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The Soviet Century (Englisch) Gebundene Ausgabe – 17. Februar 2005

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“Probably no other Western historian of the USSR combines Moshe Lewin’s personal experience of living with Russians from Stalin’s day—as a young wartime soldier—to the post-communist era, with so profound a familiarity with the archives and the literature of the Soviet era. His reflections on The Soviet Century are an important contribution to emancipating Soviet history from the ideological heritage of the last century and should be essential reading for all who wish to understand it.”—Eric Hobsbawm

“Rich in its insights and original in its perspectives, Moshe Lewin’s superb new book provides a master-class in understanding the structures and intricate workings of the Soviet system.”—Ian Kershaw

“The Soviet Century is an original and stimulating survey, packed with insights and information, by an outstanding historian. It will enlighten both specialists and general readers about a crucial aspect of the modern world.”—R. W. Davies

“Moshe Lewin ... has written a book of gripping scholarship. In The Soviet Century he shows that the world cannot turn its back on Russia’s past, and neither Russians nor anyone else should try to do so. As Lewin writes, the Soviet system may be dead and buried but it lives on in Russia’s search for a national identity. This search needs to be based on the truth, good or bad, about what happened under Communism. The Soviet Century is an excellent place to look for it.”—Mark Harrison


The USSR may no longer exist, but its history remains highly relevant--perhaps today more so than ever. Yet it is a history which for a long time proved impossible to write, not simply due to the lack of accessible documentation, but also because it lay at the heart of an ideological confrontation which obscured the reality of the Soviet regime. In The Soviet Century, Moshe Lewin traces this history in all its complexity, drawing widely upon archive material previously unavailable. Highlighting key factors such as demography, economics, culture and political repression, Lewin guides us through the inner workings of a system which is still barely understood. In the process he overturns widely held beliefs about the USSR's leaders, the State-Party system and the Soviet bureaucracy--the "tentacled octopus" which held the real power. Departing from a simple linear history, The Soviet Century takes in all the continuities and ruptures that led, via a complex route, from the founding revolution of October 1917 to the final collapse of the late 1980s and early 1990s, passing through the Stalinist dictatorship and the impossible reforms of the Khrushchev years.


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21 von 21 Kunden fanden die folgende Rezension hilfreich
Focuses on the key features of the Soviet Union 18. Juli 2006
Von David Schaich - Veröffentlicht auf
Format: Gebundene Ausgabe
For those already familiar with the history of the USSR, Moshe Lewin's "The Soviet Century" is a very exciting book. Instead of offering a comprehensive overview of Soviet history, Lewin focuses on the aspects of the country and its system that have been neglected by previous scholarship. Amazingly, he identifies these phenomena as central to actually understanding the Soviet Union, and blames their neglect on both the unavailability of the relevant documents as well as plain "ideological frenzy" (1). Promising not "to play the role of counsel for the prosecution or for the defence" (274-5), Lewin bases his book almost exclusively on recent Russian-language scholarship dealing with the newly-discovered documents, hinting at a more comprehensive future work that will incorporate English-language scholarship as well.

Lewin focuses primarily on the means through which the rulers of the Soviet Union controlled the country and their subordinates. The first of three parts, "A Regime and its Psyche", focuses on Stalin, how he obtained absolute power, and how he protected it through purges, terror and elaborate structures of control over the party and bureaucracy. It begins in the 1920s with the "de-politicization" of the Communist Party, its abandonment of socialism and absorption by the bureaucracy. Lewin explores in great detail the apparatus set up by Stalin to control the Party, especially the NKVD and its "industrial empire" of labor camps (113). He concludes by characterizing Stalin's rule as an "agrarian despotism", a combination of old-style Tsarism with a new focus on industrialization (146). "Focused on the cult of a supreme leader", it was "a despotism that allowed free range to one individual's delirium... and a huge repressive system" (147).

The second part of the book, "The 1960s and Beyond: From a New Model to a New Impasse", focuses on the second great neglected aspect of Soviet history, the bureaucracy, which cemented its hold on power after Stalin's death, despite efforts by Khrushchev and some others to put the Party back on top. The result was "bureaucratic absolutism... much more modern than that of the Tsars or Stalin [but of] the same species" (380). Lewin includes in this section a lot of nitty-gritty details of the structure and functioning of various bureaucratic institutions (especially Gosplan and Gossnab), and also profiles some post-Stalinist leaders such as Kosygin, Andropov, Mikoyan, Khrushchev and Gromyko. In addition, he addresses the "avalanche of urbanization" (202) and other social development in these decades.

Themes such as urbanization and long-term developments in society are the focus of the third and final part, "The Soviet Century: Russia in Historical Context". This section is in many ways the most interesting, as it addresses thematic issues over the whole of soviet history: backwardness, modernity, urbanization, bureaucracy, demography, etc. Lewin describes "a social and cultural landscape undergoing massive changes" (319) and criticizes other authors for focusing exclusively on the regime and its leaders, as though Soviet society did not exist or were unimportant. Lewin also criticizes those who tend to "Over-Staliniz[e] the whole of Soviet history, by extending it backwards and forwards", and he argues that the changes following Stalin's death "should be acknowledged, and not dismissed with contempt on the grounds that a democratic system offers much more" (324). He distinguishes two different comparisons that can be made: between the Soviet Union and the democratic West, and between Stalinism and the bureaucratic stagnation that followed it, when "improvement in social conditions" (324) led to high levels of development in terms of "demography, education, health, urbanization, [and] the role of science" (373), which were to positively decline during the 1990s.

