Trotsky: Downfall of a Revolutionary

Overview

Few political figures of the twentieth century have aroused as much passion, controversy, and curiosity as Leon Trotsky. His role in history-his epic rise and fall, his fiery persona, his violent end in Mexico in August 1940-holds a fascination that transcends the history of the Russian Revolution. Bertrand M. Patenaude masterfully interweaves the story of Trotsky's final years with flashbacks to pivotal episodes in his career as a young Marxist, revolutionary hero, Red Army chief, Bolshevik leader, outcast from ...

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Trotsky: Downfall of a Revolutionary

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Overview

Few political figures of the twentieth century have aroused as much passion, controversy, and curiosity as Leon Trotsky. His role in history-his epic rise and fall, his fiery persona, his violent end in Mexico in August 1940-holds a fascination that transcends the history of the Russian Revolution. Bertrand M. Patenaude masterfully interweaves the story of Trotsky's final years with flashbacks to pivotal episodes in his career as a young Marxist, revolutionary hero, Red Army chief, Bolshevik leader, outcast from Stalin's USSR, and ultimately heretic of the Kremlin, targeted for assassination by its secret police. Gripping, tragic, and based on extensive firsthand research, Trotsky brilliantly illuminates the fateful and dramatic life of one of history's most captivating and important figures.

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Editorial Reviews

The Financial Times
“Gripping. . . . Patenaude has created both a compelling biography of the revolutionary leader and a thrilling account of the violent world of international socialist politics in the 1930s.”
The Wall Street Journal
“Bertrand Patenaude tells a masterly story, of a brilliant, cornered man and, along the way, of a misguided century.”
Simon Sebag Montefiore
“Excellent, exciting. . . . Trotsky charts, with novelistic flair and in archival detail, the progress of the plot that culminated in Trotsky being killed with an ice axe in 1940.”
Christopher Hitchens
“This book deepens and enhances the sense of tragedy that always attends contemplation of ‘the Old Man’ and his last struggle.”
Ian Thomson
“An absorbing reconstruction of Trotsky’s last years in Mexico. . . . Patenaude’s hyrbrid history and detective story grips from start to finish. With rare narrative verve, he chronicles the last years of a revolutionary’s life, with its sexual jealousies, paranoia, and finally murder.”
Robert Service
“Well researched and vividly told.”
Misha Glenny
"This is an extraordinary, gripping piece of history that gets closer to Trotsky’s essential character than any of the vast tomes devoted to him in the past. Perhaps most extraordinary is the page-turning narrative drive which keeps the reader enthralled despite knowing how the story ends. Don’t miss it."
Ken Kalfus
"Bertrand Patenaude’s Trotsky is an epic character: fiery, vain, contentious, exacting, intellectually lively, ideologically blinded, seductive, even sexually aggressive—and a man keenly aware that the inherent tragedy behind human existence overshadows the petty mishaps of politics, assassination included."
Richard Overy
“A haunting and dramatic reconstruction of Trotsky’s life and death in exile. The detail is fascinating, almost voyeuristic.”
Dominic Sandbrook
“It is a tribute to Bertrand Patenaude’s narrative skill that although we always know how his book is going to end, it is none the less readable and utterly gripping. . . . The pace and tension are worthy of a Hollywood thriller.”
—Misha Glenny
“This is an extraordinary, gripping piece of history that gets closer to Trotsky’s essential character than any of the vast tomes devoted to him in the past. Perhaps most extraordinary is the page-turning narrative drive which keeps the reader enthralled despite knowing how the story ends. Don’t miss it.”
—Ken Kalfus
“Bertrand Patenaude’s Trotsky is an epic character: fiery, vain, contentious, exacting, intellectually lively, ideologically blinded, seductive, even sexually aggressive—and a man keenly aware that the inherent tragedy behind human existence overshadows the petty mishaps of politics, assassination included.”
Publishers Weekly
A captivating account of the final years of Leon Trotsky, Lenin's former right-hand man, who was outmaneuvered by Stalin and driven into exile in 1929. Historian Patenaude (The Big Show in Bololand), a lecturer at Stanford, concentrates on the period from 1937, when Trotsky arrived in Mexico, to 1940, when a Soviet agent plunged an ice pick into his skull. The year 1937 marked the height of Stalin's purge trials during which a parade of great revolutionary figures confessed to being fascist saboteurs working for Trotsky. All were executed along with their families, friends and thousands of other innocent citizens. Some Western leftists were disgusted, but many couldn't believe the nation they admired could tolerate such injustice. Trotsky set to work, pouring out writing and speeches and testifying at international hearings, which concluded that the trials were a sham. Patenaude paints a vivid portrait of Trotsky, a flamboyant, Westernized intellectual; his stormy relations with his equally flamboyant Mexican champion (and later enemy), artist Diego Rivera; his dealings with his own largely American supporters; and the relentless efforts of Stalin's GPU to kill him. This is a dramatic, event-filled portrait of a turbulent, half-forgotten era. 14 b&w illus. (Sept.)
Library Journal
Patenaude (research fellow, Hoover Inst., Stanford Univ.) applies his expert knowledge of early Soviet history in narrating the story of Leon Trotsky's final years in exile in Mexico. This, then, is the story not of the dashing hero of the Bolshevik Revolution and the Russian civil war but rather of "the Great Exile" and "the Old Man" of the Dewey Commission hearings and later events, an individual hounded by the Kremlin and its supporters in the West and suffering from an array of physical ailments. The book draws extensively on archival collections and published primary sources, in addition to important (mostly English-language) secondary work. VERDICT It's not evident how the author is reassessing this fascinating period in Trotsky's life, and nowhere does he make his case. Nonetheless, his Trotsky is a reliable and masterfully written account that captures, in the words of John Dewey, "the bare overpowering interest of the man and what he has to say." It should be read by anyone interested in Trotsky and the ways in which his life intersected with events in the Soviet Union, Europe, the United States, and Mexico in the 1930s.—Sean Pollock, Wright State Univ., Dayton, OH
Publishers Weekly (starred review)
“A captivating account. . . . Patenaude paints a vivid portrait of Trotsky, a flamboyant, Westernized intellectual. . . . This is a dramatic, event-filled portrait of a turbulent, half- forgotten era.”
Library Journal
“Fascinating. . . . A masterly account. . . . Patenaude applies his expert knowledge of early Soviet history in narrating the story of Leon Trotsky’s final years in exile in Mexico.”
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780060820695
  • Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers
  • Publication date: 9/14/2010
  • Pages: 370
  • Sales rank: 599,854
  • Product dimensions: 5.30 (w) x 7.90 (h) x 1.00 (d)

