victims, Hochschild explores the extent to which Stalin’s legacy still casts a shadow over Russia. His book i
Debbie Morrison
Mar 16, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: history
An exceptionally well-written book about Stalin’s rule that left a country’s people devastated—millions dead due to Stalin’s repressive regime fueled by his paranoia and drive for power. I chose this book as I wanted to learn more about Russia’s history—what happened after the revolution in 1917. I recently read Richard Pipes “Russia Under the Old Regime”; it covered Russia’s history up to the fall of the Tsar in 1917. Though a dense read, it was a good precursor to "The Unquiet Ghost".

Dec 02, 2018 rated it it was amazing
My good, this book is impressive. The very fact and scope of it- that the author traveled to Russia in 1991 and managed to interview a vast array of individuals about the legacy of Stalin's brutal regime- blows me away. I was particularly entranced by his interview with Vladimir Glebov, son of Lev Kaminev (one of the original Politburo members later executed under Stalin), but there wasn't a single wasted interview in the book.

And much like his later book King Leopold's Ghost, Hochschild reflec
Tariq Mahmood
The great Soviet gulag system, its victims and its enforcers were the same people, of the same belief, which is what makes this book so riveting. Adam has tackled the complex and deeply moving set of events as a travelogue, giving a deep insight in to the Russian phycology. Adam juxtaposes real stories with numbers of killed and killed with great effect. His analogy of the Russian denial and our own present day denial with the looming environmental fiasco are most potent.
How should the Russians
Mary Abad
Mar 12, 2018 rated it really liked it
I'm a huge fan of history and I understand that it is highly suggested to acknowledge how the author depicts a part of history (watching out for biases etc). Adam does a phenomenal job by representing Stalin's history (and the history he left) through the memories stained in the minds of many Russian citizens, including members from the KGB. The different stories from the different people affected in the reign of Stalin was compelling and honest and Adam writes their history as though he lived i ...more
Stu Campbell
May 17, 2019 rated it it was amazing
A powerful book written right at the end of the Soviet Era.....about the Gulag's and the legacy of Stalin. It's prescient in picking up a pattern that's only exploded recently, in kinda glossing over the crimes of Stalin, especially in Russia. It looks at how people were in denial during the Great Purge, how their was little fighting of their fates and a general sense of forgetting. It looks at Memorial, the Russian group dedicated to preserving the history of the Gulag and who are under strenuo ...more
Apr 26, 2018 rated it really liked it
This is an account of what happened. It has both an historic overview and individual stories of victims and their survivors. It also devoted space the deep questions of how and why this happened, especially how so many, almost everyone, either did nothing or cooperated. His attempts to answer these questions are better than most others I have read.

Rothschild is about 75 to and apparently still active. He has written a number of books about similarly disturbing subjects. I wonder if he will produ
Oct 22, 2017 rated it it was amazing
I found this book thought provoking and I liked that the author set out to answer specific questions, such as where do you draw the line between persecutor and persecuted, and how can power and atrocity, on such large scale like this, evolve in the first place? I learned a lot and I think the book contains important lessons for the future.
Jul 13, 2017 rated it it was amazing
A must read for anyone interested in social-political tragedies and the human dynamics that generate neighbourly betrayal, mass atrocities, and other social horrors. Not a light-hearted read, but a very important one.
Not nearly as interesting as his book “King Leopold’s Ghost”.
HistoryGeek 42
Jul 30, 2017 rated it liked it
Though it could be a bit dry at times, I learned quite a bit about this period of history of which I previously knew nothing.
Steve Coscia
May 07, 2017 rated it really liked it
Great book by a great writer. The author's interviews with gulag inhabitants make this history book very personal.
Sep 01, 2011 rated it it was amazing
In 1991, Hochschild went to Russia for 6 months to interview people about their memories and current views about Stalin and the Stalin period in Russian history. He speaks Russian so was not dependent on an interpreter, and I consider this a very important factor in the success of his project. Hochschild interviews a wide range of people – only a very few are survivors of the Great Purge years, but there are others who were in the Gulag in the 1950’s and the children of victims and survivors. He ...more
May 25, 2013 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I ask myself, "Emmett, what is the biggest problem or dilemma that you have faced in your brief life?" I ponder that, then say, "Well, Emmett, I'm not too sure. You see, nothing sticks right out, but undoubtedly it is safe to say that whatever my biggest problem was/is, it is likely something tangible. As in there is something that I want, some sort of THING. It is something that I want or wanted added to my life."

