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Trotsky: A Biography


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About the Author

Robert Service is a Fellow of the British Academy and of St Anthony's College, Oxford. He has written several books, including the highly acclaimed Lenin: A Biography, Russia: Experiment with a People , Stalin: A Biography and Comrades: A History of World Communism, as well as many other books on Russia's past and present. Trotsky: A Biography was awarded the 2009 Duff Cooper Prize. Married with four children, he lives in London.


Having covered Lenin and Stalin, Oxford history professor Service completes his biographical trilogy with the life of Leon Trotsky. Thick and intensely researched but a pleasure to read, it should remain the definitive work for some time. Trotsky (1879-1940) "flashed like a comet across the political sky," sharing credit with Lenin for winning the 1917 revolution but losing the battle to succeed him after his 1923 death. While this outline is well known, Service mines new and old sources to fill in the details. A brilliant writer and speaker but too arrogant to attract a following, Trotsky had no chance against the methodical Stalin, whom he repeatedly insulted. Stalin forced him into exile in 1929 and had him murdered in 1940. Before and during exile, Trotsky poured out histories, memoirs and journalism, heavily influencing our picture of the revolution and its major figures. Service emphasizes that he was no objective observer. Stalin was not as stupid as portrayed, and Trotsky had no objection to mass murder when it served his purposes. This is a thoughtful, rewarding and essential contribution to 20th-century history. 50 b&w photos. (Nov.) Copyright 2009 Reed Business Information.

With this biography, Service (Russian history, Oxford Univ.; Stalin: A Biography) completes his trilogy on the founding figures of the Soviet Union: Lenin, Stalin, and Trotsky. He claims that this is the first full-length biography of Trotsky written by a non-Trotskyist outside of Russia. As such, Service can ask the kinds of awkward questions omitted in the influential biographies by Isaac Deutscher and Pierre Broue. Also distinguishing the work is its extensive use of archival sources and rare contemporary published materials, much of it used for the first time in this biography. Service casts a critical eye on Trotsky's own writings and the interpretations of his followers and finds Trotsky's diagnosis of his defeat by Stalin self-serving and misleading. The author cogently argues that Trotsky himself unintentionally contributed to the construction of the Stalinist edifice and that Trotsky was not the realist he imagined himself to be but an ideologue unable to grasp the dynamics of contemporary geopolitics. Service succeeds in recovering many of the aspects of Trotsky's life that the revolutionary and his followers tried to bury. Verdict A readable and persuasive biography that should be required reading for students of the Soviet Union and the history of world communism.-Sean Pollock, Wright State Univ., Dayton, OH Copyright 2009 Reed Business Information.

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