Goodreads helps you keep track of books you want to read.
Start by marking “Trotsky: A Biography” as Want to Read:
Trotsky: A Biography
Enlarge cover
Rate this book
Clear rating
Open Preview

Trotsky: A Biography

3.67  ·  Rating details ·  494 Ratings  ·  58 Reviews
Robert Service completes his masterful trilogy on the founding figures of the Soviet Union in an eagerly anticipated, authoritative biography of Leon Trotsky.

Trotsky is perhaps the most intriguing and, given his prominence, the most understudied of the Soviet revolutionaries. Using new archival sources including family letters, party and military correspondence, confidenti
Hardcover, 600 pages
Published 2009 by Belknap
More Details... edit details

Friend Reviews

To see what your friends thought of this book, please sign up.

Reader Q&A

To ask other readers questions about Trotsky, please sign up.

Be the first to ask a question about Trotsky

Community Reviews

(showing 1-30)
Rating details
Sort: Default
Oct 09, 2017 rated it really liked it
"There are many reasons for [Trotsky’s] enduring appeal. He was thrown from the pinnacle of power before his later ideas could be tested in practice. He was a brilliant advocate as writer and orator. He gained sympathy for his personal plight after being deported…And he died a martyr’s death."
- Robert Service, on Leon Trotsky, in Trotsky: A Biography

Now I’m getting serious. At least a little serious. I’ve been a Russian history dilettante for awhile now, dabbling in the popular biographies of Ro
Philippe Malzieu
Oct 20, 2015 rated it really liked it
It was interresting to read both a biography of Staline and Trotsky. This one is quite different than Kersaudy's book. In Stalin's biography, there is many photos, short chapter, it is reading like a novel. Here it is an university work. Trotsky interest me because it is a french passion (not the better). Many politicians, journalist and other was trotskyst when they were young. It is a good school for manipulation and success in business. But the method is always the same, and when you have the ...more
Trotsky, the real Emmanuel Goldstein, the real Snowball, has always aroused something between fascination, pity, and hero-worship from fellow travelers and sympathetic intellectuals. The idea that someone more intellectual could have led the Soviet Union on a path different than Stalin's is only too tempting for fans of alternate history.

Yet in this new source, the author aims to tear Trotsky down from his pedestal, and he does it hard. To be fair, he describes Trotsky's brilliance, his surprisi
After his death Trotsky has enjoyed better press in the west than he had had in his lifetime. Service shows how it was/is out of proportion to his qualities as a person and as a political leader. Robert Service documents who he was personally and politically through this new scholarly work.

Service, particularly in the later chapters, shows Trotsky to be a self-involved, arrogant, intolerant, and tin eared man with a gift for prose. He demands loyalty and doesn't appreciate the costs others must
Nov 14, 2009 rated it really liked it
Shelves: russian
An even-handed review of the complex and contradictory character of Trotsky. A charismatic man, with abundant literary gifts, including polemics and oratory, absolutely committed to revolution. His fearless leadership and organizational skills are celebrated in his pivotal roles in the October Revolution and the Red Army. His factiousness led to his demise from party leadership, expulsion, exile, death, and murder. Despite his many gifts, the myth of Trotsky is debunked by his egotism, coldness, ...more
Jun 05, 2013 rated it it was ok
I read this book for a very VAIN reason- the fact that it was discredited by the American Historical Review. It would be safe to say that Robert Service has done a great DISSERVICE to Trotsky.

I must say that I do suffer from ignorance to a high extent in understanding fully,the author's unarmed attack on trotsky. I had to read quiet a bit about Trotsky, Permanent Revolution and the origin of the theory by Engels and Marx. Even then it was impossible to understand this seething hatred of him.

