Gulag: A History

( 24 )


The Gulag—a vast array of Soviet concentration camps that held millions of political and criminal prisoners—was a system of repression and punishment that terrorized the entire society, embodying the worst tendencies of Soviet communism. In this magisterial and acclaimed history, Anne Applebaum offers the first fully documented portrait of the Gulag, from its origins in the Russian Revolution, through its expansion under Stalin, to its collapse in the era of glasnost. Applebaum intimately re-creates what life was...

See more details below
Paperback (Reprint)
$14.62 price
(Save 22%)$18.95 List Price

Pick Up In Store

Reserve and pick up in 60 minutes at your local store

Other sellers (Paperback)
  • All (48) from $1.99   
  • New (15) from $7.79   
  • Used (33) from $1.99   
Gulag: A History

Available on NOOK devices and apps  
  • NOOK Devices
  • Samsung Galaxy Tab 4 NOOK 7.0
  • Samsung Galaxy Tab 4 NOOK 10.1
  • NOOK HD Tablet
  • NOOK HD+ Tablet
  • NOOK eReaders
  • NOOK Color
  • NOOK Tablet
  • Tablet/Phone
  • NOOK for Windows 8 Tablet
  • NOOK for iOS
  • NOOK for Android
  • NOOK Kids for iPad
  • PC/Mac
  • NOOK for Windows 8
  • NOOK for PC
  • NOOK for Mac
  • NOOK for Web

Want a NOOK? Explore Now

NOOK Book (eBook)
$14.99 price


The Gulag—a vast array of Soviet concentration camps that held millions of political and criminal prisoners—was a system of repression and punishment that terrorized the entire society, embodying the worst tendencies of Soviet communism. In this magisterial and acclaimed history, Anne Applebaum offers the first fully documented portrait of the Gulag, from its origins in the Russian Revolution, through its expansion under Stalin, to its collapse in the era of glasnost. Applebaum intimately re-creates what life was like in the camps and links them to the larger history of the Soviet Union. Immediately recognized as a landmark and long-overdue work of scholarship, Gulag is an essential book for anyone who wishes to understand the history of the twentieth century.

Winner of the 2004 Pulitzer Prize for General Nonfiction.

Finalist for the 2003 National Book Award, Nonfiction.

Read More Show Less

Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
“An important book. . . . It is fervently to be hoped that people will read Anne Applebaum’s excellent, tautly written, and very damning history.” —The New York Times Book Review

“The most authoritative—and comprehensive—account of this Soviet blight ever published by a Western writer.” —Newsweek

“A titanic achievement: learned and moving and profound. . . . No reader will easily forget Applebaum’s vivid accounts of the horrible human suffering of the Gulag.” —National Review

“A tragic testimony to how evil ideologically inspired dictatorships can be.” –The New York Times

“Lucid, painstakingly detailed, never sensational, it should have a place on every educated reader’s shelves.” –Los Angeles Times

“Magisterial. . . . Certain to remain the definitive account of its subject for years to come. . . . An immense achievement.” —The New Criterion

“An excellent account of the rise and fall of the Soviet labor camps between 1917 and 1986. . . . A splendid book.” —The New York Review of Books

“Should become the standard history of one of the greatest evils of the 20th century.” —The Economist

“Thorough, engrossing . . . A searing attack on the corruption and the viciousness that seemed to rule the system and a testimonial to the resilience of the Russian people. . . . Her research is impeccable.” –San Francisco Chronicle

“An affecting book that enables us at last to see the Gulag whole. . . . A valuable and necessary book.” –The Wall Street Journal

“Ambitious and well-documented . . . Invaluable . . . Applebaum methodically, and unflinchingly, provides a sense of what it was like to enter and inhabit the netherworld of the Gulag.” –The New Yorker

“[Applebaum’s] writing is powerful and incisive, but it achieves this effect through simplicity and restraint rather than stylistic flourish. . . . [An] admirable and courageous book.” –The Washington Monthly

“Monumental . . . Applebaum uses her own formidable reporting skills to construct a gripping narrative.” –Newsday

“Valuable. There is nothing like it in Russian, or in any other language. It deserves to be widely read.” –Financial Times

“A book whose importance is impossible to exaggerate. . . . Magisterial . . . Applebaum’s book, written with such quiet elegance and moral seriousness, is a major contribution to curing the amnesia that curiously seems to have affected broader public perceptions of one of the two or three major enormities of the twentieth century.” –Times Literary Supplement

“A truly impressive achievement . . . We should all be grateful to [Applebaum].” –The Sunday Times (London)

“A chronicle of ghastly human suffering, a history of one of the greatest abuses of power in the story of our species, and a cautionary tale of towering moral significance . . . A magisterial work, written in an unflinching style that moves as much as it shocks, and that glistens with the teeming life and stinking putrefaction of doomed men and rotten ideals.” –The Daily Telegraph (London)

“No Western author until Anne Applebaum attempted to produce a history of the Gulag based on the combination of eyewitness accounts and archival records. The result is an impressively thorough and detailed study; no aspect of this topic escapes her attention. Well written, accessible…enlightening for both the general reader and specialists.” —The New York Sun

“For the raw human experience of the camps, read Solzhenitsyn’s One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich or Irina Ratushinskaya’s Grey is the Color of Hope. For the scope, context, and the terrible extent of the criminality, read this history.” —Chicago Tribune

