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The Great Terror: A Reassessment

4.11  ·  Rating details ·  936 ratings  ·  85 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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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, embrac
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.
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
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
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
Dec 12, 2019 rated it it was amazing
An important and incredible story, masterfully told. It’s hard to imagine living through the period described in this book. And as Conquest notes, it was hard for many to believe it was happening at the time. This book describes in detail the litany of Stalin’s crimes, and tells the story with a mastery of detailed historical knowledge, psychological and moral insight, and literary grace. It would be wrong to describe this book as a pleasure to read. But it is a deeply powerful and important wor ...more
Nov 28, 2019 rated it really liked it
Shelves: stalled
It took me a fews months to finish that book. The critical Era It tackles alongside the authors narrative technique didn't tickle the good part at the back of my brain leaving the array of my curiosity unfulfilled.

From an academic standpoint, this book could serve as a great reference as a classic example to cite from credible source - - probably that is why I didn't get to enjoy it as I should have.
This doesn't deny the great information I learned - despite the unnecessary names and dates devia
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
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.
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.
Jan 16, 2012 rated it it was amazing
One of the most important books written in the 20th century.
Jul 01, 2012 rated it did not like it
Shelves: russia
"Stalin is not a nice guy. We get it. This book was torture."
cool breeze
Sep 30, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This was a towering achievement when it was first published in 1968. Piecing together the scope of Stalin’s butchery and genocide from the sparse evidence available at the time was an incredible accomplishment. Conquest’s conclusions have since been confirmed in all but minor details by subsequent developments such as Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn's The Gulag Archipelago 1918–1956 (1973) and the revelations following the collapse of the Soviet Union and its communist vassal states.

Conquest managed to c
Jul 20, 2020 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Incredibly comprehensive, but as you can imagine, heavy reading. I'm always a little wary about calling books like this 'good' or saying I enjoy them, because it seems vastly inappropriate, but this was a very well-written book and it had a natural ease of authority that kept things clear and precise; something that's very difficult to do when it comes to such broad subject matters. Some books simply have you flicking back and forth and constantly trying to re-orientate yourself, but this book m ...more
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.
Howard Jaeckel
May 08, 2019 rated it liked it
Robert Conquest’s “The Great Terror” is generally regarded as the definitive work about the Stalinist purges of the late 1930s. Definitive it surely is and will doubtless be invaluable to serious students of Soviet history and expert Kremlinologists who already know a great deal about the period.

But the book’s highly detailed accounts of the arrest, interrogation, “trial” and “confessions” of an endless number of Communist officials, most of whom will be entirely unfamiliar to the non-expert, i
Aug 14, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Recommends it for: Anyone, especially admirers of Putin, so they might understand his background
Shelves: nonfiction
The definitive book on Stalin's purges. The updated version features Conquest in a typical bit of academic (read childish) debate in which he quotes critics of the first book --primarily Communists who said it was impossible / propaganda to suggest the since-proven scale of Stalin's evil. He revels in rubbing their noses in how he was right and they weren't. It feels wrong to laugh at any part of a book that details the arrests, torture and state murder of millions of its own citizens, but parts ...more
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
Oct 25, 2013 marked it as unfinished
Shelves: russia, abandoned
This book would be of some utility for the Stalin scholar going through a print version with a highlighter and cross-referencing individual show trials of the '30s. For the general reader, or in my case audiobook listener, it's like having a textbook on electrical engineering screamed at you by a hysterical back-bench Tory MP on large quantities of cocaine. I loved the same author's much more accessible Stalin biography {book:Stalin: Breaker of Nations] but I found this one pretty much intolerab ...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
Jul 29, 2018 rated it it was amazing
An excellent history of one of the most disturbing periods in the 20th century. At times, the reader feels like one of the prisoners on the conveyor belt interrogations, reading long lists of the Russian names of people tried, jailed, murdered or sent off to camps. But Conquest does a good job of (eventually) teasing patterns out of the madness, explaining what it all meant and why it was important. Also does a good job of demonstrating how much Western society failed in its opportunity to conde ...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
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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.

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