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Magnetic Mountain: Stalinism as a Civilization

4.12  ·  Rating details ·  249 ratings  ·  22 reviews
This study is the first of its kind: a street-level inside account of what Stalinism meant to the masses of ordinary people who lived it. Stephen Kotkin was the first American in 45 years to be allowed into Magnitogorsk, a city built in response to Stalin's decision to transform the predominantly agricultural nation into a "country of metal." With unique access to previous ...more
Paperback, 639 pages
Published February 27th 1997 by University of California Press (first published 1995)
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Apr 24, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Who doesn’t love a good book about a factory? They are big interesting places with entire communities that grow up around them (outside of larger cities of course). I worked in one for a few summers as a teen and never forgot the experiences - although I also never sought to repeat it either.

Stephen Kotkin is a history professor at Princeton and the author of an outstanding two volume biography of Stalin. This book began with his doctoral dissertation and is a history of the enormous Soviet stee
Frank Stein
Jan 02, 2017 rated it it was amazing
In this book Stephen Kotkin does what might seem impossible. He immerses the reader in the complete world of a Stalinist boomtown in the 1930s. The people in the new city of Magnitogorsk do not come off as Bolshevik caricatures or Soviet myrmidons, but as real humans facing normal and abnormal problems with all the intelligence and grace they can muster. Taking advantage of the full range of published and unpublished Soviet sources, he details what everyday life looked like to people living unde ...more
morning Os
Jan 10, 2008 rated it it was amazing
This is a phenomenal work!! It deserves more than 5 stars. I read this book again while I was doing research on Japanese fascism in 1930s, and it gave me great insight on the problem of 'agency' of ordinary people under a totalitarian state. I really liked the way in which Kotkin deploys the Foucauldian 'subjectivity' analysis yet goes beyond and shows that the state and the people were actually not playing the same game of 'indoctrination vs resistance.' Stalinism was "a way of life" according ...more
Joe Zivak
Jun 19, 2019 rated it it was amazing
So zvlastnou fascinaciou som pri citani sledoval, ako vznikali socialisticke institucie, ktore poznam z detstva a citania. V podstate vsetko sa utriaslo medzi rokmi 1930 a 1940. U nas to sovieti z Moskvy len nasilne aplikovali. Kotkinov velky interpretacny obluk, ktorym spojil komunisticku stranu s teokraciou, je velmi presvedcivy. O to viac, ze takyto narativ nas priblizuje coraz viac k nasej sucasnej politickej skusenosti.
Omar Ali
Feb 27, 2018 rated it really liked it
A detailed look at how one windswept mountain of ore in the freezing steppe was transformed into the largest metallurgical complex in the nascent Soviet Union.
Jul 03, 2014 rated it really liked it
A fascinating text that illustrates the project of building a socialist society under Stalinist terms, and how this process was highly experimental and often contradictory. The text suffers from some redundancy, especially in the final chapter, but it is still a worthwhile read that provides an expert analysis of a complicated historical period, all through the microcosm of a planned mining town.
Sep 02, 2015 rated it really liked it
Shelves: history
Якщо вам цікаво, як в перші роки СССР створювали міста з нуля - як вербували робітників? в яких умовах вони потім жили? як вели пропаганду в свіжостворених в'язницях? і тд, і тп - то вам сюди. Радше опис фактів, аніж постановка до них якихось цікавих питань, але це вже кому що треба від тексту. (Як можна здогадатися з назви, це на прикладі Магнітогорська.)
Oct 23, 2007 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: russianhistory
Monumental in every sense of the word. An amazing book, it redefines Stalinism in a subtle and penetrating way. The narrative arch is great, and the chapters are all gripping.
Sep 09, 2019 rated it it was amazing
This isn't light reading, high interest, or fast-paced, so some may object to my five-star rating. Fair enough. But if you want to see how a historian's mind can weave together seemingly useless documents into brilliant and new conclusions, Kotkin might just deserve a sixth star. What an incredible piece off scholarship.
Bonita Braun
Oct 13, 2019 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Monumental study

Scholarly study of Magnitogorsk, the great USSR city of steel in the Urals. Not fun to read and the extensive footnotes make it a slog, but fascinating, nonetheless. Stephen Kotkin combed the now available Soviet archives and interviewed some participants involved in building of The Great City of Steel.
Dec 17, 2013 rated it it was amazing
A highly detailed yet broadly conceived study of Magnitogorsk, a Soviet steel complex and city created on the steppes of Russia as both a model socialist community and an industrial powerhouse. Kotkin's incredibly thorough research allows him to tell the story of Magnitogorsk from both above - as it was planned, designed, and intended - and from below - how the actual workers and citizens coped with life. Kotkin uses the local study to help explain the broader strokes of Soviet history, and is f ...more
Apr 08, 2008 rated it did not like it
This book made me want to stab myself in the eye with a sewing needle. Kotkin spent 300 some pages saying what he could have said in 100 (it's thick with repetition) and half of the book was also endnotes (300 pages...yes, you read right...)! His main focus was using the city of Magnitogorsk as a case study to prove the theories of other Stalinist historians wrong. I'm not too big on Stalinist history anyway, so perhaps that was a problem as well.
The book takes the building of Magnitogorsk, an industrial city built from scratch, as a way to show how people learned to "speak Bolshevik" and thus both survive within and use the regime; thus it complicates hugely the usual top-down view of the Soviet Union.
Apr 04, 2010 rated it liked it
This book is what happens when you are one of the first historians allowed into the archives after the fall of the "iron curtain." Likely a very interesting read, but I lacked the time to really get into it.
Robert Davis
This is a phenomenal study of a Soviet built industrial town. It gives an account of the real lives, the failures and few successes of this Socialist attempt to emulate the corporate town of America.
Dec 15, 2009 rated it really liked it
Interesting, but a bit pretentious.
Jan 27, 2016 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: russian-history
Second part is much better than the first, but the writing style is overly complicated. The content has become somewhat old-fashioned by now.
Jan 04, 2015 rated it it was amazing
entralling history, well written and with so many interconnections- this will open any american's mind to what it was like in the early days of the USSR.
Nov 08, 2009 rated it really liked it
Unique, extensively detailed history of Magnitogorsk.
Shane Avery
Oct 19, 2013 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: non-fiction
Wow! Amazing scholarship.
school reading
Sep 24, 2008 rated it liked it
Pretty rough to get through.
Mike Burton
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Stephen Mark Kotkin is Professor of History and director of the Program in Russian Studies at Princeton University. He specializes in the history of the Soviet Union and has recently begun to research Eurasia more generally.

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In these strange days of quarantine and isolation, books can be a mode of transport. We may have to stay home and stay still, but through t...
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“The plenum concluded with a tribute dashed off to Stalin in which the participants exclaimed, “we cannot express in words the full force of our love for you,” and pledged their readiness to “meet the enemy.”4 The officials who made this vow of absolute loyalty did not know it then, but as it turned out, they were the enemy.” 0 likes
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