Nov 05, 2015 rated it it was amazing
quite good a biography of Trotsky avoiding the hagiography around his name
David James
Jan 22, 2012 rated it it was amazing
Leon Trotsky has long sidestepped the sort of scrutiny and criticism meted out to Vladimir Lenin and Josef Stalin for their roles in the establishment of totalitarianism in the Soviet Union. This has occurred for a variety of reasons, including his break with Stalin, his exhaustive writings that critiqued Stalin, and his assassination (which made him a martyr), most likely ordered by Stalin. But perhaps the biggest reason he has escaped comparatively unscathed is that for those on the far left, ...more
Bhaskar Sunkara
Jul 08, 2011 rated it did not like it
Read this after watching Hitchens and him debate at some stuffy Hoover Institute roundtable. Littered with factual errors, which are at least finally getting exposed at the academic level
Feb 09, 2013 rated it really liked it
Well written, well supported, though actually a bit lean through the years of the Revolution.
May 19, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
قبل از اینکه برای اولین بار شروع به مطالعه راجب زندگی استالین بکنم، نسبت بهش احساس احترام می کردم. فکر می کردم در رابطه با انسان بزرگی کتاب می خونم اما، خب تعداد صفحات زیاد کتاب در بر دارنده ی تعداد بی شمار جنایاتش بود. میلیون ها ادمی ک کشت، هر چند خون بهای کشته شدگان باعث پیشرفت شوروی بود اما، زیر این پیشرفت میلیون ها نفر تو اردوگاه های کار اجباری مردن، توی دادگاه های نمایشی یا سرکوب اعتراضات کارگری یا کشورگشایی ها کشته شدن. و این کشور گشایی حتا یک جور هایی با فلسفه انترناسیونالیستی هم در تعارض ...more
May 29, 2017 rated it really liked it
Very good. Objective and not a hagiography by any means. Might read Stalin and Lenin by the same author.
JD Newick
Jun 18, 2013 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: read-in-2013
(Should preface this by saying that I'm not a Trotskyist, Leninist, Stalinist, or Communist of any brand whatsoever.)

Service's biography of Lenin is without a doubt a definitive one; his volume on Stalin is useful but I feel that Alan Bullock's Hitler and Stalin: Parallel Lives is slightly superior despite not being dedicated entirely to the Man of Steel. His biography of Trotsky, on the other hand, has raised the most controversy, partly as a result of Service's own marketing of it- publicised
Oct 11, 2012 rated it really liked it
A critical biography of Leiba Bronstein (Better known to the world as Leon Trotsky), Service does an excellent job of exploring the life, the complexities, and the many hypocrisies of this giant of 20th century history. From his early intellectual ferment to his heroics in the October revolution and Civil War, Service illustrates a man of fixed ideological belief - a demagogue, an intellectual, but most importantly a deeply inhumane individual.

Trotskyists have always asserted that the USSR would
Michael T.
Aug 02, 2011 rated it liked it
Trotsky is, I think, an innately fascinating historical figure. Even as we approach the 20th anniversary of the demise of the Soviet Union, it's legacy is still hotly debated. Was there ever a moment when the Russian experiment with full market socialism was not on the track to an oppressive & murderous outcome? Was what happened in Soviet Russia even worthy of the name of communism? And does the failure of the Soviet experiment discredit all of the nobler aims which the human impulse toward ...more
Howard Olsen
Mar 27, 2010 rated it really liked it
A straight forward biography of the real life Emmanuel Goldstein. Service focuses more on Trotsky's intellectual development, rather than on the more exciting elements of his life. It feels like every meeting he ever went to is described in detail, while the two years he spent leading the Red Army during the wars after the Revolution (despite having no military experience) go by too quickly. Of course, that is a reflection of Trotsky's milieu. He and the other Communists were intellectuals and r ...more
Steven  Passmore
Dec 14, 2013 rated it really liked it
I think I have to disagree with the other reviewers who accuse Robert Service of being non-partial, or biased against Trotsky. Obviously there was several character flaws in David Bronstein that inevitably must appear in any true study of the man. Trotsky was vain, but at the same time lacked self-conscious of his actions. He was an individualist who advocated collectivism. He had a habit of using people until they were no longer politically useful. His reaction to the Kronstadt rebellion was he ...more
Dec 19, 2009 rated it really liked it
This was a really interesting book, I wish it would've talked more about his ideas though. Here's what you need to know about Trotsky:

