The Russian Revolution at 100

The New York Times has humiliated itself with the series of essays on the hundredth anniversary of the Russian Revolution that it has published under the rubric of Red Century. Michelle Malkin peeked in on it here. I peeked in on it in “The Times revisits the old-time religion” and drew on the great Harvey Klehr’s contribution to the series in “The romance of Soviet stooges.”

This week’s New York Times Book Review does substantially better. In her weekly newsletter, Times Book Review editor Pamela Paul seizes on the publishing industry’s contribution to the centenary. She links to the reviews and essays she has assembled to cover major biographies of Lenin (review by Josef Joffe) and Stalin (review by Mark Atwood Lawrence), and many new works of Soviet history (review by Joshua Rubinstein), including a new book by Anne Applebaum, Red Famine (review by Adam Hochschild).

She also links to reviews of other books examining the present-day ripple effects: Masha Gessen’s The Future is History: How Totalitarianism Reclaimed Russia (Russia under Putin, review by Francis Fukuyama), and Maria Alyokhina’s Riot Days (recounting the Pussy Riot musician’s time in prison, brief review by Sophie Pinkham).

The Review also invited the novelist Martin Amis, former secretary of state Condoleezza Rice and former deputy secretary of state Strobe Talbott to write essays on the books that to their mind best illuminate the events of October 1917 (links go to their essay).

This is a rich and informative set of reviews and essays. Consider this unusual (for the Times) blast of truth from Martin Amis, making a point that is front and center in The Gulag Archipelago (indeed, Amis’s essay runs with a photo of Solzhenitsyn):

It was not a good idea that somehow went wrong or withered away. It was a very bad idea from the outset, and one forced into life — or the life of the undead — with barely imaginable self-righteousness, pedantry, dynamism, and horror. The chief demerit of the Marxist program was its point-by-point defiance of human nature. Bolshevik leaders subliminally grasped the contradiction almost at once; and their rankly Procrustean answer was to leave the program untouched and change human nature. In practical terms this is what “totalitarianism” really means: On their citizens such regimes make “a total claim.”

Highly recommended.

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