The Los Angeles Times
Anne Applebaum has spent the last several years researching and writing this first comprehensive history. Gulag: A History is a model of patient, readable scholarship. Lucid, painstakingly detailed, never sensational, it should have a place on every educated reader's shelves. — Lesley Chamberlain
The New York Times
Applebaum's book weighs in heavily in support of Solzhenitsyn on almost every point, and her account is backed not only by a careful use of the vast memoir literature but also by a thorough mining of the long-closed Soviet archives. Most important, she supports Solzhenitsyn's central argument: that the gulag was not some incidental Stalinist accretion to Lenin's visionary concept of Socialism. The cancer of police terror was embedded in the original DNA of Lenin's creation, ''an integral part of the Soviet system,'' in Applebaum's words. Under Lenin, the first concentration camps were created; the first mass executions were carried out. He bequeathed to his successor a well-functioning police state. — Steven Merritt Miner
The Washington Post
Anne Applebaum's Gulag is an epic portrait of this crime against humanity. Applebaum needs all of her 600 pages of text to describe the rise and fall of the Gulag, along with the repressive prison systems that preceded and replaced it. More important, she sets before us "the experience of the victims" who were caught up in a cold vortex of senseless cruelty. Her book is a vast synthesis of all the available Gulag memoirs, supplemented by archival research. — Lars T. Lih
Publishers Weekly
Nearly 30 million prisoners passed through the Soviet Union's labor camps in their more than 60 years of operation. This remarkable volume, the first fully documented history of the gulag, describes how, largely under Stalin's watch, a regulated, centralized system of prison labor-unprecedented in scope-gradually arose out of the chaos of the Russian Revolution. Fueled by waves of capricious arrests, this prison labor came to underpin the Soviet economy. Applebaum, a former Warsaw correspondent for the Economist and a regular contributor to the Wall Street Journal and the Washington Post, draws on newly accessible Soviet archives as well as scores of camp memoirs and interviews with survivors to trace the gulag's origins and expansion. By the gulag's peak years in the early 1950s, there were camps in every part of the country, and slave labor was used not only for mining and heavy industries but for producing every kind of consumer product (chairs, lamps, toys, those ubiquitous fur hats) and some of the country's most important science and engineering (Sergei Korolev, the architect of the Soviet space program, began his work in a special prison laboratory). Applebaum details camp life, including strategies for survival; the experiences of women and children in the camps; sexual relationships and marriages between prisoners; and rebellions, strikes and escapes. There is almost too much dark irony to bear in this tragic, gripping account. Applebaum's lucid prose and painstaking consideration of the competing theories about aspects of camp life and policy are always compelling. She includes an appendix in which she discusses the various ways of calculating how many died in the camps, and throughout the book she thoughtfully reflects on why the gulag does not loom as large in the Western imagination as, for instance, the Holocaust. (Apr.) Copyright 2003 Cahners Business Information.
Foreign Affairs
Gulag, the searing acronym for the Soviet bureaucracy that administered penal labor camps, ruled a sprawling empire comprising 476 complexes. Each complex contained thousands of individual camps, through which more than 18 million people passed between 1929 and 1953, maybe 3 million or more of whom perished. Applebaum examines this monster from many angles, including its origins, its "function," especially in the Stalinist system, its exponential growth after 1929 and in the 1940s, as well as moments in the "meat grinder" (as it was known): arrest, transit, in, out, and back. Her separate portraits of the guards, the "thieves in law," the common criminals (whose crime may have been coming to work ten minutes late), and the political prisoners (whose transgression may have been telling a political joke) have a special vividness and poignancy. Gulag is a tightly told, complex, heartbreaking, and mind-bending story.
Library Journal
Subsequent to Solzhenitsyn's landmark Gulag Archipelago and One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich, Applebaun, former Warsaw correspondent for the Economist and currently on the editorial staff at the Washington Post, has captured the full brutality and economic engine for the Soviet state that was the Gulag prison system. This book is perfectly timed to follow such recent works as Golfo Alexopoulos's Stalin's Outcasts: Aliens, Citizens, and the Soviet State 1926-1936. With a finely honed writer's skill, Applebaum thoroughly describes in minute detail the system of camps, the prisoners, camp administration, camp life, and Stalin's obsession with slave labor. "GULAG is an acronym, meaning Glavnoe Upravlenie Lagerei, or Main Camp Administration. Over time, the word `Gulag' has also come to signify not only the administration of the concentration camps but also the system of Soviet slave labor itself." Intellectually, Americans and Western Europeans know roughly what happened in the Soviet Union, but the crimes of Stalin do not inspire the same visceral reaction as do the crimes of the Third Reich. This first complete history of the Gulag system not only points out the similarities with the Nazis and their concentration camps but also puts Stalin and his Gulag on the same ghastly level. Highly recommended for public and academic libraries. [Previewed in Prepub Alert, LJ 12/02.]-Harry Willems, Southeast Kansas Lib. Syst., Iola Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
A searing, engrossing history of the most extensive, longest-lived experiment in "rationalized evil" the world has ever known. From 1929 to 1953--the years in which Josef Stalin ruled the Soviet Union--at least 18 million people passed through the massive penal and slave-labor system known as the Gulag. Though that system had antecedents in tsarist Russian, former Economist correspondent Applebaum writes, it took Stalin to shape the Gulag into an enormous machine; Stalin believed, she asserts, that "the Gulag was critical to Soviet economic growth," offering an endless source of free labor to the state. Stalin’s successors, however, saw it as "a source of backwardness and distorted investment," and within days of Stalin’s death began to dismantle the most infamous camps--though not before untold millions had died within them. Applebaum (Between East and West, 1994) charts the inception and development of the Gulag, showing how it served to channel the millions of deportees during the famines of the 1920s and ’30s, the victims of political purges before WWII, and whole nations--including the Chechens and Tartars--during the war against Germany. Drawing on accounts by survivors, she also documents daily life inside the Gulag, a Dante-esque existence of individual rituals in the face of death: "Never on any account take more than a half-hour to consume your ration," one such account warns. "Every bite of bread should be chewed thoroughly. . . . Eat it all at one sitting; if, on the other hand, you gobble it down too quickly, as famished people often do in normal circumstances, you will also shorten your days." Throughout, Applebaum’s account runs a large question: Why did the West do nothingabout the Gulag, even though its existence and the reality of other Soviet crimes against humanity were well known? Perhaps because we can’t admit that we allied ourselves with one mass murderer to battle another. But, she adds in closing, we had better not deny such crimes the next time they occur--as they certainly will. Extraordinary in its range and lucidity: a most welcome companion to Bernard-Henri Levi’s Barbarism With a Human Face, Robert Conquest’s The Great Terror, and, of course, Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn’s Gulag Archipelago.
Read More Show Less

Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781400034093
  • Publisher: Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group
  • Publication date: 4/20/2004
  • Edition description: Reprint
  • Pages: 736
  • Sales rank: 169,029
  • Product dimensions: 5.19 (w) x 8.00 (h) x 1.45 (d)

Meet the Author

Anne Applebaum
Anne Applebaum is a columnist and member of the editorial board of the Washington Post. A graduate of Yale and a Marshall Scholar, she has worked as the foreign and deputy editor of the Spectator (London), as the Warsaw correspondent for the Economist, and as a columnist for the online magazine Slate, as well as for several British newspapers. Her work has also appeared in the New York Review of Books, Foreign Affairs, and the Wall Street Journal, among many other publications. She lives in Washington, D.C., with her husband, Radek Sikorski, and two children


Anne Applebaum is a columnist and member of the editorial board of The Washington Post.

She began working as a journalist in 1988, when she moved to Poland to become the Warsaw correspondent for the Economist. She eventually covered the collapse of communism across Central and Eastern Europe, writing for a wide range of newspapers and magazines.

Returning to London in 1992, she became the Foreign Editor, and later Deputy Editor, of the Spectator magazine. Following that, she wrote a weekly column on British politics and foreign affairs, which appeared at different times in the Daily Telegraph, the Sunday Telegraph, and the Evening Standard newspapers. She covered the 1997 British election campaign as the Evening Standard's political editor. For several years, she wrote the "Foreigners" column in Slate magazine.

Her first book, Between East and West: Across the Borderlands of Europe, described a journey through Lithuania, Ukraine and Belarus, then on the verge of independence. Her second book, Gulag: A History, narrates the history of the Soviet concentration camp system and describes daily life in the camps. It makes extensive use of recently-opened Russian archives.

Over the years, her writing has appeared in The Wall Street Journal, The Financial Times, The International Herald Tribune, Foreign Affairs, The Boston Globe, The Independent, The Guardian, Commentaire, Suddeutsche Zeitung, Newsweek, The New Criterion, The Weekly Standard, The New Republic, The New York Review of Books, The National Review, The New Statesman, The Times Literary Supplement and the Literary Review, among others. She has appeared as a guest and as a presenter on many radio and television programs, among them BBC's Newsnight, The Today Progamme, The Week in Westminster, as well as CNN, MSNBC, CBS and Sky News.

Anne Applebaum was born in Washington, D.C. in 1964. After graduating from Yale University, she was a Marshall Scholar at the London School of Economics and St. Antony's College, Oxford. In 1992 she won the Charles Douglas-Home Memorial Trust award for journalism in the ex-Soviet Union. Between East and West won an Adolph Bentinck prize for European non-fiction in 1996. Her husband, Radek Sikorski, is a Polish politician and writer. They have two children, Alexander and Tadeusz.

Author biography courtesy of Anne Applebaum's official web site.

Good To Know


"I met my husband because he and I decided to drive to the Berlin Wall on the night that it was first opened -- we drove there, together with another friend. Since he's from the East -- he grew up in Poland -- and I'm from the West, we've always liked the symbolism of that encounter."

"It was my foreign husband who finally persuaded me to move back to the United States, in 2002. After 16 years, I'd already reconciled myself to living abroad and had acquired dual citizenship in Britain. I thought of myself as a British journalist -- I'd never worked in the U.S. Now people seem surprised to learn that I was gone for so long." [Note: In 2006, Applebaum moved back to Poland with her husband.]

"If it were practical, I'd probably live in a Polish country house -- it's a 19th-century manor house that my husband and his parents have been restoring for the past decade. It isn't near anything -- it's provincial in the best sense of the word -- so is therefore impractical, but it is enormously satisfying to spend time in an old place that is nevertheless designed the way we wanted it designed. Although it has no architectural or historical significance, it is a house with an unusually calm aura, one that has inspired others -- while researching his own book about the place (The Polish House), my husband discovered that a novel had been written about it in the early 20th century.

Read More Show Less
    1. Hometown:
    1. Date of Birth:
      July 25, 1964
    2. Place of Birth:
      Washington, D.C.
    1. Education:
      B.A., Yale University, 1986; M.Sc., London School of Economics, 1987; St. Antony’s College, Oxford
    2. Website:

Read an Excerpt

Chapter 1


But your spine has been smashed,
My beautiful, pitiful era,
And with an inane smile
You look back, cruel and weak,
Like an animal past its prime,
At the prints of your own paws.

—Osip Mandelstam, "Vek"1

One of my goals is to destroy the myth that the cruelest era of repression began in 1936-37. I think that in future, statistics will show that the wave of arrests, sentences and exile had already begun at the beginning of 1918, even before the official declaration, that autumn, of the "Red Terror." From that moment, the wave simply grew larger and larger, until the death of Stalin . . .
—Dmitrii Likhachev, Vospominaniya2

In the year 1917, two waves of revolution rolled across Russia, sweeping Imperial Russian society aside as if it were destroying so many houses of cards. After Czar Nicholas II abdicated in February, events proved extremely difficult for anyone to halt or control. Alexander Kerensky, the leader of the first post-revolutionary Provisional Government, later wrote that, in the void following the collapse of the old regime, "all existing political and tactical programs, however bold and well conceived, appeared hanging aimlessly and uselessly in space."3

But although the Provisional Government was weak, although popular dissatisfaction was widespread, although anger at the carnage caused by the First World War ran high, few expected power to fall into the hands of the Bolsheviks, one of several radical socialist parties agitating for even more rapid change. Abroad, the Bolsheviks were scarcely known. One apocryphal tale illustrates foreign attitudes very well: in 1917, so the story goes, a bureaucrat rushed into the office of the Austrian Foreign Minister, shouting, "Your Excellency, there has been a revolution in Russia!" The minister snorted. "Who could make a revolution in Russia? Surely not harmless Herr Trotsky, down at the Café Central?"

