Lenin The man, the dictator, and the master of terror

Victor Sebestyen, 1956-

Book - 2017

"Since the birth of Soviet Russia, Vladimir Lenin has been viewed as a controversial figure, revered and reviled for his rigid political ideals. He continues to fascinate as a man who made history, and created the first Communist state, a model that would later be imitated by nearly half the countries in the world. Drawing on new research, including the diaries, memoirs, and personal letters of both Lenin and his friends, Victor Sebestyen's biography--the first in English in nearly two... decades--is not only a political examination of one of the most important historical figures of the twentieth century, but a portrait of Lenin the man. Lenin was someone who loved nature, hunting, fishing and could identify hundreds of species of plants, a despotic ruler whose closest ties and friendships were with women. The long-suppressed story of the complex love triangle Lenin had with his wife, and his mistress and comrade, reveals a different character to the coldly one-dimensional figure of the legend. Sebestyen also reveals Lenin as a ruthless and single-minded despot and a 'product of his time and place: a violent, tyrannical and corrupt Russia.' He seized power in a coup, promised a revolution, a socialist utopia for the people, offered simple solutions to complex issues and constantly lied; in fact, what he created was more 'a mirror image of the Romanov autocracy.' He authorized the deaths of thousands of people, and created a system based on the idea that political terror against opponents was justified for the greater ideal. One of his old comrades who had once admired him said he 'desired the good ... but created evil.' And that would include his invention of Stalin, who would take Lenin's system of the gulag and the secret police to new heights"--

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Subjects
Genres
Biographies
Published
New York : Pantheon Books 2017.
Edition
First United States edition
Language
English
Physical Description
xix, 569 pages, 16 unnumbered pages of plates : illustrations, maps ; 25 cm
Bibliography
Includes bibliographical references (pages 519-547) and index.
ISBN
9781101871638
1101871636
Main Author
Victor Sebestyen, 1956- (author)
  • Prologue: The coup d'état
  • A nest of gentlefolk
  • A childhood idyll
  • The hanged man
  • The police state
  • A revolutionary education
  • Vladimir Ilyich
  • attorney at law
  • Nadya
  • a Marxist courtship
  • Language, truth and logic
  • Foreign parts
  • Prison and Siberia
  • Lenin is born
  • Underground lives
  • England, their England
  • What is to be done?
  • The great schism
  • Bolsheviks and Mensheviks
  • Peaks and troughs
  • An autocracy without an autocrat
  • Back home
  • "Expropriate the expropriators"
  • Geneva
  • "an awful hole"
  • Inessa
  • Lenin in love
  • Betrayals
  • A love triangle
  • two into three will go
  • Catastrophe
  • the world at war
  • In the wilderness
  • The last exile
  • Revolution
  • part one
  • The sealed train
  • To the Finland station
  • The interregnum
  • "Peace, land and bread"
  • The spoils of war
  • A desperate gamble
  • The July days
  • On the run
  • Revolution
  • part two
  • Power
  • at last
  • The man in charge
  • The sword and shield
  • War and peace
  • The one-party state
  • The battle for grain
  • Regicide
  • The assassin's bullets
  • The simple life
  • Reds and whites
  • Funeral in Moscow
  • The "Internationale"
  • Rebels at sea and on land
  • Intimations of mortality
  • Revolution
  • again
  • The last battle
  • "An explosion of noise"
  • Lenin lives.
Review by Booklist Reviews

*Starred Review* Incensed after reading articles lauding him as a genius, Lenin fumed against the "glorification of one personality." In this insightful biography, Sebestyen examines the brilliant but ruthless personality whom journalists glorified and shows why the dictatorial government that Lenin imposed on his country made a nationwide cult of personality inevitable. Readers explore the complexities of that personality: sophisticated intellectual and shameless demagogue, cerebral logician and emotional rageaholic, sensitive lover of music and callous murderer. But no complexities will fascinate readers more than those characterizing Lenin's tangled relationships with the women who influenced him. Taking readers deep into a marriage that previous biographers have dismissed as merely functional, Sebestyen illuminates moments of real tenderness—and of painful tension—as Lenin succumbs to the charms of a beautiful émigré, whom he makes his mistress without abandoning his wife. Lenin's handling of rivals comes into focus in a different context when Sebestyen analyzes the ways the dictator advances his agenda by playing the scintillating Trotsky against the ruthless Stalin. Readers see a great historical tragedy play out, however, as Russia's dying Red Tsar leaves his most bloody-minded lieutenant in prime position to take over the brutal police state he has forged. A compelling portrait of an epoch-making figure. Copyright 2017 Booklist Reviews.

