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4.35  ·  Rating details ·  4,645 ratings  ·  305 reviews
Imperium is the story of an empire: the constellation of states that was submerged under a single identity for most of the twentieth century - the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics. This is Kapuscinski's vivid, compelling and personal report on the life and death of the Soviet superpower, from the entrance of Soviet troops into his hometown in Poland in 1939, through his ...more
Paperback, 352 pages
Published March 19th 1998 by Granta Books (first published 1992)
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Imperium isn't merely a travel narrative; such would ignore its vitality as palimpsest. It traverses the same roads again and again over time, it returns to immense crime scenes and it ponders a policy of ecological suicide. The book was published in 1994 just before a number of the text's issues came to boil: the two Chechen Wars. There are whispers of the rise of the oligarchs and somewhere lurking is in the frozen mist is Putin. Kapuściński has penned an amazing account of an empire. He often ...more
Nov 09, 2014 rated it it was amazing
Recommended to Hana by: Kinga
In 1917 an entire world went mad; a madness that came to be called the Soviet Union. The persecutions and wars that began with the October Revolution and that lasted for decades were marked by an almost incomprehensible series of mass exterminations; between 1918 and 1953 an estimated 54-110 million citizens of the USSR perished of unnatural causes. The Soviets left behind an enduring legacy of poverty, demoralization and ecological catastrophe.

Deftly weaving historical narrative, personal trav
Jun 20, 2007 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: Historians, Journalists, Commies
"Imperium" was the first Ryszard Kapuscinski book I read. I have since bought and read each of this other books if that tells you anything.

Kapuscinski was (he died early this year) a Polish Journalist extraordinaire who spent his life (he nearly died numerous times in the field) covering Coups, Wars and any other havoc he could fly into.

Imperium is about his travels, by plane, train, car, horse, whatever through the Soviet Union...more specifically: Siberia. The heartbreak he describes in these
Apr 05, 2012 rated it it was amazing
Kapuscinski delivers in Imperium a near equal of his masterpieces (Another Day of Life, The Emperor, and Shah of Shahs). Describing this makes it seems like an awful mess stitched together from reportage on the dissolution of the Soviet Union, a memoir of the author’s own contact with the empire, travelogue and history of the various regions (writer Geoff Dyer points out the section on the history of the Armenian book as especially wonderful, and I agree.), and an indictment of Stalin’s ruthless ...more
Nov 01, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Please read this one. If you are inclined to learn about soviet Russia, this is a must. It is so good, I could cry. And I did. So strong.
Apr 27, 2020 rated it it was amazing
Ryszard Kapuściński was one of the great travel writers of the last century, a Marco Polo who returned dispatches from obscure corners of the world. This book is an account of his journeys across space and time in the Soviet Union. It begins during his wartime childhood in Poland and ends in the early 1990s, when the regime finally collapsed on itself in exhaustion. Unlike most of Kapuściński’s writings this book is clearly very personal. The horror of life inside the empire is described not jus ...more
Aug 26, 2010 rated it it was amazing
Recommended to Wanda by: Monika
This book, by Ryszard Kapuscinski, is amazing. But it is work, albeit well worth the trouble.
It is difficult to put a finger on what it actually is -- travelogue vignettes is about as close as I can come to describing it. Kapuscinksi is a Polish journalist who traveled througout the Soviet Union when few other people could. As he traveled, he recorded his impressions throughout the years beginning with the Soviet occupation of Eastern Poland. His observations are relatively apolitical. They are
Nov 23, 2015 rated it it was amazing
Kapuściński was my best personal discovery of the year. His wit, his enormous culture and his historical perspective make him a must for today's journalists and readers. About this book: it is inevitable to find a justified Polish hatred towards Russia and the Soviet Union as a factor in the depiction of many real atrocities perpetrated by the regime. That being said, many testimonies of Siberian residents are appalling, and so are many other stories about the bureaucratic machine told all aroun ...more
Michael Scott
Imperium is the rare book that can explain Communist regimes, in this case, the Communist regime in Russia. In what starts as a memoir, then turns into a multi-trip travelogue Ryszard Kapuściński captures the essence of the regime: the corruption, the decay, the bureaucracy, the totalitarian state, but also the beautifully diverse (and thoroughly enslaved and oppressed) people. This dystopian journalism, for modern Russia (1930s through 1990s) is a dystopian and failed state, is made palatable b ...more
May 06, 2015 rated it it was amazing
A fascinating account of memories and explorations of the USSR by this journalist. The author undertakes an amazing journey through the most remote and inhospit corners of the old soviet empire, in those key years when the state of that empire is decrepit and crumbling.