He was ruthless. The popular idea is that if he would've taken over after Lenin instead of Stalin things would've been really different. In some ways it probably would have (He would've tried much harder to encourage socialist revolution in other countries, he never thought the USSR would last without "continual revolution") but it sounds like he would've been eve
Titus Hjelm
Jan 24, 2012 rated it really liked it
Service closes his trilogy with another captivating portrait. What emerges is a picture of a selfish man who really didn't know better even when things were turning against him in the battle of succession after Lenin's death. Again, for me at least, the most interesting aspect was Service's analysis of Trotsky's marxism. Even more so than Lenin, Trotsky's connection to 'the source' seems to have been idiosyncratic, to say the least. Practical concerns overrode theory even when the man was clearl ...more
John Kerridge
Aug 12, 2012 rated it really liked it

I started this book as my final instalment following Service's books on Stalin, Lenin and Comrades. If you read these books from the knowledge and perspective that the author is not a left wing idealists or supporter then they are quite enjoyable to read. On the other hand if you are a hardened communist then you will no doubt hate these books. The weakest of the volumes for me has been Lenin. Jeepers it took some reading. Stalin was by far the most interesting. Trotsky was very interesting on s
Mouldy Squid
Jun 23, 2010 rated it really liked it
Shelves: biography
An exhaustive (you can tell my how long it has taken me to finish it), dense and illuminating biography of Leon Trotsky. Service has done a remarkable job collecting, researching and writing the tome. Probably the best biography of Trotsky available, but not for the timid or the merely curious; those who do not want to know every available detail of Trotsky's life, but only an overview, best look elsewhere. For the rest of us, the history nuts or the student of modern history, this is the biogra ...more
Feb 27, 2015 rated it liked it
-Algunas personas son tan buenas que parecen tontas. Otras son tan tontas que parecen buenas.-

Género. Biografía.

Lo que nos cuenta. Aproximación a la vida, obra y, tal vez, quién sabe, mentalidad del líder revolucionario soviético Liev Davídovich Trotski.

¿Quiere saber más de este libro, sin spoilers? Visite:
Andy Chirls
Apr 07, 2010 rated it it was ok
This book was DRY. I still don't know what a "Trotskyite" is. I feel like I sat through a bunch of staff meetings and conferences.
William West
Apr 06, 2017 rated it liked it
Robert Service is a fine entertainer. He is the type of historian who keeps a reader interested with the psychological characterization of a middle-brow novelist, rather than one who seeks to understand the way historical circumstances force the actions and choices of masses of individuals. He is, then, the epitome of a bourgeois historian of communism, and his morality and moralizing clearly reveal his class character. He serves his intended audience well, as he has made a big name for himself ...more
Raigo Loide
Aug 01, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Trotsky has been a somewhat hero of the Russian revolution for the Western intellectuals, who saw him as the moral opposition to Stalin. This book explains why this vision is naive and ignorant, based solely on Trotsky`s better verbal skills.
Trotsky, no doubt, was a talented organizer and public speaker, and also one of the best political writers of his age. At the same time he was part of the same system that created Soviet labour camps and predecessor of KGB. He was more an idealist than Stali
May 20, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Muy buena Biografía un genial ,inteligente y valiente hombre, fundamental no solo como líder de la revolución del 1917 si no como "bombero" durante la terrible guerra civil Rusa, este libro muestra esto sin olvidarse que era un hombre que podía matar a miles de personas solamente por interponerse en sus ideas ,en definitiva un libro imprescindible para entender el fenómeno del comunismo
Aug 04, 2018 rated it really liked it
Well written account. Author was biased when it came to Trotskys later years. Otherwise, a well written biography. Robert Service knows how to keep the reader engaged and interested.