If the nature of the Bolsheviks was mysterious, their leader, Vladimir Ilyich Ulyanov—the man the world would come to know by his revolutionary pseudonym, "Lenin"—was even more so. During his many years as an émigré revolutionary, Lenin had been recognized for his brilliance, but also disliked for his intemperance and his factionalism. He picked frequent fights with other socialist leaders, and had a penchant for turning minor disagreements over seemingly irrelevant matters of dogma into major arguments.4

In the first months following the February Revolution, Lenin was very far from holding a position of unchallenged authority, even within his own Party. As late as mid-October 1917, a handful of leading Bolsheviks continued to oppose his plan to carry out a coup d'état against the Provisional Government, arguing that the Party was unprepared to take power, and that it did not yet have popular support. He won the argument, however, and on October 25 the coup took place. Under the influence of Lenin's agitation, a mob sacked the Winter Palace. The Bolsheviks arrested the ministers of the Provisional Government. Within hours, Lenin had become the leader of the country he renamed Soviet Russia.

Yet although Lenin had succeeded in taking power, his Bolshevik critics had not been entirely wrong. The Bolsheviks were indeed wildly unprepared. As a result, most of their early decisions, including the creation of the one-party state, were taken to suit the needs of the moment. Their popular support was indeed weak, and almost immediately they began to wage a bloody civil war, simply in order to stay in power. From 1918, when the White Army of the old regime regrouped to fight the new Red Army—led by Lenin's comrade, "Herr Trotsky" from the "Café Central"—some of the most brutal fighting ever seen in Europe raged across the Russian countryside. Nor did all of the violence take place in battlefields. The Bolsheviks went out of their way to quash intellectual and political opposition in any form it took, attacking not only the representatives of the old regime but also other socialists: Mensheviks, Anarchists, Social Revolutionaries. The new Soviet state would not know relative peace until 1921.5

Against this background of improvisation and violence, the first Soviet labor camps were born. Like so many other Bolshevik institutions, they were created ad hoc, in a hurry, as an emergency measure in the heat of the civil war. This is not to say the idea had no prior appeal. Three weeks before the October Revolution, Lenin himself was already sketching out an admittedly vague plan to organize "obligatory work duty" for wealthy capitalists. By January 1918, angered by the depth of the anti-Bolshevik resistance, he was even more vehement, writing that he welcomed "the arrest of millionaire-saboteurs traveling in first- and second-class train compartments. I suggest sentencing them to half a year's forced labor in a mine."6

Lenin's vision of labor camps as a special form of punishment for a particular sort of bourgeois "enemy" sat well with his other beliefs about crime and criminals. On the one hand, the first Soviet leader felt ambivalent about the jailing and punishment of traditional criminals—thieves, pickpockets, murderers—whom he perceived as potential allies. In his view, the basic cause of "social excess" (meaning crime) was "the exploitation of the masses." The removal of the cause, he believed, "will lead to the withering away of the excess." No special punishments were therefore necessary to deter criminals: in time, the Revolution itself would do away with them. Some of the language in the Bolsheviks' first criminal code would have thus warmed the hearts of the most radical, progressive criminal reformers in the West. Among other things, the code decreed that there was "no such thing as individual guilt," and that punishment "should not be seen as retribution."7

On the other hand, Lenin—like the Bolshevik legal theorists who followed in his wake—also reckoned that the creation of the Soviet state would create a new kind of criminal: the "class enemy." A class enemy opposed the Revolution, and worked openly, or more often secretly, to destroy it. The class enemy was harder to identify than an ordinary criminal, and much harder to reform. Unlike an ordinary criminal, a class enemy could never be trusted to cooperate with the Soviet regime, and required harsher punishment than would an ordinary murderer or thief. Thus in May 1918, the first Bolshevik "decree on bribery" declared that: "If the person guilty of taking or offering bribes belongs to the propertied classes and is using the bribe to preserve or acquire privileges, linked to property rights, then he should be sentenced to the harshest and most unpleasant forced labor and all of his property should be confiscated."8

From the very earliest days of the new Soviet state, in other words, people were to be sentenced not for what they had done, but for who they were.

Unfortunately, nobody ever provided a clear description of what, exactly, a "class enemy" was supposed to look like. As a result, arrests of all sorts increased dramatically in the wake of the Bolshevik coup. From November 1917, revolutionary tribunals, composed of random "supporters" of the Revolution, began convicting random "enemies" of the Revolution. Prison sentences, forced-labor terms, and even capital punishment were arbitrarily meted out to bankers, to merchants' wives, to "speculators"—meaning anyone engaged in independent economic activity—to former Czarist-era prison warders and to anyone else who seemed suspicious.9

The definition of who was and who was not an "enemy" also varied from place to place, sometimes overlapping with the definition of "prisoner of war." Upon occupying a new city, Trotsky's Red Army frequently took bourgeois hostages, who could be shot in case the White Army returned, as it often did along the fluctuating lines of the front. In the interim they could be made to do forced labor, often digging trenches and building barricades.10 The distinction between political prisoners and common criminals was equally arbitrary. The uneducated members of the temporary commissions and revolutionary tribunals might, for example, suddenly decide that a man caught riding a tram without a ticket had offended society, and sentence him for political crimes.11 In the end, many such decisions were left up to the policeman or soldiers doing the arresting. Feliks Dzerzhinsky, founder of the Cheka—Lenin's secret police, the forerunner of the KGB—personally kept a little black notebook in which he scribbled down the names and addresses of random "enemies" he came across while doing his job.

