The History of the Gulag


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From Collectivization to the Great Terror

Oleg Khlevniuk; Translated by Vadim Staklo; Foreword by Robert Conquest; With editorial assistance and commentary by David J. Nordlander

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"What a long, extraordinary process digging into the deepest secrets of the Gulag has been. Now, here is its history, fully, factually, and humanly effected for the present day by Oleg Khlevniuk."- Robert Conquest, from the forward

The human cost of the Gulag, the Soviet labor camp system in which millions of people were imprisoned between 1920 and 1956, was staggering. Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn and others after him have written movingly about the Gulag, yet never has there been a thorough historical study of this unique and tragic episode in Soviet history. This groundbreaking book presents the first comprehensive, historically accurate account of the camp system. Russian historian Oleg Khlevniuk has mined the contents of extensive archives, including long-suppressed state and Communist Party documents, to uncover the secrets of the Gulag and how it became a central component of Soviet ideology and social policy.

Khlevniuk argues persuasively that the Stalinist penal camps created in the 1930s were essentially different from previous camps. He shows that political motivations and paranoia about potential enemies contributed no more to the expansion of the Gulag than the economic incentive of slave labor did. And he offers powerful evidence that the Great Terror was planned centrally and targeted against particular categories of the population. Khlevniuk makes a signal contribution to Soviet history with this exceptionally informed and balanced view of the Gulag.

Oleg V. Khlevniuk is senior researcher at the State Archive of the Russian Federation, Moscow.

“What a long, extraordinary process digging into the deepest secrets of the Gulag has been. Now, here is its history, fully, factually, and humanly effected for the present day by Oleg Khlevniuk.”—Robert Conquest, from the foreword

“Khlevniuk brilliantly uses Soviet-era archives to create a scholarly portrait of the gulag.”—Library Journal

“Annals of Communism, Yale’s acclaimed series, adds another major documentary history to its list. More than 100 documents from the Russian archives are translated, and interspersed with Russian historian Khlevniuk’s extensive analysis. The result is a fascinatingly detailed depiction of that horrific symbol of the 20th century, the Soviet prison camp system.”—Publishers Weekly

“For anyone interested in examining the inherently corrupt nature of the Soviet regime . . . [this book] would be a good place to start. . . . A comprehensive picture of the gulag.”—Gordon Haber, The New York Sun

"[A] meticulous study. . . . A solid reference work covering an enormous range of underexplored issues raised by the Gulag, including its impact on Soviet society. It makes an important contribution in our search to understand this integral mechanism of the Soviet system."—Nanci Adler, The Russian Review


"This brilliant work weaves together remarkable archival sources and first-rate scholarly analysis to offer the most authoritative account of the gulag's development and operation in the prewar years. Vadim A. Staklo deserves much praise for a masterful translation that brings Oleg V. Khlevniuk's valuable research to a broad audience of nonspecialists. The book offers a vivid picture of the penal camp system as any memoir or personal testimony. . . . No one who reads this book will examine Soviet archival documents in quite the same way again. For this reason alone, it should be required reading."—Golfo Alexopoulos, Slavic Review

"From his deep knowledge of the archives, [Khlevniuk] adds precision to the discussion about the overall scale of STalinist repression during these years, and the likely number of dead. His book adds to the ongoing debate among genocide scholars: Was Stalin's GULAG a genocidal act or not?. . . . Based on his knowledge of the archives, Khlevniuk provides clarification to the debate. . . . The translation from Russian is excellent. . . . This work adds much to our knowledge about the internal workings of the Stalinist penal regime. . . . [It] should serve as an excellent resource for college instructors and others interested in the Stalinist regime."—Thomas Reimer, H-Net Reviews

"The History of the Gulag is aimed at graduate students and professional historians. . . . This book could also be used for undergraduate classes, helping students to produce studies on the economy, politics, and rhetoric of the Soviet state in the prewar period."—Roy R. Robson, The Historian

"Rich and stunning. . . . Khlevniuk's powerful survey of the camp system is unsurpassed."—Wendy Z. Goldman, The Journal of Modern History

‘Precise and balanced in its use of sources, Stalin has many advantages over its competitors…  if this book is a classic, it will be for it's laconicism and lucidity, and it’s authoritative separation of the incontrovertible from the probable and possible in Stalin’s motivation.’—Donald Rayfield, TLS.
ISBN: 9780300092844
Publication Date: November 10, 2004
464 pages, 6 1/8 x 9 1/4
38 b/w illus.
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