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Lenin on the Train by Catherine Merridale
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Lenin on the Train

by Catherine Merridale

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This review was written for LibraryThing Early Reviewers.
This is a well researched book on the origins of the Russian Revolution and the part the Vladimir Lenin played. It provides a picture of an era in history that too few Americans know much about. That being said, its title is a bit misleading. There is very little in the book that actually pertains to the train trip from Switzerland to St. Petersburg.

What is more important is showing the chaos within the revolutionary parties during that critical period and the concurrent uncertainty of what would happen. The reactions of the various international players--the British, French, Germans--is as interesting as what was happening within the Russian population. Lenin was often thought of as crazy and without any real likelihood of becoming the leader of the country.

I would recommend this book to someone who has an interest in World War I or Russian history, but it is not necessarily a book that will fascinate the average reader and pull them through to the end.
  klaidlaw | Jan 10, 2018 |
This is the first book I've read on Vladimir Lenin, and I learned quite a bit from it. I admit I'm a huge fan of history on royalty so the Russian history I focused on was the various monarchs of the country. I knew the basics about Lenin and the change to Communism because of high school history classes, I took one focused on an overview of Russian history. So I had no clue what it took to bring Lenin out of exile and into Russia to take over governance of the country, especially since we were still involved in World War I at the time. I also didn't know multiple members of the Allied forces were trying to decide if it would be a good chance to take out someone, Lenin, who they felt would be detrimental to their war effort. Parts of it were slow and lost my interest, but the rest of it made up for those few pages. ( )
  Diana_Long_Thomas | Nov 12, 2017 |
This was an interesting history of the Russian Revolution and Lenin's trip from exile in Switzerland via train through Germany and on to Petrograd. The work covers (loosely) the time period from February (Julian Calendar) 1917 and the overthrow of the Tsar, and culminating in the Bolshevik's overthrow of the Provisional Government, led by Lenin, in October (Julian) 1917. This is quite a scholarly work with excellent referencing and suggestions for further reading. The level of detail filled in so many blanks in my historical knowledge by focusing rather narrowly. I was grateful for this focus, but I was also left with no clear end-point for the historiography. No sooner had Lenin's train arrived and he suddenly appeared in the mausoleum in the present day having his suit tailored (after killing millions of people). This sets the work up nicely for a historical sequel, but given the level of detail up until Lenin's arrival, the subsequent lack of detail was somewhat disappointing. Nevertheless, I found it hard to put this book down, and I learnt many new things. In particular, whenever I have read inside cover biographies of [a:W. Somerset Maugham|4176632|W. Somerset Maugham|https://images.gr-assets.com/authors/1414096390p2/4176632.jpg], I discovered he worked in propaganda during the Great War. But I did not know how involved he (or [a:Hugh Walpole|406950|Hugh Walpole|https://images.gr-assets.com/authors/1286258494p2/406950.jpg] for that matter) was involved in Britain's spying on the Russians at the time. I also discovered that much of Maugham's backstory is sitting on my bookshelf in the as-yet unread [b:Ashenden|887797|Ashenden|W. Somerset Maugham|https://images.gr-assets.com/books/1320419387s/887797.jpg|552471]. Walpole's book, [b:The Dark Forest|2263676|The Dark Forest|Hugh Walpole|https://images.gr-assets.com/books/1347788952s/2263676.jpg|2269684], is about this time period and was mentioned in Hemingway's short story The Three-Day Blow, which I read just before this book. I discovered Merridale's work as a result of an interesting Twitter project where Lenin's revolution, one hundred years later, is being covered day-by-day via tweets. See: "Relive the Revolution" Now, I really do not like Twitter but if it could be more often like this I would be hooked! I recall discovering this book after I discovered Russia Today, a Russian English-language news service. RT's animation of Lenin's journey provides a helpful recap of the book's chronology, see: #Lenintracker, it is a blast! So an interesting journey comes to a close, 100 years ago for Lenin, and just today for me. My next steps will be to read Maugham and then some Hugh Walpole. Moreover, I shall dig up some G.K. Chesterton, who, incidentally, was not only mentioned by Hemingway in The Three-Day Blow, but was also connected with [a:Maxim Gorky|3072763|Maxim Gorky|https://images.gr-assets.com/authors/1431018607p2/3072763.jpg] and wrote the foreword to [b:Creatures That Once Were Men|14389330|Creatures That Once Were Men|Maxim Gorky|https://images.gr-assets.com/books/1348552568s/14389330.jpg|1424900]. A fruitful experience overall, even if a review of this book in The Spectator reckons that the twentieth century would have turned out better if Lenin was left, cranky, and without a train, in the Swiss Alps. ( )
1 vote madepercy | Nov 7, 2017 |
In this 100th anniversary year of the Russian Revolution, there is a flurry of books on the lead-up to the Bolshevik taking of power. This book concentrates on the story of Lenin's return to Russia from Switzerland where he had been in exile. Unable to return because the war had blocked most routes between the hostile powers, Lenin eventually resorted to a deal with the Germans that allowed him and his small party of loyal followers to travel in a carriage from which no-one could enter or leave as it crossed Germany, thus preserving Lenin from charges that he had consorted with an enemy country when he arrived in Russia. While Lenin's long journey from Switzerland, through Germany, Sweden and across the Finnish border to Petrograd and a heroes welcome is the centrepiece of the book, it also covers the chaotic months in Russia between the overthrow of the Tsar and the Bolshevik revolution, and the attempts of Britain and Germany to influence these events. It makes for a great read, the personalities are captured well, particularly Lenin, who comes across as a ruthlessly focussed, formidably energetic force of nature, so intent on revolution he often forgot to eat. Well worth reading for anyone with an interest in 20th century history. ( )
  drmaf | Jul 5, 2017 |
Initial observation: one of the illustrations purports to depict the "Empress carriage" which was a prime exhibit at the DDR-era Lenin Museum at Sassnitz, where the sealed train embarked on the train ferry across the Baltic. In fact, this coach had been identified as Lenin's for some time during the DDR era, except that it wasn't. Even the carriage illustrated here was hardly part of any sort of train for special personages, being merely a fairly ordinary Prussian composite coach.