Review by Choice Reviews

Lenin was a complex figure who was defined more by myth than historical reality until the demise of the Soviet Union in 1991 and the opening of the Soviet archives. Journalist Sebestyen has taken advantage of this to post a lengthy portrait of Lenin the man and ruler of Communist Russia. Lenin was born to well-to-do parents who encouraged an intellectual upbringing. He was a lawyer before he was a radical revolutionary, but the execution of his older brother and the death of his father in 1886–7 changed his personality. He turned against the Tsarist state and beginning in 1893 was either in exile or in prison or Siberia. Sebestyen's remarkable portrayal shows Lenin's human side toward his wife, mother, sisters, and mistress. Lenin as party leader and dictator was far more severe than has been depicted. He used Stalin and Trotsky against one another but never declared for either as his successor. Eventually, due to a series of strokes in 1921–23, Lenin fell out of the picture, and Stalin used the vacuum to seize power. Sebestyen is to be commended for bringing the true Lenin to life for historians to consider. His study will rank with those of Richard Pipes and Robert Service in modern historiography. Summing Up: Essential. All levels/libraries.--A. M. Mayer, College of Staten IslandAndrew Mark MayerCollege of Staten Island Andrew Mark Mayer Choice Reviews 55:08 April 2018 Copyright 2018 American Library Association.

Review by Library Journal Reviews

Budapest-born Sebestyen, a veteran journalist who reported extensively on the collapse of communism and the breakups of the Soviet Union and Yugoslavia, gives backstory to the significant events of the 20th century by turning in what is reportedly the first big biography of Lenin in two decades. Sebestyen explains how Lenin emerged from a backward and oppressive regime to produce his own brand of oppression, becoming "a mirror image of the Romanov autocracy" while also discussing his relationships with his wife and mistress, presenting a portrait of the man and not just the politician. Copyright 2017 Library Journal.

Review by Library Journal Reviews

Vladimir Lenin (1870–1924) had a populistic style that helped him gain political advantage in many situations. Here, journalist Sebestyen (Revolution 1989) attempts to show that the Russian communist leader was not a revolutionary by definition; rather, he was someone who happened to be close to the revolution. To create the first comprehensive study of Lenin in two decades, the author has gathered sources from diaries, letters, and personal papers that provide extraordinary detail about Lenin's personal life, including his relationships with his wife and mistress. Also described are the momentous decisions of the 1917 Russian Revolution, such as the decision to murder Tsar Nicholas II and his family. Lenin later become known for his challenges to intellectual freedom and purging libraries of books that were considered unacceptable. VERDICT This well-documented work will satisfy amateur and professional historians alike.—Harry Willems, Great Bend P.L., KS Copyright 2017 Library Journal.

Review by Publisher Summary 1

Draws on diaries, memoirs and private letters written by both the controversial dictator and his friends to explore how Vladimir Lenin's personal life, including key relationships with women, shaped his politics and role in launching the Russian Revolution.

Review by Publisher Summary 2

"Since the birth of Soviet Russia, Vladimir Lenin has been viewed as a controversial figure, revered and reviled for his rigid political ideals. He continues to fascinate as a man who made history, and created the first Communist state, a model that would later be imitated by nearly half the countries in the world. Drawing on new research, including the diaries, memoirs, and personal letters of both Lenin and his friends, Victor Sebestyen's biography--the first in English in nearly two decades--is not only a political examination of one of the most important historical figures of the twentieth century, but a portrait of Lenin the man. Lenin was someone who loved nature, hunting, fishing and could identify hundreds of species of plants, a despotic ruler whose closest ties and friendships were with women. The long-suppressed story of the complex love triangle Lenin had with his wife, and his mistress and comrade, reveals a different character to the coldly one-dimensional figure of the legend. Sebestyen also reveals Lenin as a ruthless and single-minded despot and a 'product of his time and place: a violent, tyrannical and corrupt Russia.' He seized power in a coup, promised a revolution, a socialist utopia for the people, offered simple solutions to complex issues and constantly lied; in fact, what he created was more 'a mirror image of the Romanov autocracy.' He authorized the deaths of thousands of people, and created a system based on the idea that political terror against opponents was justified for the greater ideal. One of his old comrades who had once admired him said he 'desired the good... but created evil.' And that would include his invention of Stalin, who would take Lenin's system of the gulag and the secret police to new heights"--

Review by Publisher Summary 3

Draws on diaries, memoirs, and private letters written by both the controversial dictator and his friends to explore how Vladimir Lenin's personal life, including key relationships with women, shaped his politics and role in launching the Russian Revolution.