"The Soviet Century", though focusing for the most part on nitty-gritty details of apparatus and bureaucracy, deals with the largest questions of the central nature of the Soviet Union. Thus Lewin can conclude that the sorry story of the Soviet Union "cannot be described as the 'failure of socialism', because socialism was not there in the first place" (308) and that the USSR never actually "represented the alternative to capitalism it sometimes claimed to be" (359). It should be of great interest to all students of the history and nature of the Soviet Union.
14 von 15 Kunden fanden die folgende Rezension hilfreich
An excellent and honest overview 28. Januar 2006
Von M. A. Krul - Veröffentlicht auf
Format: Gebundene Ausgabe Verifizierter Kauf
Lewin has outdone himself in this overview of the history of the USSR. Some potential readers might perhaps be somewhat dismayed by the fact that this book was published with radical leftist publisher Verso, but have no fears: this is no apologia for totalitarianism.

On the contrary, Lewin gives a balanced and very thorough overview of each of the periods of Soviet history, beginning with its Leninist inception and ending with Gorbachov. Most of the book deals with his description of the Stalinist period, and this is also the book's main strength. On the one hand Lewin effortlessly dispels the myths around the gigantic numbers of deaths that have been 'credited' to Stalin by less informed writers such as Conquest and Montefiore; using both statistical records of Chrushchov's period (hardly a fan of Stalin) and the most up-to-date Russian research by Khlevniuk and others, he shows that in fact the death toll of Stalin will have been in the millions rather than tens of millions.

Nevertheless, that is evil enough, and Lewin has no qualms in showing the horrid, oppressive and stifling side of communism. Not only Stalin gets this deserved treatment, but Brezhnev and similar people equally. Lewin also takes the time to look at the development of various socio-economic factors in Soviet history, such as the too often overlooked effects of rapid urbanization in the 1970s.

The only downside of the book will be to some that it pays relatively little attention to World War II, preferring instead to concentrate on the political and social history of the Soviet Union.

Nevertheless, the best in its kind, and far to be preferred over more mainstream works.
7 von 7 Kunden fanden die folgende Rezension hilfreich
This is not the book on Russo-Soviet history you should read first. Scholastically specific and analytical but brilliant. 13. Juli 2007
Von Ryan Fisher - Veröffentlicht auf
Format: Gebundene Ausgabe
If you're looking for a general and linear narrative on the history of the Soviet Union, you will not find it in this book. In "The Soviet Century," Moshe Lewin has compiled a scholarly analytical deconstruction of the Soviet process, rise-and-fall, bureaucracy, dissolution and selected analysis of some major figures.
This is the book you read after reading, studying or understanding the general aspects of collective Russian history, to read this first is interesting, but could be overwhelming and should be treated as a collection of brilliant historical abstracts to be read later.
Lewin has drawn on Soviet sources previously unavailable to western audiences, or at least seldom surveyed in English.
The chapters feature pinpoint focus on the minutiae of the Soviet experiment. Lewin's analysis of the necessity of the Soviet Republic hits the mark and explains the Imperial Russian historical burden that the Soviets would be forced to bear.
Logical, intelligent, insightful and deeply scholastic.
9 von 10 Kunden fanden die folgende Rezension hilfreich
Unpolished, yet priceless 30. Mai 2006
Von C. E. R. Mendonça - Veröffentlicht auf
Format: Gebundene Ausgabe Verifizierter Kauf
The only problem with Professor Lewin's work is the fact that the author chose not to have a continuously flowing text, as the book unfolds as a series of chapters of uneven lenght, dealing with case-studies of various issues, mostly about the post-Stalin period of Soviet history. Therefore the book cannot be treated as a reference work for the whole of the period covered. However, there is so much in the book to be offered praise for: firstly, its skillful use of recently avaliable documents in order to develop original observations about the history of the late URSS; second, its refusal of anti-communist mythologizing; thirdly, its concentration on the internal dilemmas facing Soviet bureaucracy rule as it had to face an ever-increasing crisis of legitimacy, even amid a process of sharp (relative) political liberalization. It's not the best written book on the subject, but it compensates in content what it lacks in style.
3 von 5 Kunden fanden die folgende Rezension hilfreich
A thorough and unbiased historical analysis 10. August 2006
Von David Mohr - Veröffentlicht auf
Format: Gebundene Ausgabe
This book gives an excellent, unbiased account of how Soviet Communism evolved from 1917 until its end in 1991. It shows how Stalin gained sufficient power to achieve his reign of terror, and how the Terror led to the destruction of the Communist Party as any sort of positive force. He clearly describes the Khrushchev thaw and the later period of stagnation, contrasting the latter especially with Stalin's rule. A key point in the author's analysis is the transfer, not long after Stalin's death, of the secret police's vast industrial empire to the relevent civilian and military bureaucracies. Thus was ended the need for vast numbers of arrests to maintain a pool of slave labor.

Another key point is the inability of the Soviet Communist Party to develop any legitimate rules of succession. Rulers either died in place or were ousted by their enemies. By the year 1991, Russians were sufficiently aware of these issues and sufficiently powerful, through their independent organizations, to negate Gorbachev's overthrow and to ban the Communist Party as an archaic and dangerous organization.
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