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The Great Terror: A Reassessment

4.12  ·  Rating details ·  821 ratings  ·  75 reviews

The definitive work on Stalin's purges, Robert Conquest's The Great Terror was universally acclaimed when it first appeared in 1968. Harrison Salisbury called it "brilliant...not only an odyssey of madness, tragedy, and sadism, but a work of scholarship and literary craftsmanship." And in recent years it has received equally high praise in the former Soviet Union, where it

Paperback, 584 pages
Published November 21st 1991 by Oxford University Press, USA (first published 1968)
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Sep 03, 2010 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: history, nonfiction
It is completely incomprehensible to most of us how systematic the nature of evil under Stalin can be. Perhaps only North Korea today can compare for the quantity, the extremity, and the sheer randomness of how the state chooses its victims. Authorities became criminals.

Stalin acts like a vengeful pagan god. Whole families are condemned for the imagined or perceived sins of one man. He receives lists of victims and condemns them all, signing his name across the front. Shot, poisoned, starved, hu
Anastasia Fitzgerald-Beaumont
Amongst my other reading at present I’ve been working my way through Robert Conquest’s classic The Great Terror>, an exploration of the Stalinist purge in Russia in the mid-1930s. I’ve reached the most terrible phase of that terrible part of the nation’s history, the so-called Yezhovchina, named after Nikolai Yezhov, then head of the NKVD, the Soviet security police.

It’s difficult to know how the nation was able to survive the ever growing spiral of denunciations, arrests and executions, emb
May 27, 2012 rated it really liked it
Shelves: favorites
Which is more terrifying? Stalin's 1936-38 terror, or Western liberals' inability to recognize it? Updating his original work "The Great Terror" with a vast amount of new data, Conquest scrupulously details and puts into context the purges themselves: the many players and defendants, the shifting political cross-currents, the rounds of trials and arrests.

And he does the same for the many Western observers - intellectuals, writers, journalists, and left activists - who were oblivious to it or act
May 31, 2012 marked it as to-read
This guy's real name is Robert Conquest? My nom de plume is going to be Biceps Wellhung.
Czarny Pies
May 27, 2014 rated it it was amazing
Recommends it for: History buffs
Recommended to Czarny by: Norman Davies
Shelves: european-history
The Great Terror is a book of enormous importance because it was the first book on Stalin's purges written by a member of the Anglo-Saxon race employed as a professor at a major university in an Anglo-Saxon country. During the 1970's when I was studying history at an Anglo-Saxon university Slavs were given little respect. The fact that they had lived in Russia or some other country like Poland meant that they had strongly partisan feelings and hence could not be trusted to give a truthful accoun ...more
Jan 01, 2012 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: russia
Conquest's The Great Terror is the definitive work in English on Stalin's purges and the death of Bolshevism. For readers interested in the ascendency of Stalinism in Russia this is the primary source.
my name is corey irl
Dec 22, 2012 rated it did not like it
Loring Wirbel
May 09, 2012 rated it really liked it
OK, let's begin with the obvious - Conquest can lean to polemical language from his excitable right-wing background (really, what is helped by calling someone "odorific"?), and his tendency to let his passion direct his writing can make him seem a less reliable historian. Nevertheless, no one had better compiled the history of show trials than Conquest did in his original 'Great Terror,' and the new version, reflecting new information from the 1990s, puts all the elements in place. For that reas ...more
Edwin Stratton-Mackay
Mar 28, 2016 rated it it was amazing
Brilliant work, its value underscored by the savage attacks on it by Kremlin apparatchiks. Originally the standard work on the Great Terror, Stalinism was worse than Robert Conquest reported.