4stars due to the bias, otherwise good book! 👍
Czarny Pies
May 31, 2014 rated it liked it
Recommends it for: Anyone interested in the history of Russia
Shelves: european-history
This book is great fun. It reads well. The author has a talent for presenting historical persons with the depth and intimacy of a good novelist. In this book, Trotsky is shown to have been dedicated, highly energetic and extremely intelligent. Service agrees with the general assessment that Trotsky was a great organizer and one who made a greater contribution than any other politician to the military success of the communist revolution.

Service does not believe, however, that Trotsky was ever a g
Aug 26, 2014 rated it liked it
A decent book which suffers significantly from the author's obvious disdain for his subject. The author regularly speculates on Trotsky's motivations for doing certain things but never provide any evidence for why he thinks that way. Of course, the author always imputes the most malicious motivation possible in any given situation, so for instance he does not take Trotsky at face value about why he separated from his first wife, portraying him as selfish even though she continued to support his ...more
Feb 27, 2014 rated it it was ok
I have to assume that Service's previous biographies of Lenin and Stalin were so magnificent that the publisher to decided to let their limbs hang loose and not edit this one at all. Since Service is an academic it's not surprising that he's not a towering stylist but so many thoughts and ideas in this book seem to not have any logical connection to what came before or what comes after that the whole text reads like an unedited manuscript. As a retelling of Trotsky's life it's quite fine, and Se ...more
« previous 1 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 next »
There are no discussion topics on this book yet. Be the first to start one »
  • The Prophet Unarmed: Trotsky, 1921-1929
  • Bukharin and the Bolshevik Revolution: A Political Biography, 1888-1938
  • U. S. Grant: American Hero, American Myth
  • The Arrogance of Power: The Secret World of Richard Nixon
  • Karl Marx
  • The Red Prince
  • Russia and the Russians: A History
  • Stalin: Breaker of Nations
  • Lawrence: The Uncrowned King of Arabia
  • The Russian Revolution
  • Uncorking the Past: The Quest for Wine, Beer, and Other Alcoholic Beverages
  • Setting the Desert on Fire: T. E. Lawrence and Britain's Secret War in Arabia, 1916-1918
  • Down with Big Brother: The Fall of the Soviet Empire
  • Orwell in Spain: The Full Text of Homage to Catalonia, with Associated Articles, Reviews and Letters from the Complete Works of George Orwell
  • Marx's Capital
  • How to Change the World: Marx and Marxism 1840-2011
  • Terrorism and Communism: A Reply to Karl Kautsky
  • Everyday Stalinism: Ordinary Life in Extraordinary Times: Soviet Russia in the 1930s
Robert Service is a British academic and historian of modern Russia and the Soviet Union. He is a professor of Russian history at the University of Oxford and a Fellow at St. Antony's College, Oxford.

He is the author of the highly acclaimed Lenin: A Biography, A History of Twentieth - Century Russia, Russia: Experiment with a People and Stalin: A Biography, as well as many other books on Russia's
More about Robert Service

