Review: "A People's Tragedy: The Russian Revolution, 1891-1924"

Updated on June 13, 2018
Larry Slawson profile image

Larry Slawson received his Masters Degree in History at UNC Charlotte. He specializes in Russian and Ukrainian history.

"A People's Tragedy"
"A People's Tragedy" | Source

Synopsis

A People’s Tragedy: A History of the Russian Revolution

By: Orlando Figes

Throughout Orlando Figes’ work A People’s Tragedy: A History of the Russian Revolution, the author provides a rich and detailed analysis of the historical components that made the Russian Revolution of 1917 possible. In this book, Figes raises many fundamental questions: How did the Russian Revolution occur? Where did it begin? What factors helped the revolutionary movement (Bolsheviks) take root in Tsarist Russia? Is the Revolution able to trace its origins to one single person or event? Was the Revolution avoidable? Finally, and perhaps most importantly, what was the Russian Revolution’s most enduring impact and legacy?

Figes' Main Points

Using a “bottom-up” style analysis, Figes makes the point that the Russian Revolution was not an elite-driven event like most uprisings throughout the course of human history. Rather, Figes contends that it was a revolution of the people – one in which common, ordinary individuals revolted and systematically dismantled the social, political, and economic underpinnings of Tsarist Russia. Because the Russian revolutionaries understood the concept that their power existed in the form of "numbers," Figes argues that many of the Bolsheviks turned to the vast Russian population as a means of inflicting greater damage on Tsar Nicholas II’s regime; encouraging radical dissent and anarchy against imperial rule.

With so many individuals taking a stand against the Tsarist government, Figes argues that traditional Russian society quickly imploded on itself as the weakness of Nicholas II and his centralized government structure gave way to overwhelming rebellions and revolts driven by the Russian people. With millions of people rallied to the Bolshevik cause, Figes contends that Nicholas and his regime simply could not resist the popular front that emerged to challenge his rule; thus, guaranteeing a seizure of power by the Communists.

As Figes points out, however, this "movement of the people" did not result in positive changes for Russians. The inchoate Communist regime – led by Bolshevik leaders such as Vladimir Lenin, Leon Trotsky, and Joseph Stalin – implemented far sweeping changes into Russian society that killed millions of people and resulted in the destruction of entire communities during the next seventy years that followed. Thus, as the title of Figes’ book implies, the Russian Revolution was one of tragedy and loss; not victory and gain. Although it was a revolution truly born out of the participation, wishes, and desires of the Russian people themselves, it was a revolution that, ultimately, destroyed and consumed its own people in the end. The Russian Revolution, as Figes points out, was a catastrophic failure in that it exchanged a bad system of government for one that was far worse and evil than its predecessor. It was truly a “people’s tragedy,” in that its origins and causes lie with the common people who made it possible for the Bolsheviks to usurp power and control away from the Tsar.

Personal Thoughts

Figes' thesis is both well-written and compelling with its conclusions. One of the enduring aspects of Figes’ book is its sheer size. His heavy reliance on primary sources combined with over 800 pages of information makes this book a must for anyone interested in the Russian Revolution. A People’s Tragedy is packed full of detail, and Figes leaves no stone unturned in his analysis and portrayal of the years surrounding the revolution. Because of his attention to detail, and Figes’ ability to portray the Russian Revolution in a narrative-driven manner, a positive point of this book is that it also appeals to a very wide audience. Not only scholars, but general readers are able to benefit from its overall content.

Part of the problem with a book this big, however, is that smaller details (particularly names and events) are often overshadowed and lost by the tremendous detail that surrounds them. Thus, the reader will find that it is quite easy to get lost in the details, so to speak. This is not necessarily a bad thing though, as Figes does spend a great amount of time analyzing key individuals, episodes, and events that made the Russian Revolution possible in a manner that is both consistent and thorough. Following every small detail would have increased the size of his book, exponentially.

Review

Overall, I give this book 4/5 Stars and highly recommend it to anyone interested in early Soviet/Late Imperial Russian history. The contents of this book truly shed light on the events surrounding Russia in the early-1900s, and provide tremendous context for the actions of the Russian Federation today. As a graduate student studying Eastern European history, this book was both highly informative and useful for my studies. Few books on Russian history exist with such clarity, context, and information.