Ryszard brings us the lost voices and stories of anonymous people who suffered the enormous atrocities of the stalin years, the forced famines, the millions and millions executed, or sent to die of hunger, neglect and forced work
Michal Mironov
Mar 01, 2016 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
A good mosaic from various travels to USSR throughout longer period. In the first part of book, it was obvious that author couldn´t write freely about political situation, thus his remarks were mainly limited on describing culture and daily life of numerous nations trapped in huge soviet Imperium. With glasnost and perestroika undergoing in the late 80-ies, Kapuściński feels strong enough to openly criticise unhuman system and uncovers many dark sides of crumbling, but somehow still mysterious e ...more
Jun 21, 2018 rated it really liked it
A beautifully crafted book detailing the author's travels through significant swathes of the old Soviet Union.

Imperium begins with Kapuscinski's childhood in Poland and the resultant impact of living under Soviet rule, before fast forwarding to his 1950's Trans-Siberian adventure. From here Kapuscinski jumps again to the early 60's, where he visits what the satellite states of the Soviet Union which he collectively refers to as the south. Kapuscinski then details a number of trips made through
If anyone can write about the Soviet Empire with grace, wit, observation, and creativity, it would be Ryszard Kapuscinski. All of his usual themes are there-- war, poverty, despotism, perception, memory-- but directed towards a more northerly clime, although with less distance. Kapuscinski could comfortably write about Africa with the sense of remove that comes with an outsider stance. In Imperium, he writes as someone who has spent all of his life under the shadow of the empire.
Feb 03, 2015 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: non-fic, other-lit
I've never seen Russia as an empire. But Kapuscinski convinces me, of its scope, its width, its depth, its beauty, and its terror.
Aug 19, 2010 rated it it was amazing
In many ways, this book feels just as autobiographical in its insights as it's political revelations dating far enough back to delve into the psychotic cruelty of Stalin for instance. It's a journey into learning by an adventurer who is clearly looking for something, some tie between all the human suffering throughout history wherever it may take place, though this book focuses on the Soviet Union and it's disintegration. This is one of those rich with imagery sort of novels that seems as profou ...more
Aug 05, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
3.5 stars. One of my goals has been to read some highly rated books that aren't that well known, those with an average rating over 4.2 and between 1,000 and 10,000 ratings. As it turns out, sometimes books fall into this category because they weren't well marketed but are beloved by everyone who finds them, and sometimes they're in this category because the people picking them up are those who are specifically interested in the subject area. This book is one of the latter.

If you are very interes
Sep 18, 2011 rated it it was amazing
As stated in most of the reviews of this book, Kapuscinski is a great writer. If you have not read him already, read this book and understand why. If you allready have read him, you are going to read this book based on what you allready have learned to know.

Having given Kapuscinski the credit he obviously deserves for his writing, I believe there is some points that should be done.

-First Kapuscinski stands on the shoulders of giants. His writing is to a great extent the result of the local peopl
Mike Clinton
Jun 01, 2012 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
"The" global journalist Ryszard Kapuscinski turns his attention to the various states of the former Soviet Union as it passed through the early stages of its transformation from 1989-91. Just the fact that it's Kapuscinski makes it valuable as an insightful commentary on an event of world-shaking importance. RK's idiosyncratic style, however, is less conventional reportage, relating poignant experiences and observations of momentous events at a personal level rooted in a deep sense of humanity. ...more
Dec 22, 2013 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: history
The Imperium in question is the USSR and Mr. Kapuscinski, a renowned Polish journalist/philosopher, brings his trademark inquisitiveness to bear on its fearsome collapse. Visiting several regions over the course of several years, we come face-to-face with the destructive burden of governance-by-threat and the humanity surviving beneath it. The history, the policies and the everyday hardship Mr. Kapuscinski relays are stark and stunning in scope. A fine, fine writer who is highly recommended to y ...more
Lazarus P Badpenny Esq
The travelogue aspect of the narrative can give this a slightly disjointed feel but, after all, this makes no claim to be a definitive history but rather a collection of encounters and personal reminiscences partially illuminated by Kapuscinski's episodic forays into the history of the Russian Empire. What does build is the unavoidable sense of tragedy resultant from the fact that suffering may be at the very centre of the Russian psyche.
lyell bark
May 08, 2013 rated it liked it
this book is ok but not as good as his books about south america and africa. i liked the parts about the southern and far eastern soviets the most. when he starts waxing on the differences between liberal democracy and a monolithic totalitarianism it's really unhelpful and kind of silly. it's also the same whenever anyone else does that tho so it's not specific to your pal ryszard. bye
Riley Feldmann
Mar 30, 2018 rated it really liked it
The Soviet Union.