These distinctions would remain vague right up until the collapse of the Soviet Union itself, eighty years later. Nevertheless, the existence of two categories of prisoner—"political" and "criminal"—had a profound effect on the formation of the Soviet penal system. During the first decade of Bolshevik rule, Soviet penitentiaries even split into two categories, one for each type of prisoner. The split arose spontaneously, as a reaction to the chaos of the existing prison system. In the very early days of the Revolution, all prisoners were incarcerated under the jurisdiction of the "traditional" judicial ministries, first the Commissariat of Justice, later the Commissariat of the Interior, and placed in the "ordinary" prison system. That is, they were thrown into the remnants of the Czarist system, usually into the dirty, gloomy stone prisons which occupied a central position in every major town. During the revolutionary years of 1917 to 1920, these institutions were in total disarray. Mobs had stormed the jails, self-appointed commissars had sacked the guards, prisoners had received wide-ranging amnesties or had simply walked away.13

By the time the Bolsheviks took charge, the few prisons that remained in operation were overcrowded and inadequate. Only weeks after the Revolution, Lenin himself demanded "extreme measures for the immediate improvement of food supplies to the Petrograd prisons."14 A few months later, a member of the Moscow Cheka visited the city's Taganskaya prison and reported "terrible cold and filth," as well as typhus and hunger. Most of the prisoners could not carry out their forced-labor sentences because they had no clothes. A newspaper report claimed that Butyrka prison in Moscow, designed to hold 1,000 prisoners, already contained 2,500. Another newspaper complained that the Red Guards "unsystematically arrest hundreds of people every day, and then don't know what to do with them."15

Overcrowding led to "creative" solutions. Lacking anything better, the new authorities incarcerated prisoners in basements, attics, empty palaces, and old churches. One survivor later remembered being placed in the cellar of a deserted house, in a single room with fifty people, no furniture, and little food: those who did not get packages from their families simply starved.16 In December 1917, a Cheka commission discussed the fate of fifty-six assorted prisoners—"thieves, drunks and various 'politicals' "—who were being kept in the basement of the Smolny Institute, Lenin's headquarters in Petrograd.17

Not everyone suffered from the chaotic conditions. Robert Bruce Lockhart, a British diplomat accused of spying (accurately, as it happened), was imprisoned in 1918 in a room in the Kremlin. He occupied himself playing Patience, and reading Thucydides and Carlyle. From time to time, a former imperial servant brought him hot tea and newspapers.18

But even in the remaining traditional jails, prison regimes were erratic, and prison wardens were inexperienced. A prisoner in the northern Russian city of Vyborg discovered that, in the topsy-turvy post-revolutionary world, his former chauffeur had become a prison guard. The man was delighted to help his former master move to a better, drier cell, and eventually to escape. One White Army colonel also recalled that in the Petrograd prison in December 1917 prisoners came and left at will, while homeless people slept in the cells at night. Looking back on this era, one Soviet official remembered that "the only people who didn't escape were those who were too lazy."20

The disarray forced the Cheka to come up with new solutions: the Bolsheviks could hardly allow their "real" enemies to enter the ordinary prison system. Chaotic jails and lazy guards might be suitable for pickpockets and juvenile delinquents, but for the saboteurs, parasites, speculators, White Army officers, priests, bourgeois capitalists, and others who loomed so large in the Bolshevik imagination, more creative solutions were needed.

A solution was found as early as June 4, 1918, Trotsky called for a group of unruly Czech war prisoners to be pacified, disarmed, and placed in a kontslager: a concentration camp. Twelve days later, in a memorandum addressed to the Soviet government Trotsky again spoke of concentration camps, outdoor prisons in which "the city and village bourgeoisie . . . shall be mobilized and organized into rear-service battalions to do menial work (cleaning barracks, camps, streets, digging trenches, etc.). Those refusing will be fined, and held under arrest until the fine is paid."21

In August, Lenin made use of the term as well. In a telegram to the commissars of Penza, site of an anti-Bolshevik uprising, he called for "mass terror against the kulaks [rich peasants], priests and White Guards" and for the "unreliable" to be "locked up in a concentration camp outside town."22 The facilities were already in place. During the summer of 1918—in the wake of the Brest-Litovsk Treaty which ended Russia's participation in the First World War—the regime freed two million war prisoners. The empty camps were immediately turned over to the Cheka.23

At the time, the Cheka must have seemed the ideal body to take over the task of incarcerating "enemies" in "special" camps. A completely new organization, the Cheka was designed to be the "sword and shield" of the Communist Party, and had no allegiance to the official Soviet government or any of its departments. It had no traditions of legality, no obligation to obey the rule of law, no need to consult with the police or the courts or the Commissar of Justice. Its very name spoke of its special status: the All-Russian Extraordinary Commission for Combating Counter-Revolution and Sabotage—or, using the Russian abbreviation for "Extraordinary Commission"—the Ch-K, or Cheka. It was "extraordinary" precisely because it existed outside of "ordinary" legality.

Almost as soon as it was created, the Cheka was given an extraordinary task to carry out. On September 5, 1918, Dzerzhinsky was directed to implement Lenin's policy of Red Terror. Launched in the wake of an assassination attempt on Lenin's life, this wave of terror—arrests, imprisonments, murders—more organized than the random terror of the previous months, was in fact an important component of the civil war, directed against those suspected of working to destroy the Revolution on the "home front." It was bloody, it was merciless, and it was cruel—as its perpetrators wanted it to be. Krasnaya Gazeta, the organ of the Red Army, described it: "Without mercy, without sparing, we will kill our enemies in scores of hundreds. Let them be thousands, let them drown themselves in their own blood. For the blood of Lenin . . . let there be floods of blood of the bourgeoisie—more blood, as much as possible . . ."24

The Red Terror was crucial to Lenin's struggle for power. Concentration camps, the so-called "special camps," were crucial to the Red Terror. They were mentioned in the very first decree on Red Terror, which called not only for the arrest and incarceration of "important representatives of the bourgeoisie, landowners, industrialists, merchants, counter-revolutionary priests, anti-Soviet officers" but also for their "isolation in concentration camps."25 Although there are no reliable figures for numbers of prisoners, by the end of 1919 there were twenty-one registered camps in Russia. At the end of 1920 there were 107, five times as many.26