Hitler lost, and failed to complete the cover-up of Nazi crimes (Sonderaktion 1005.) On the other hand, Stalin won, and didn't die until 1953. Stalin had the opportunity to complete his cover-up. The breadth of Stalin's criminality only began to be understood after 1990. Conquest's work is the place to star
Aug 08, 2015 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: russian-history
I remember vividly using this book -- or was it the first edition? -- to refute my friends who refused to believe that evil lurked East of the Brandenburg gate and, especially, in Moscow
Claudia Moscovici
Jan 24, 2010 rated it it was amazing
Psychopathy is usually analyzed as an individual psychological phenomenon. As we've seen, the term describes individuals without conscience, with shallow emotions, who are able to impersonate fully developed human beings and mimic feelings of love, caring and other-regarding impulses to fulfill their deviant goals: be that stealing your money, stealing your heart or both. This phenomenon becomes all the more toxic, and dangerous, when such individuals rise to national power and manage to create ...more
Peter Jakobsen
Nov 11, 2014 rated it really liked it
Shelves: tvc
It is hard to understand why so many intelligent people admired the socialist experiment of Soviet Union c.1934-1940. These useful idiots defended and lauded systematic mass slaughter on an industrial scale. Conquest's book, originally appearing in 1968, helped convince those still impervious to, inter alia, Hungary and Czechoslovakia. The case is made, with solid and well sourced evidence, that Stalin basically topped anyone who looked at him sideways, or didn't look at him or whatever. Nor wer ...more
Aug 07, 2015 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Really well written and compelling; it didn't feel like it was 500+ pages. Admittedly I was reading it purely out of interest so I'm not going to be quizzed on what I remember of it in a few weeks, but despite a wealth of detail it is easy enough to follow the main themes and figures. The numbers involved in the repression and purge are so enormous that one constantly refers back to the individual stories, the people, to restore a sense of realism. For that reason I also found it helpful to have ...more
Feb 07, 2013 rated it it was amazing
Huge book, full of details but, but, incredibly quickly read. Numbers and vastness are overwhelming. Can't help thinking 'how could it happen?, how did Stalin succeed?'. A masterpiece on dictatorship on masses.
Dec 28, 2018 rated it really liked it
Shelves: history, non-fiction
Truth is not just stranger than fiction, but also much more farcical and simultaneously far, far more frightening.
Jun 12, 2012 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: non-fiction
Few weeks ago I was working at All-Russian State Archive of literature and art, gathering materials for my Mayakovsky documentary... This, you know, old quiet place where all the manuscripts and old letters and archives and all possible obscurities are treasured. I love such places. And...Majority of people in its reference room were foregniers. Somehow... I won't make any conclusions about that, but no wonder that the most сomplete book about Stalin's terror was written by the English Professor ...more
Greg Northrup
Aug 07, 2009 rated it it was amazing
Most everyone is aware of the tremendous breadth and brutality of Stalin's regime, but Robert Conquest's book really brings home the horrendous conditions and arbitrary nature power of the regime, as well as stultifying effect it had throughout the society. This is the first book I've read on the subject and it's a feast of detail, constantly thought provoking and well written with particularly appropriate and cutting indignation. I was kind of in a shocked but fascinated stupor for much of this ...more
Sep 02, 2009 rated it liked it
The numbers involved are numbing.. millions executed, millions in labor camps.. I can't rightly get my mind around it. It's like thinking about the national debt. I kept trying to put it in context. Say if half the town I live in were "purged"... Still hard to grasp, and I live in a small town. The author is reputable and the facts seem well established at this point. What a sorrow for the Russian people. One aspect of the book I found difficult to overcome was the way the author jumped forward ...more
Sep 28, 2009 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Must read stuff.
From Amazon:
Upon its publication in 1968, Conquest's The Great Terror: Stalin's Purge of the Thirties ( LJ 12/1/68) received wide acclaim for its broad, well-documented portrayal of the death of millions in Stalin's peacetime consolidation of power. A generation later, the collection of samizdat literature and the openness of glasnost have permitted access to better information, thereby allowing a reassessment of the study. Conquest's review largely confirms the original work. In
Margaret Sankey
Feb 22, 2014 rated it really liked it
Originally published in 1968, and reread for my 1930 stuff in class, this is the master narrative of Stalin's purges. Conquest was working in the aftermath of the secret speech, piecing together evidence Khrushchev allowed out, as well as the memoirs of dissidents and other clues. It must have been some horrible grim satisfaction to begin revisions in 1986 using Gorbachev's newly allowed sources to show that he had been substantially right. Conquest toggles back and forth between individual case ...more
Sig Rosenblum
Jan 15, 2009 is currently reading it  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: Anyone curious about Stalin's murder of 20million of his countrymen!
Just started this for research on Stalin. It will be a chapter in a book I am writing on the Interwar years. Conquest is a poet--and this shows. Most important, he shows the care one must use in handling the historic evidence. His bibliographic notes are a model of evenhandedness that any historian would admire. I am eager to compare this earlier work with his more recent 1990 (?) version which reassesses the slippery evidence.

Sig Rosenblum
Jan 15, 2013 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Wonderful early (1968) detailed account of Stalin's purges and show trials of the late 1930s. Engrossing subject matter and vivid, excellent writing; Conquest updated this book as "The Great Terror: A Reassessment" in the 1990s.
Jan 30, 2008 rated it liked it
Another Conquest title, this is a reassessment if you want to use this book to brain somebody. Not a light read but so well documented and described that it is The Assessment.
May 19, 2010 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: russia
Awesome research. A bit of a slog. How many show trials can one take in? How many millions purged or sent to the gulag can you stomach? A staggering story.
Barton Carroll
Jan 25, 2011 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
One of the first books (perhaps the very first) published in the West about the nature of Stalin's terror.
Jerry Costin
May 31, 2012 rated it it was amazing

This is a very tough read, but well worth the effort. I had no idea what a monster Stalin was.
Mickey Mantle
Feb 25, 2009 rated it it was amazing
There is no way an American can comprehend how evil a government Stalin was running.
Read this book for a taste.
Jul 01, 2012 rated it did not like it
Shelves: russia
"Stalin is not a nice guy. We get it. This book was torture."
Jan 16, 2012 rated it it was amazing
One of the most important books written in the 20th century.
Chris Schaffer
Jul 18, 2013 rated it liked it
Shelves: russia
A little long and overly detailed, I definitely skimmed some sections. Great insight into a terrible time in the USSR. What a sadistic thug Stalin, Vyshinsky and all those killers were.
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George Robert Ackworth Conquest was a British historian who became a well known writer and researcher on the Soviet Union with the publication, in 1968, of his account of Stalin's purges of the 1930s, The Great Terror.