Review by Publisher Summary 4

This detailed biography relates the entire life of Vladimir Ilyich Lenin, from his childhood and the defining event of the hanging of his older brother Alexander Ulyanov (who was involved in a plot to kill the czar), through his education, his revolutionary activities, his exile, his return to Russia in 1917, and his role as leader of the Communist Revolution. The book includes much information on the Ulyanov family and their support of his revolutionary activities, especially his sisters Maria and Anna. There is also emphasis on the women in his life: his wife Nadezhda Krupskaya and his mistress Inessa Armand. The book draws on newly available primary sources. It is written as a descriptive narrative and will be accessible to general readers and students, while providing a wealth of detail to interest scholars. Annotation ©2018 Ringgold, Inc., Portland, OR (protoview.com)

Review by Publisher Summary 5

Victor Sebestyen's riveting biography of Vladimir Ilyich Lenin—the first major biography in English in nearly two decades—is not only a political examination of one of the most important historical figures of the twentieth century but also a fascinating portrait of Lenin the man.

Brought up in comfort and with a passion for hunting and fishing, chess, and the English classics, Lenin was radicalized after the execution of his brother in 1887. Sebestyen traces the story from Lenin's early years to his long exile in Europe and return to Petrograd in 1917 to lead the first Communist revolution in history. Uniquely, Sebestyen has discovered that throughout Lenin's life his closest relationships were with his mother, his sisters, his wife, and his mistress. The long-suppressed story told here of the love triangle that Lenin had with his wife, Nadezhda Krupskaya, and his beautiful, married mistress and comrade, Inessa Armand, reveals a more complicated character than that of the coldly one-dimensional leader of the Bolshevik Revolution.

With Lenin's personal papers and those of other leading political figures now available, Sebestyen gives is new details that bring to life the dramatic and gripping story of how Lenin seized power in a coup and ran his revolutionary state. The product of a violent, tyrannical, and corrupt Russia, he chillingly authorized the deaths of thousands of people and created a system based on the idea that political terror against opponents was justified for a greater ideal. An old comrade what had once admired him said that Lenin "desired the good . . . but created evil." This included his invention of Stalin, who would take Lenin's system of the gulag and the secret police to horrifying new heights.

In Lenin, Victor Sebestyen has written a brilliant portrait of this dictator as a complex and ruthless figure, and he also brings to light important new revelations about the Russian Revolution, a pivotal point in modern history.


(With 16 pages of black-and-white photographs)

Review by Publisher Summary 6

Victor Sebestyen's riveting biography of Vladimir Ilyich Lenin—the first major biography in English in nearly two decades—is not only a political examination of one of the most important historical figures of the twentieth century but also a fascinating portrait of Lenin the man.Brought up in comfort and with a passion for hunting and fishing, chess, and the English classics, Lenin was radicalized after the execution of his brother in 1887. Sebestyen traces the story from Lenin's early years to his long exile in Europe and return to Petrograd in 1917 to lead the first Communist revolution in history. Uniquely, Sebestyen has discovered that throughout Lenin's life his closest relationships were with his mother, his sisters, his wife, and his mistress. The long-suppressed story told here of the love triangle that Lenin had with his wife, Nadezhda Krupskaya, and his beautiful, married mistress and comrade, Inessa Armand, reveals a more complicated character than that of the coldly one-dimensional leader of the Bolshevik Revolution.With Lenin's personal papers and those of other leading political figures now available, Sebestyen gives is new details that bring to life the dramatic and gripping story of how Lenin seized power in a coup and ran his revolutionary state. The product of a violent, tyrannical, and corrupt Russia, he chillingly authorized the deaths of thousands of people and created a system based on the idea that political terror against opponents was justified for a greater ideal. An old comrade what had once admired him said that Lenin "desired the good . . . but created evil." This included his invention of Stalin, who would take Lenin's system of the gulag and the secret police to horrifying new heights.In Lenin, Victor Sebestyen has written a brilliant portrait of this dictator as a complex and ruthless figure, and he also brings to light important new revelations about the Russian Revolution, a pivotal point in modern history.(With 16 pages of black-and-white photographs)