This new biography benefits from Service's access to the Central Party archives and thus new information about Lenin. In particular, it seems that Service was able to ferret out previously restricted correspondence relating to Lenin's early life and interpersonal relationships. From these, the author has been able to begin to "humanize" a man who has been reduced nearly to the level of caricature by both his apologists and his critics. Service's major contribution is to illuminate the influence of Lenin's early life on his subsequent character development. At times, however, this psycho-biography becomes breathlessly speculative, as when the author hypothesizes that the execution of the Romanovs represented Lenin's revenge for the hanging of his older brother as a regicide, and the subsequent ostracism suffered by the Ulyanov family. Perhaps, but there were a number of other, more logical (if cynical) grounds for this action. Claiming that Lenin "enjoyed-really enjoyed-letting himself loose against people in general from the ancien regime" seems to be stretching the bounds of evidence a bit far. Also, the running commentary regarding the psychological origins and consequences of the twists and turns of Lenin's relationships with his wife, sisters, and Inessa Armand is worthy of the old-time Kremlin watchers. While interesting, the speculations are often extrapolated from the flimsiest of evidence. In these days of celebrity biography, this may well sell books, but it does not strike me as being particularly well-written history.
These quibbles aside, my major concern about this work is that the author fails to clearly address larger historical questions in writing this popular style of biography. Lenin is portrayed (accurately) as an emigre' factionalist who consistently staked out the most extreme positions, and yet is is never made clear, at least to this reader, how he came to win the series of factional disputes that ultimately lead to his assuming the position of leader of the October Revolution. How did a movement that was directed toward the overthrow of autocracy come to accept the supposition that a regime of dictatorship and terror were necessary to achive this goal? While a work describing the details of Marxist-Leninist ideology would be unbearably turgid, this book would have benefited from at least a coherent distillation of that philosophy, and a clear exposition of the differences between the various factions. The book would also have been stronger if there had been a firmer editorial hand. In many places, previous insights or speculations are repeated nearly verbatim, and temporal linearity is not always well-preserved. In addition, major figures, such as Stalin, Martov and Kerenski, suddenly appear (Stalin) or disappear (Martov, Kerenski)from the narrative, without either introduction or farewell.
In general then, this is an interesting work that sheds more light on the human aspect of that mausoleum-bound icon that the world recognizes as Lenin. But readers seeking a clearer understanding of the process of the Russian Revolution would be better served elsewhere.