1. From Stekla vechnosti, pp. 172-73.
2. Likhachev, Vosppminania, p. 118.
3. Pipes, pp. 336-37.
4. See, for example, Service, Lenin.
5. Popies, pp. 439-505; Figes, pp. 474-551.
6. Geller, pp. 23 and 24.
7. Jakobson, pp. 18-26.
8. Dekrety, vol. II, pp. 241-42, and vol. III, p. 80. Also Geller, p. 10; Pipes, pp. 793-800.
9. Jakobson, pp. 18-26; Decree "On Revolutionart Tribunals," in Sbornik, December 19, 1917, pp. 9-10.
10. Hoover, Melgunov Collection, Box 1, Folder 63.
11. Okhotin and Roginsky, p. 13.
12. RGASPI, 76/3/1 and 13.
13. Jakobson, pp. 10-17; Okhotin and Roginsky, pp. 10-24.
14. Dekrety, vol. 1, p. 401
15. Hoover, Melgunov Collection, Box 1, Folder 4.
16. Anonymous, Vo vlasti Gubcheka, pp. 3-11.
17. Hoover, Melgunov Collection, Box 1, Folder.
18. Lockhart, pp. 326-45.
19. S. G. Eliseev, "Tyuremnyi dnevnik," in Uroki, pp. 17-19.
20. Okhotin and Roginsky, p. 11.
21. Geller, p. 43.
22. Ibid., p. 44; Leggett, p. 103.
23. Initially, the Cheka were put in charge of the camps in conjunction with the Central Collegium for War Prisoners and Refugees (Tsentroplenbezh). Okhotin and Roginskii, p. 11.
24. Leggett, p. 108.
25. Decree "On Red Terror," in Sbornik, September 5, 1918, p. 11.
26. Ivanova, Labor Camp Socialism, p. 13.

Read More Show Less

Table of Contents

Pt. 1 The Origins of the Gulag, 1917-1939
1 Bolshevik Beginnings 3
2 "The First Camp of the Gulag" 18
3 1929: The Great Turning Point 41
4 The White Sea Canal 58
5 The Camps Expand 73
6 The Great Terror and Its Aftermath 92
Pt. 2 Life and Work in the Camps
7 Arrest 121
8 Prison 146
9 Transport, Arrival, Selection 159
10 Life in the Camps 183
11 Work in the Camps 216
12 Punishment and Reward 242
13 The Guards 256
14 The Prisoners 280
15 Women and Children 307
16 The Dying 334
17 Strategies of Survival 344
18 Rebellion and Escape 390
Pt. 3 The Rise and Fall of The Camp-Industrial Complex, 1940-1986
19 The War Begins 411
20 "Strangers" 420
21 Amnesty - and Afterward 445
22 The Zenith of the Camp-Industrial Complex 460
23 The Death of Stalin 476
24 The Zeks' Revolution 484
25 Thaw - and Release 506
26 The Era of the Dissidents 527
27 The 1980s: Smashing Statues 552
Epilogue: Memory 564
App How Many? 578
Notes 587
Bibliography 637
Glossary 655
Text and Illustration Permissions 659
Index 661
Read More Show Less

Customer Reviews

Average Rating 4
( 24 )
Rating Distribution

5 Star


4 Star


3 Star


2 Star


1 Star


Your Rating:

Your Name: Create a Pen Name or

Barnes & Review Rules

Our reader reviews allow you to share your comments on titles you liked, or didn't, with others. By submitting an online review, you are representing to Barnes & that all information contained in your review is original and accurate in all respects, and that the submission of such content by you and the posting of such content by Barnes & does not and will not violate the rights of any third party. Please follow the rules below to help ensure that your review can be posted.

Reviews by Our Customers Under the Age of 13

We highly value and respect everyone's opinion concerning the titles we offer. However, we cannot allow persons under the age of 13 to have accounts at or to post customer reviews. Please see our Terms of Use for more details.

What to exclude from your review:

Please do not write about reviews, commentary, or information posted on the product page. If you see any errors in the information on the product page, please send us an email.

Reviews should not contain any of the following:

  • - HTML tags, profanity, obscenities, vulgarities, or comments that defame anyone
  • - Time-sensitive information such as tour dates, signings, lectures, etc.
  • - Single-word reviews. Other people will read your review to discover why you liked or didn't like the title. Be descriptive.
  • - Comments focusing on the author or that may ruin the ending for others
  • - Phone numbers, addresses, URLs
  • - Pricing and availability information or alternative ordering information
  • - Advertisements or commercial solicitation


  • - By submitting a review, you grant to Barnes & and its sublicensees the royalty-free, perpetual, irrevocable right and license to use the review in accordance with the Barnes & Terms of Use.
  • - Barnes & reserves the right not to post any review -- particularly those that do not follow the terms and conditions of these Rules. Barnes & also reserves the right to remove any review at any time without notice.
  • - See Terms of Use for other conditions and disclaimers.
Search for Products You'd Like to Recommend

Recommend other products that relate to your review. Just search for them below and share!

Create a Pen Name

Your Pen Name is your unique identity on It will appear on the reviews you write and other website activities. Your Pen Name cannot be edited, changed or deleted once submitted.

Your Pen Name can be any combination of alphanumeric characters (plus - and _), and must be at least two characters long.