Definitely check it out!

Propaganda during Russian Revolution
Propaganda during Russian Revolution | Source

Potential Questions for Discussion:

1.) What are some of the inherent problems with ruling over a country as large as Russia? In what ways did this aspect affect the Tsar's ability to maintain control and order?

2.) What factors helped contribute to the collapse of Imperial Russia?

3.) Does A People's Tragedy have an overarching thesis?

4.) Could the Russian Revolution have been avoided if a stronger, more capable Tsar had been in charge, other than Nicholas II?

5.) Is Russian "backwardness" to blame for the ease in which the Bolsheviks came to power in 1917?

6.) What does the author mean when he refers to the Russian Revolution as a "people's tragedy?"

7.) How did "Russification" of various ethnic groups within Imperial Russia exacerbate social problems already present within the country?

8.) Did World War One help bring about the downfall of the Tsarist regime? Had the war not occurred, would the Russian Revolution have even taken place?

9.) Did the famine of 1891 truly set things in motion for the Russian Revolution as Figes proclaims? If so, how?

10.) Finally, how did the Russo-Japanese War of 1905 help bring an end to the Tsarist regime? If the Russians had defeated the Japanese, would this have potentially delayed or prevented the Revolution from even occurring in 1917?

11.) What were some of the strengths and weaknesses of this book?

12.) Were the chapters and subsections of this book presented in a logical order?

13.) In what ways could this book have been improved?

14.) Did you find this book to be engaging?

15.) Who is the target audience for this work? Do you agree that it is a book that can be equally appreciated by scholars and the general public, alike?

16.) Were you satisfied with Figes' concluding chapter? Did he adequately wrap-up his argument in a manner that was satisfying to you?

Suggestions for Further Reading

Figes, Orlando. Revolutionary Russia, 1891-1991: A History. New York: Metropolitan Books, 2014.

Fitzpatrick, Sheila. The Russian Revolution. New York: Oxford University Press, 2008.

Lieven, Dominic. The End of Tsarist Russia: The March to World War I & Revolutions. New York: Viking, 2015.

Pipes, Richard. Russia Under the Bolshevik Regime. New York: A.A. Knopf, 1993.

Pipes, Richard. The Russian Revolution. New York: Vintage Books, 1991.

Radzinsky, Edvard. The Last Tsar: The Life and Death of Nicholas II. New York: Anchor Books, 1993.

Smith, Douglas. Former People: The Final Days of the Russian Aristocracy. New York: Farrar, Straus, and Giroux, 2012.

Ulam, Adam B. The Bolsheviks: The Intellectual, Personal and Political History of the Triumph of Communism in Russia. New York: Collier Books, 1965.

About the Author

Orlando Figes is a British historian who is considered an expert in the field of Russian history. He is currently a Professor of History at Birkbeck College (University of London), and received his PhD from Trinity College at Cambridge in 1984. In the past two decades, Figes has published eight award-winning books. His work, A People's Tragedy, garnered Figes numerous awards, including: the "Wolfson History Prize," the "WH Smith Literary Award," the "NCR Book Award," the "Longman/History Today Book Prize," as well as the "Los Angeles Times Book Prize." The Times Literary Supplement has also listed A People's Tragedy as "one of the hundred most influential books since the war."

Works Cited

Figes, Orlando. A People’s Tragedy: A History of the Russian Revolution (New York: Penguin, 1996).

Do you agree that the Russian Revolution was a "People's Tragedy?"

See results

Questions & Answers

    © 2016 Larry Slawson

    Comments

      0 of 8192 characters used
      Post Comment

      • profile image

        norine williams 

        20 months ago

        Yes, SAD!

        There are a few 'glitches' HP has and one is timely 'notification!' Happens to all!

        Wishing you and yours a Merry Christmas!

        Stay Blessed!

      • Larry Slawson profile imageAUTHOR

        Larry Slawson 

        20 months ago from North Carolina

        Haha, good point Norine! Sorry! Just now saw your comment! Isn't that sad? I think my notifications are broken on here haha.

