Monday, December 08, 2003

Lenin: A New Biography, by Dmitri Volkogonov

This bio is billed as "The First Account Using All the Secret Soviet Archives," but since it's the only biography of Lenin I've read I can't say whether that makes a substantial difference. I did find the excerpts from, for example, Politburo proceedings fascinating, and some of the evidence of Lenin's long affair with Inessa Armand seems to have been suppressed until recently, so Volkogonov's "unprecedented access" seems to have served him well.

There is a lot here about what Lenin did, and that's both interesting and important. But there's not much about who he was, really, or why. It could be argued, I suppose, that a biography can't really answer those questions and therefore shouldn't try. It could be argued, but I'd disagree. Maybe it's my inner story whore, but I want to see a progression, with at least some rudimentary cause and effect. It bothered me that Volkogonov (and try typing that five times fast!) arranged his chapters by topics and not chronologically, because I'm not well-versed in the historical details of the Russian Revolution and at times found it difficult to follow. That may be a function of audience--I got the impression that this book was written for scholars and students of Lenin and his times, of which I am neither. I think I learned something from the book, but I'd have learned more if the facts had been presented as part of an overarching narrative rather than as a series of topics.


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