Wednesday, Nov. 28, 2012
Former People: The Final Days of the Russian Aristocracy (Farrar, Straus & Giroux), by Douglas Smith
Before the revolution, the gentry and nobility formed a significant percentage of Russia’s population. Even Lenin emerged from its ranks. But even before the Bolsheviks secured control over the country, the gentry were under assault in a vicious outbreak of class warfare many nobles understood as karmic retribution for the sins of the past. Douglas Smith’s balanced account brings alive a time when acute social tensions tore apart a nation, opening the door to the mass murder that began under Lenin and reached a fevered crescendo under his successor, Stalin. Lenin called for the forcible expropriation of all bourgeois property but was startled, Smith reports, when carjackers stole his limousine in the chaos of the revolution’s early months.