Continue Anonymously
See All Sort by: Showing 1 – 20 of 24 Customer Reviews
  • Anonymous

    Posted June 1, 2003

    A Mistake is to Forget the Past

    It is unfortunate that this book will not read as widely as it should. As the author points out, the horrors of Nazi Germany are still remembered today. But the horrors of the Soviet Union are ignored and forgotten. This is true within Russia as well as outside of Russia. The author points out that the world and Russia seem to have forgotten what Stalin did to the Chechens. Otherwise, why would thousands of them would be killed, during the 1990's and no one gets upset. The indignation applied to Nazi Germany is not applied to contemporary Russia today or to Russia's past. Most people seem to have forgotten that Stalin starved millions, in the Ukraine, before Hitler became a serious land grabber. One of the memoirs cited by the author--John Noble's, 'I Was a Slave in Russia,' 1960--I read over 40 years ago. This topic is an interest of mine. I believe it is the result of hearing the June 1941 deportations in Latvia from my parents, other family and the Latvian community. If the topic of the book were not so serious, many of the examples of what happened could be considered 'theatre of the absurd.' There was an 'official' policy. Then there was what really happened. For example, prisoners were supposed to get a certain amount of food and water in transport. But there was no incentive for guards to fetch water for thirsty prisoners. If the guard got water for the prisoners, then later they would want to use the toilet. Both the getting of the water and letting prisoners go to the toilet were serious inconveniences to guards.

    8 out of 10 people found this review helpful.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted August 6, 2003

    A Warning Which Will Be Ignored

    There are times when one is reading something that is so disturbing that you can feel physically repulsed by it. I first felt that way when reading the ¿rat in a cage¿ scene in ¿American Psycho¿. I felt it again in numerous parts of this book- the fact that it is a history book makes it all the more sickening. Despite the ample evidence to the contrary, communism/socialism/nazism all have a strong pull over many. This book, a masterfully researched indictment of the end product of socialism, will be largely ignored. Hence all the events portrayed in this book will happen again.

    5 out of 7 people found this review helpful.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted October 12, 2004

    Lies, damned lies and anti-Soviet 'statistics'

    Ms Applebaum follows in an inglorious tradition that started with a certain Mr Josef Goebbels. He was the first to claim that 'countless millions' perished in Soviet labour camps. Why did he do this? To try to justify the Nazis' genocidal attacks on the Soviet Union. Presentday anti-socialist propagandists repeat these old lies in order to scare people off socialism and into the arms of their capitalist exploiters. Ms Applebaum appears to claim that Stalin, killed about 4.5 million Soviet citizens in the camps. However, the recently opened Russian archives show that the true figure is far lower, at about 300,000 deaths for the 1930s. Ms Applebaum, like most writers on the subject, relies not on the archives, but on Robert Conquest¿s estimates. But Richard Evans, Professor of Modern History at Cambridge University, has explained how Conquest reached his figures: ¿Robert Conquest¿s The Harvest of Sorrow: Soviet Collectivization and the Terror Famine (New York, 1986) argues that the `dekulakization¿ of the early 1930s led to the deaths of 6,500,000 people. But this estimate is arrived at by extremely dubious methods, ranging from reliance on hearsay evidence through double counting to the consistent employment of the highest possible figures in estimates made by other historians.¿ For another example, the American historian Charles Maier stated that Stalin was responsible for more deaths than Hitler. But Evans observed that Maier could only reach this conclusion by accepting ¿Conquest¿s implausible and inflated estimates without question, while omitting deaths caused by Nazi aggression in the East (which also, apart from military and exterminatory action, led to famines and deportations). The number of deaths caused by Nazism¿s eastward drive may itself have been as many as 20 million.¿ (Richard Evans, In Hitler¿s shadow, Tauris, 1989, page 170.) In fact, to reach his judgement of comparative responsibility, Maier simply omitted all the 50 million people killed in the world war that Hitler started. Perhaps in Ms Applebaum's next book, she might do some research into the greatest mass murderer of the 20th century, Adolf Hitler. She might even study how the Soviet Union smashed 70% of Hitler's divisions, making the decisive contribution to the defeat of Nazism and the freeing of so many nations from Nazi tyranny.

    4 out of 34 people found this review helpful.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted June 4, 2003

    Terrific Overview of the Soviet Gulag!

    With the publication of ¿The Gulag Archipelago¿ in the early 1970s, Alexander Solzhenitsyn shocked and dismayed the Western world by masterfully detailing the existence of a horrific shadow culture within the Soviet Union, a culture comprised of a mass society of slave laborers scratching out their bare-knuckled survival in unbelievable difficulty and squalor, and having been recruited into the Gulag for a variety of economic, social, and political reasons. Given the inherent limitations of this superb albeit shocking fictional work, the West had to wait for the fall of the Soviet bloc for a more definitive and more complete treatise on the nature of the Gulag. This new book by scholar-turned-journalist Anne Applebaum represents such a work. The work is both massive and comprehensive, dealing not only with the ways in which the Gulag came into existence and then thrived under the active sponsorship of Lenin and Stalin, but also with a plethora of aspects of life within the Gulag, ranging from its laws, customs, folklore, and morality on the one hand to its slang, sexual mores, and cuisine on the other. She looks at the prisoners themselves and how they interacted with each other to the relationships between the prisoners and the many sorts of guards and jailers that kept them imprisoned. For what forced the Gulag into becoming a more or less permanent fixture within the Soviet system was its value economically in producing goods and services that were marketable both within the larger Soviet economy as well as in international trade. As it does in China today, forced labor within the Gulag for the Soviets represented a key element in expanding markets for Soviet-made goods ranging from lamps to those prototypically Russian fur hats. The Gulag came into being as a result of the Communist elite¿s burning desire for purges of remaining vestiges of bourgeoisie aspects of Soviet culture, and its consequent need for some deep dark hole to stick unlucky cultural offenders into to remove them semi-permanently from the forefront of the Soviet society. Stalin found it useful to expand the uses of the camp system to enhance industrial growth, and the camps became flooded with millions of Soviets found wanting in terms of their ultimate suitability for everyday life in the workers¿ paradise. Thus, the Gulag flourished throughout the 1920s and 1930s and even through the years of WWII, when slave labor provided an invaluable aid in producing enough war goods to help defeat the Axis powers. By the peak years of Gulag culture in the 1950s, the archipelago stretched into all twelve of the U.S. S. R.¿s time zones, although it was largely concentrated in the northernmost and least livable aspects of the country¿s vast geographical areas. One of the most interesting and certainly more controversial aspects of the book can be found in its consideration of the relative obscurity with which both the existence and horrors associated with the Gulag has been treated to date. Compared to the much more extensively researched and discussed Holocaust of Europe¿s Jewish population perpetrated by the Nazi Third Reich over a twelve year period, almost nothing is known about the nearly seventy reign of the Gulag. Given the fairly recent demise of the Soviet state, and the dawning availability of data revealing the particulars of the existence of the Soviet system of political imprisonment, forced labor camps, and summary executions, one expects this massively documented, exhaustively detailed, and memorably written work will serve as the standard in the field for decades to come. This is a terrific book, and one I can heartily recommend to any serious student