Nonfiction Deals

  • Platform: Get Noticed in a Noisy World
    $9.99 $2.99
  • How to Write a Sentence: And How to Read One
    $10.49 $1.99
  • Hidden Figures
    $7.99 $1.99
  • Pocket Prayers: 40 Simple Prayers that Bring Peace and Rest
    $2.99 $0.99
  • Manifest Your Destiny: Nine Spiritual Principles for Getting Ev
    $11.74 $1.99
  • A Three Dog Life
    $9.99 $2.99
  • Mountains Beyond Mountains: The Quest of Dr. Paul Farmer, a Man Who Would Cure the World
    $14.99 $1.99
  • Embers of War: The Fall of an Empire and the Making of America's Vietnam
    $14.99 $2.99
  • How Children Succeed: Grit, Curiosity, and the Hidden Power of Character
    $10.99 $2.99
  • Happiness: A Guide to Developing Life's Most Important Skill
    $7.99 $2.99
  • Everything I Want to Do Is Illegal: War Stories from the Local Food Front
    $5.99 $1.99
  • My Glory Was I Had Such Friends: A Memoir
    $10.99 $1.99
  • Say Goodbye to Survival Mode: 9 Simple Strategies to Stress Less, Sleep More, and Restore Your Passion for Life
    $6.99 $0.99
  • The War of Art
    $9.99 $1.49
  • Spoiler Alert: The Hero Dies: A Memoir of Love, Loss, and Other Four-Letter Words
    $13.99 $1.99
  • Abigail and John: Portrait of a Marriage
    $14.99 $1.99
  • Casino: Love and Honor in Las Vegas
    $19.99 $2.99
  • The Success Principles: How to Get from Where You Are to Where You Want to Be
    $10.99 $1.99
  • The Hidden Reality: Parallel Universes and the Deep Laws of the Cosmos
    $14.99 $2.99
  • I'd Rather Be Reading: A Library of Art for Book Lovers
    $9.99 $1.99
  • The Girl With No Name: The Incredible True Story of a Child Raised by Monkeys
    $17.99 $1.99
  • The World of Lore: Monstrous Creatures
    $11.99 $1.99
  • Helmet for My Pillow: From Parris Island to the Pacific
    $10.99 $1.99
  • America's Women: 400 Years of Dolls, Drudges, Helpmates, and Heroines
    $14.99 $1.99
  • The Good Girls Revolt: How the Women of Newsweek Sued their Bosses and Changed the Workplace
    $9.99 $2.99
  • Dancing in the Glory of Monsters: The Collapse of the Congo and the Great War of Africa
    $11.99 $3.99
  • Dear Bob and Sue
    $6.99 $2.99
  • Hello Mornings: How to Build a Grace-Filled, Life-Giving Morning Routine
    $9.99 $2.99
  • Mossad: The Greatest Missions of the Israeli Secret Service
    $10.24 $1.99
  • Act Like a Success, Think Like a Success: Discovering Your Gift and the Way to Life's Riches
    $12.99 $1.99
  • Those Angry Days: Roosevelt, Lindbergh, and America's Fight Over World War II, 1939-1941
    $10.99 $2.99
  • Moab Is My Washpot
    $9.99 $1.99
  • Prisoners of Geography: Ten Maps That Explain Everything About the World
    $12.99 $2.99
  • Essays in Science
    $17.99 $1.99
  • The Art of Being
    $17.99 $1.99
  • The Sea Around Us
    $17.99 $1.99
  • This Is an Uprising: How Nonviolent Revolt Is Shaping the Twenty-First Century
    $11.99 $3.99
  • The Newcomers: Finding Refuge, Friendship, and Hope in an American Classroom
    $14.99 $2.99
  • Just the Funny Parts: My 30 Years on the Hollywood Jungle Gym
    $12.99 $1.99
  • Minimalism: Live a Meaningful Life
    $8.99 $2.49
  • The Millionaire Fastlane
    $7.99 $2.49
  • Training the Mind and Cultivating Loving-Kindness
    $13.99 $1.99
  • Jesus > Religion: Why He Is So Much Better Than Trying Harder, Doing More, and Being Good Enough
    $9.99 $1.99
  • The Proper Care and Feeding of Husbands
    $9.99 $1.99
  • Unlimited Memory: How to Use Advanced Learning Strategies to Learn Faster, Remember More and be More Productive (Mental Mastery Book 1)
    $9.99 $3.49
  • Forty Autumns: A Family's Story of Courage and Survival on Both Sides of the Berlin Wall
    $11.99 $1.99
“Parvus denied that universal suffrage was an end to itself since the middle class would always find ways to manipulate the electoral system. Freedom could not be begged for: it had to be won.” 0 likes
More quotes…