      • profile image

        Norine Williams 

        20 months ago

        GOD I wish we (Christians) knew there is "power in numbers" and were willing to be martyred as were the Disciples and the Russians during their Revolution for TRUTH!

        IF we would STAND TOGETHER BOLDLY as Disciples of Christ, it would not become a "people's tragedy," for as Scripture says "To be absent from the body is to be present with the LORD" (II Corinthians 5:8)!

        That's a joke, huh? Who does that? lol

        Blessings

      working

      This website uses cookies

      As a user in the EEA, your approval is needed on a few things. To provide a better website experience, owlcation.com uses cookies (and other similar technologies) and may collect, process, and share personal data. Please choose which areas of our service you consent to our doing so.

      For more information on managing or withdrawing consents and how we handle data, visit our Privacy Policy at: https://owlcation.com/privacy-policy#gdpr

      Show Details
      Necessary
      HubPages Device IDThis is used to identify particular browsers or devices when the access the service, and is used for security reasons.
      LoginThis is necessary to sign in to the HubPages Service.
      Google RecaptchaThis is used to prevent bots and spam. (Privacy Policy)
      AkismetThis is used to detect comment spam. (Privacy Policy)
      HubPages Google AnalyticsThis is used to provide data on traffic to our website, all personally identifyable data is anonymized. (Privacy Policy)
      HubPages Traffic PixelThis is used to collect data on traffic to articles and other pages on our site. Unless you are signed in to a HubPages account, all personally identifiable information is anonymized.
      Amazon Web ServicesThis is a cloud services platform that we used to host our service. (Privacy Policy)
      CloudflareThis is a cloud CDN service that we use to efficiently deliver files required for our service to operate such as javascript, cascading style sheets, images, and videos. (Privacy Policy)
      Google Hosted LibrariesJavascript software libraries such as jQuery are loaded at endpoints on the googleapis.com or gstatic.com domains, for performance and efficiency reasons. (Privacy Policy)
      Features
      Google Custom SearchThis is feature allows you to search the site. (Privacy Policy)
      Google MapsSome articles have Google Maps embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
      Google ChartsThis is used to display charts and graphs on articles and the author center. (Privacy Policy)
      Google AdSense Host APIThis service allows you to sign up for or associate a Google AdSense account with HubPages, so that you can earn money from ads on your articles. No data is shared unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
      Google YouTubeSome articles have YouTube videos embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
      VimeoSome articles have Vimeo videos embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
      PaypalThis is used for a registered author who enrolls in the HubPages Earnings program and requests to be paid via PayPal. No data is shared with Paypal unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
      Facebook LoginYou can use this to streamline signing up for, or signing in to your Hubpages account. No data is shared with Facebook unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
      MavenThis supports the Maven widget and search functionality. (Privacy Policy)
      Marketing
      Google AdSenseThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
      Google DoubleClickGoogle provides ad serving technology and runs an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
      Index ExchangeThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
      SovrnThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
      Facebook AdsThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
      Amazon Unified Ad MarketplaceThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
      AppNexusThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
      OpenxThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
      Rubicon ProjectThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
      TripleLiftThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
      Say MediaWe partner with Say Media to deliver ad campaigns on our sites. (Privacy Policy)
      Remarketing PixelsWe may use remarketing pixels from advertising networks such as Google AdWords, Bing Ads, and Facebook in order to advertise the HubPages Service to people that have visited our sites.
      Conversion Tracking PixelsWe may use conversion tracking pixels from advertising networks such as Google AdWords, Bing Ads, and Facebook in order to identify when an advertisement has successfully resulted in the desired action, such as signing up for the HubPages Service or publishing an article on the HubPages Service.
      Statistics
      Author Google AnalyticsThis is used to provide traffic data and reports to the authors of articles on the HubPages Service. (Privacy Policy)
      ComscoreComScore is a media measurement and analytics company providing marketing data and analytics to enterprises, media and advertising agencies, and publishers. Non-consent will result in ComScore only processing obfuscated personal data. (Privacy Policy)
      Amazon Tracking PixelSome articles display amazon products as part of the Amazon Affiliate program, this pixel provides traffic statistics for those products (Privacy Policy)