Added, you know, as opposed to being taken away. To my knowledge there is no outs
Dec 11, 2012 rated it really liked it
An Unquiet Ghost is a bit dated, but still quite fascinating. The author is well-known for some other excellent books, King Leopold's Ghost, Bury The Chains, and another about resisters to WWI that I don't remember. One interesting thing is that these interests that develop into further books show their heads a little bit here in one of his first books. And his writing and storytelling is as good in this book as in his others, dealing with very grim material, but material that can get to the cor ...more
Aug 18, 2014 rated it did not like it
The premise of the book is very good. But, the author seems a tad biased. He compares conservatives who deny the problem of pollution to those in the Soviet Union, that believed the great terror was constructive or necessary. His closest parallels to the type of people that believed in Stalin as a man of genius are John Bircher's and Mormons. And on and on for over two hundred pages our collectivist, progressive seems to try to excuse the actions of Stalin, by saying the witch burners and McCart ...more
May 11, 2016 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Absolutely worth the read. This is more memoir style than investigative research, but knowing that going in makes it a very enjoyable piece. Hochschild definitely doesn't disappoint in his writing - having read King Leopold's Ghost first, The Unquiet Ghost is definitely a more personal work, written in first person, not an exposé but a careful probing into a hugely interesting subject - as Hochschild asks throughout the book, were Soviet-era Russians executioners or victims? Is it possible to be ...more
Seonaidh Ceannéidigh
Jul 31, 2011 rated it it was amazing
Very interesting look at the crumbling Soviet Union and the legacy of the Stalin period: near inhospitable and lethal labour camps and secret massacres involving the sort of secret police that would put the chill even into the Gestapo, Hochschild paints a bleak image of the pre-Federation years. As the author discovers, the men behind the massacres were often very close to human, and not the sort of bogeymen we'd normally associate with such acts. We, throught Hochschild, meet the children of NK ...more
Aug 10, 2007 rated it it was amazing
Hailed by the Los Angeles Times as "An important contribution to our awareness of the former Soviet Union's harrowing past and unsettling present." Adam Hochschild is a wonderful storyteller who captured my interest immediately. This book was assigned reading for my Key Individuals in History: Stalin class. It is an easy read and I highly recommend it. The truth about Stalin is just beginning to emerge and due to the fear that still exsists in Russia today, we may never fully understand the terr ...more
Jan 25, 2008 rated it really liked it
Recommends it for: History and political science fans
An older book I somehow forgot to read when my wife gave it to me 10 years ago. It is about Russia as the Soviet Union was dissolving, looking at the painful legacy of the Stalin years. It is was intended as something of a current events book, and much of the detail is severely outdated. But it is a fascinating read because of the author's prescient observations about how Russia's personality, and the hideous, unhealed wounds from Stalin, could derail the emerging democratic Russia. His predicti ...more
Jan 05, 2009 rated it it was amazing
When I reviewed Mr. Hochschild's ealier book King Leopold's Ghost I found it wonderfully researched and written, and I couldn't put it down, nor could I forget it. I believe he has done it again. There are many reviewers here who have done a terrific job of describing this book in detail.However,what I find fascinating about Mr. Hochschild's writing is his ability to, in the main, allow the reader to make his own judgments about these horrifying subjects. I appreciate that opportunity- too many ...more
Tome Addiction
Jun 05, 2016 rated it liked it
Shelves: history
It is interesting to read a book that accounts the events of the past through the prospectives of the people that lived them. You begin to ponder on your prospectives influence of how you view these events and how only through generations will the events be lost. We try to remember through the teaching of history but the cultural impact of historical events are lost as new generations grow old. People remember and are influenced to view the events by how they were impacted. The best line from th ...more
May 19, 2007 rated it it was amazing
Recommends it for: history geeks
This is a difficult book to get through. You start to ask yourself how much more bad Stalin stories you can take. Here's the gist, Stalin was bad. But, as historians or people interested in history, I think it's important to keep asking how he managed to fool his own people for so long. From this book, I think it was a lot of fear, a lot of cult of personality, propoganda and misinformation. Well worth reading but very upsetting and sad.
Oct 15, 2016 rated it liked it
i remember only one thing about this book, which made me keep searching for it decades after, now the internet's here i might finally reread it: there is only one group of people who rebel that he finds, a group of children who get together to discuss things and start questioning everything: and ran every risk and followed what they thought through to the end. I wanted to reread that bit, to learn: how do you question? How do you dare?
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Hochschild was born in New York City. As a college student, he spent a summer working on an anti-government newspaper in South Africa and subsequently worked briefly as a civil rights worker in Mississippi in 1964. Both were politically pivotal experiences about which he would later write in his book Finding the Trapdoor. He later was part of the movement against the Vietnam War, and, after severa ...more