Meet the Author

Bertrand M. Patenaude is a lecturer at Stanford University, where he is a research fellow at the Hoover Institution Library and Archives. He is the author of The Big Show in Bololand, which won the Marshall Shulman Book Prize. He lives in Menlo Park, California.

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Table of Contents

Prologue: A Miraculous Escape 1

1 Armored Train 13

2 Mastermind 32

3 Man of October 55

4 Day of the Dead 73

5 The Trouble with Father 96

6 Prisoners and Provocateurs 120

7 Fellow Travelers 147

8 The Great Dictator 174

9 To the Finland Station 201

10 Lucky Strike 230

11 Deadline 262

Epilogue: Shipwreck 293

Acknowledgements 307

Sources and Notes 309

Index 353

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Sort by: Showing all of 5 Customer Reviews
  • Posted November 1, 2009

    more from this reviewer

    Trotsky,Road to Assassination

    Review of: Trotsky, Downfall of a Revolutionary
    by Dick Vander Woude
    I cannot say why I picked it up at the bookstore, or why I slogged my way through its dense presentation. Had I read the dust jacket inside, I probably would have walked away. "Trotsky, Downfall of a Revolutionary," was written by Bertrand M. Paternaude, research fellow at the Hoover Institute at Stanford. Or in words that I better understood: what a neo-con wants us to know about the life of one of the world's great revolutionaries.
    Still, it proved interesting, written in a series of flash backs from the time of Trotsky's exile in Mexico. Many of Trotsky's personal papers and letters from that period are located at Stanford and provided the author and reader with an intense view of his final years.
    There is little, if any, of Trotsky's ideology and none of his profound and persuasive speeches. It's like reading a history of Jesus with out the Sermon on the Mount. Instead we learn of his intense distrust and hatred of Stalin, while steadfastly defending the Soviet revolution and the Stalin led years of opportunistic foreign policy during World War II.
    Having read the book, its subtitle now seems propagandistic. A better one might have been, "On the Road to Assassination."
    I am not a Trotsky scholar, by any means; merely, a person interested in the life a man who contributed to so much change in our world. Even Pateraude didn't fully exclude Trotsky's passionate belief in the rights of people and the need for democracy within the dictatorship for (yes "for" though I suspect Patenaude would prefer, "over") the proletariat.
    There is a great deal of interesting, and new to me, data about his family, love for his distant sons and caring for the many friends and supporters in France and the United States, without whom he could not have survived as long as he did. These people were inspiring. Their commitment to the man is intensely reflective of their belief in social and economic justice.
    While I have laid the book down for the last time, I am glad that I found and read it. Even though I strongly suspect the author intended to create a factual resource for future speechwriters looking for antidotes to undermine social and economic movements of the future. No, I'm not a Trotskyite, however, I am now more aware that I am even less of a neo-con.

    2 out of 3 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted January 3, 2010

    more from this reviewer

    Interesting book on an interesting man

    This was an incredibly interesting book. The book was very exciting, even though I knew how it ended. "Trotsky" had a lot more than just his political life, but struggles in his personal life as well, making it even more interesting. The title hints that it only discusses the end of his life and his "downfall." But it was more than that, the book is told in some flashbacks, which helps if you go into reading the book without much knowledge of Trotsky.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
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    Posted May 8, 2010

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    Posted December 25, 2009

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    Posted September 8, 2009

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