Book Summary and Discussion: "Revolutionary Russia, 1891-1991: A History"

Updated on June 23, 2018
Larry Slawson profile image

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

Source

Synopsis

Throughout historian Orlando Figes' book, Revolutionary Russia, 1891-1991: A History, the author provides an interpretation of the Russian Revolution that highlights the event's longevity. Whereas most historians recognize the Revolution as an event that lasted a few years, Figes counters this assessment and proclaims that the Revolution occurred over the course of an entire century rather than a few simple years. As Figes argues, the Revolution did not begin in 1917, nor did it end in 1924 with the death of Vladimir Lenin as most historians suggest. Rather, he posits that radical changes began occurring as early as 1891 during the Great Russian Famine. Far-sweeping, revolutionary changes in the social, economic, and political realms continued to occur throughout Russia from this point on, he contends, and lasted nearly a hundred years before finally dissipating with the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991.

Figes' interpretation goes directly against most accounts of the Revolution which focus primarily on the early 1920s and the leadership of Lenin as an endpoint for the revolutionary period. Furthermore, his book expands both the size and scope of the revolutionary years to include events and individuals (such as Stalin, Khrushchev, and Gorbachev) who were once viewed as outliers to the revolutionary era. In this sense, Figes’ account largely serves as an expansion of the research first began by historians Sheila Fitzpatrick, Adam Ulam, and Richard Pipes, who each sought to trace the origins and expanse of the Revolution beyond the scope of 1917-1924.

Personal Thoughts

Figes' account offers a top-notch interpretation of the Russian Revolution. His steadfast devotion to primary documents and archival materials, combined with his impressive focus on secondary literature offers an account of the Revolution that is unparalleled in the academic community.

This book also fits nicely with Figes' other work, A People's Tragedy, as both discuss the Revolution's overall causes and effects in a dramatic and profound manner. One clear downfall of this book, however, lies in its lack of sufficient detail. Figes' attempt to describe nearly 100 years of Revolution in less than 300 pages makes parts of this work feel unfinished or too short. This is not necessarily a bad thing, but more attention to detail would have certainly benefited this book.

Overall, I give Figes' book 5/5 Stars and highly recommend it to anyone that is interested in early Soviet and Imperial Russian history. As a graduate student who specialized in the field of Russian and Ukrainian history, I found this work to be very informative and easy to read. As such, it is a book that can be equally appreciated by both scholars and non-academics alike. Definitely check it out if you get the opportunity. You will not be disappointed.

Questions to Facilitate Group Discussion:

1.) Did you find the author's thesis and main argument(s) to be persuasive and well-argued? Why or why not?

2.) What were some of the strengths and weaknesses of this work? Are there any areas of the book that could have been improved upon by the author? Why or why not?

3.) Was Figes' work organized in a logical and convincing manner?

4.) What type of primary and secondary source materials does the author rely upon? Does this help or hinder his overall argument? Why or why not?

5.) Were your surprised by any of the facts and figures presented by Figes?

6.) Who was Figes' intended audience for this piece? Can both scholars and non-academics appreciate the contents of this work? Why or why not?

7.) Do you agree that the Russian Revolution should be understood as an event that spanned nearly a hundred years?

8.) In what ways did Figes challenge modern scholarship with this work? Does his book offer a unique perspective to current historiographical works? Does this book offer any new additions to current scholarship that are profound?

9.) Would you be willing to recommend this book to a friend or family member? Why or why not?

Do you agree that the Russian Revolution was an event that lasted nearly 100 years, as Figes proclaims?

See results

Suggestions for Further Reading:

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

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

Questions & Answers

    © 2018 Larry Slawson

    Comments

      0 of 8192 characters used
      Post Comment

      • Eurofile profile image

        Liz Westwood 

        5 months ago from UK

        This is an interesting commentary. Having visited the USSR in the early 1980s, including the Lenin mausoleum on Red Square and having seen loads of Lenin memorabilia at that time, I'm interested in this period of Russian history.

      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)