Its name alone conjures images of something frightful, something monolithic, something nigh indestructible. Except, it was much more than that. As Ryszard Kapuscinski's Imperium shows, it was the last substantial colonial power of the 20th Century, and its subjects made up a diverse state cowed into community through brute force and plentiful use of terror.

As others have stated, this book is not only a collection of observations of the crumbling of that last "empire", but a tra
Feb 11, 2020 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
“History in this country is an active volcano, continually churning, and there is no sign of its wanting to calm down, to be dormant.”
Kapuscinski wrote that about Russia in 1994. The weird thing about this book is how his insights on Russia from 25 years ago are basically still correct — there’s one section about Ukraine and how Russia needs it to be strong that, no joke, could have been written in 2019.
This entire book is part journalism, part history, part travelogue and part sociological stud
Katka Mrvová
Jun 14, 2020 rated it really liked it
This is the fifth book I’ve read by Kapuscinski and while I’d describe the first four ones (The Shadow of the Sun, Another day of Life, The Emperor, Shah of Shahs) with the word ‘exceptional’, here I’d say that the book is really good.

It is compelling, as usual, RK includes his own reflections plus stories of his friends or people he met along the way which together with his writing mastery makes the book fascinating and unique.

Yet, it left no particular feeling inside me - for me this collecti
I have read it too late, after too many other books about the post-communist transformation and post-soviet societies. In consequence, I didn't find here anything really captivating (but I think it may be very interesting and easy to read for people knew to the subject). The construction of the book is very loose, as in many other works by Kapuściński. It is a collection of pictures, meetings and personal stories from the falling USSR. For more detailed or intense reading, see Secondhand Time: T ...more
Miina Saarna
Jul 12, 2019 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: reading2019
Ryszard Kapuscinski is a fabulous storyteller! The stories in this book are amazing, horrific, informative, and heartbreaking.

A very beautifully written book which provides wonderful insights into the ex Soviet countries and the personal stories of the people who lived in the Soviet imperium. Highly recommend!
review follows
Blake Zedar
Sep 06, 2019 rated it it was amazing
This is the fourth book I've read by Kapuscinski and its definitely in the top 2 (Another Day of Life being my other favorite). The Imperium is what Kapuscinski considers to be the last empire of the 20th century, The Soviet Union. For most of his career Kapuscinski wrote about developing nations in Asia, Africa and Latin America. Instead here we find Kapuscinski traveling through the mountains, deserts, cities, and small mining towns of the Soviet Union. From when the Red Army first entered his ...more
These essays form Kapuscinski's journalist account of travels in nations and cultures broken, swallowed and digested by the USSR. Although Imperium was written in 1993, the more I read of it in 2017, the more it reads like a collection of cautionary (though very humorous because: Kapuscinski) narratives about how very sadistic, oppressive and anti-human a government can be.

Medvedev, quoted on communism's ideals and Stalin: "In point of fact Stalin took over and even accomplished this assignment
Jul 27, 2015 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: history
I read it and I felt as if I had lost a genuine friend. He writes about his travels across the USSR and (later - the former republics), from Armenia to Kolyma's horrors, from Central Asian ecological problems (caused by the regime's "most reasonable minds") to Moscow, the Third Rome, as some believe...

In my view the book is an ultimate success: the classics of reportage. Everyone interested in professional journalism must read this one.

I only wished I could read Polish, since I am more than cer
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Ryszard Kapuściński debuted as a poet in Dziś i jutro at the age of 17 and has been a journalist, writer, and publicist. In 1964 he was appointed to the Polish Press Agency and began traveling around the developing world and reporting on wars, coups and revolutions in Asia, the Americas, and Europe; he lived through twenty-seven revolutions and coups, was jailed forty times, and survived four deat ...more

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