    4 out of 6 people found this review helpful.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Posted January 5, 2011

    more from this reviewer


    A definite eye-opener to the murderous Stalin regime and his scheme of developing his communist ideal by the use of slave laboe.

    3 out of 4 people found this review helpful.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted August 8, 2008

    You Can't Handle the Truth

    Excellent book by Anne Appelbaum. What's amazing is there are still those who claim the statistics listed in the book are false. Sort of like when Stalin tried to blame the deaths of Polish in the Katyn Forest on the Nazi's, some still are blinded by the truth about the horrors of Stalin and Soviet Russia How sad. Thank you Anne Appelbaum for a fantastic book about the truth.

    3 out of 6 people found this review helpful.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted November 26, 2013

    Madness Far Beyond Hitler

    The Soviet Gulag was intended for profit. That incredible statement strips any brackets surrounding the depth of incredulity that this book describes. Begun in the twenties, the Gulag was a two-headed scheme to rid the Soviet Union of undesirables and utilize them for the enrichment of the state and decidedly not the populace. Stalin would decree, ‘We need a bridge. Tell the NKVD to arrest some engineers.’ Then he might think there was an arctic oil field in need of exploitation so he ordered the arrest of geologists. When he saw vast, empty steppes yielding nothing to the state, he ordered the forced relocation of entire cultures forcing the deportees to productively use the wasteland or die in failing to do so. Perhaps most unbelievably, he proclaimed: ‘We need to go into outer space, arrest some scientists.’ Despite Stalin’s mania for forced labor, he actually set quotas for how many prisoners were to be shot each month and criticized camp commandants for failing to meet them. Anne Applebaum has, in the rarified light of Russian willingness to open at least some archives, spent decades unearthing the magnitude of the Soviet Gulag system’s misuse of capital, resources and humanity. The fact that slave labor never, ever showed a profit did not convince the Soviets, from Stalin through Gorbachev, to quit the concept, despite their own proof that it was a failed theory.

    Gulag is a chilling history lesson that clarifies the nature of America’s wartime ally. It also defines the wrongness, incompetence and total futility of the Soviet system, and by extension, communism and socialism. The reader will be stunned by the immensity of the Gulag, its incomprehensible cruelty, ineptitude and the capriciousness with which it was run. Finally, Anne Applebaum’s insight into how the Gulag was ultimately responsible for the collapse of the Soviet Union is an eye-opening hypothesis. This massive work is highly readable and entertaining as well as informative.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Posted March 14, 2012

    A terrific read, compelling history well written

    A terrific read, compelling history well written

    1 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted May 29, 2015

    Very interesting!

    I purchased this book because a book on German concentration camps, mentioned the camps in the Gulag, about which I knew very little. This book is well written. The style reminds me of books by Erik Larson who writes non-fiction like fiction, i.e. Isaac's Storm, etc. It starts with political information in the 20's, then leads into on those arrested, description of the camps, work done, punishment, food, guards. I highly recommend this book.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted January 23, 2014

           In the non-fiction novel ¿Gulag¿ Anne Applebaum intends

           In the non-fiction novel “Gulag” Anne Applebaum intends the reader to become well informed about what horrific things took place by
    the hands of the Soviet Union. In this novel Applebaum describes the type of treatment they received from living spaces to their jobs. “Most
    prisoners in most camps lived in barracks.” (p. 195). These barracks were built by the prisoners when they arrived. Due to poor hygiene
    “a plague of bedbugs and lice” (p. 202) was developed. Also, the “soup was revolting” (p.206). This revolting soup was made of fish or
    animal lungs and a few potatoes. But the main thing in these camps was work. “It was the main occupation of prisoners.” (p.217). Prisoners
     built airplanes, ran nuclear power plants, fished and farmed. About 2,000,000 million were killed in the Gulags. And about “28.7 million”
     (p.581) were forced laborers in these camps.

           In this novel I dislike the fact that it was very repetitive. But I did like the fact that the author was able to gather all this information and
    was able to put it all in chronological order. I also like how he was able to find these very graphic photos of some of the prisoners throughout
     the years. I would recommend this to those who have never heard of the Gulags and that are very advanced readers because it is difficult
    to follow sometimes. 

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted April 13, 2011

    No text was provided for this review.

  • Anonymous

    Posted October 27, 2008

    No text was provided for this review.

  • Anonymous

    Posted July 6, 2014

    No text was provided for this review.

  • Anonymous

    Posted January 16, 2012

    No text was provided for this review.

  • Anonymous

    Posted March 13, 2011

    No text was provided for this review.

  • Anonymous

    Posted April 2, 2014

    No text was provided for this review.

  • Anonymous

    Posted January 22, 2011

    No text was provided for this review.

  • Anonymous

    Posted August 8, 2013

    No text was provided for this review.

  • Anonymous

    Posted April 10, 2013

    No text was provided for this review.

  • Anonymous

    Posted January 13, 2009

    No text was provided for this review.

See All Sort by: Showing 1 – 20 of 24 Customer Reviews

If you find inappropriate content, please report it to Barnes & Noble
Why is this product inappropriate?
Comments (optional)