The coach is no longer at Sassnitz; it can now be found in a small museum at Potsdam station, internally rearranged to suggest Lenin's coach on the sealed train, but used by the State railway as a meeting room. The identity of the 'Lenin Coach' is examined in detail - and in German - here:
http://www.dbmuseum.de/museum_de/aktuelles/blog_struktur/201704_Blog.html

More on the book proper once I've read it.
  RobertDay | Jun 9, 2017 |
Showing 1-5 of 23 (next | show all)
Her latest book, “Lenin on the Train,” has a tighter focus than these [earlier books on Soviet history] and vividly reminds us how the fateful events of 1917 depended on a seemingly small episode: Vladimir Lenin’s return to Russia from political exile in Switzerland.
 
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0241011329, Hardcover)

A gripping, meticulously researched account of Lenin’s fateful 1917 rail journey from Zurich to Petrograd, where he ignited the Russian Revolution and forever changed the world

In April 1917, as the Russian Tsar Nicholas II’s abdication sent shockwaves across war-torn Europe, the future leader of the Bolshevik revolution Vladimir Lenin was far away, exiled in Zurich. When the news reached him, Lenin immediately resolved to return to Petrograd and lead the revolt. But to get there, he would have to cross Germany, which meant accepting help from the deadliest of Russia’s adversaries. Millions of Russians at home were suffering as a result of German aggression, and to accept German aid―or even safe passage―would be to betray his homeland. Germany, for its part, saw an opportunity to further destabilize Russia by allowing Lenin and his small group of revolutionaries to return.

Now, drawing on a dazzling array of sources and never-before-seen archival material, renowned historian Catherine Merridale provides a riveting, nuanced account of this enormously consequential journey―the train ride that changed the world―as well as the underground conspiracy and subterfuge that went into making it happen. Writing with the same insight and formidable intelligence that distinguished her earlier works, she brings to life a world of counter-espionage and intrigue, wartime desperation, illicit finance, and misguided utopianism.

When Lenin arrived in Petrograd’s now-famous Finland Station, he delivered an explosive address to the impassioned crowds. Simple and extreme, the text of this speech has been compared to such momentous documents as Constantine’s edict of Milan and Martin Luther’s ninety-five theses. It was the moment when the Russian revolution became Soviet, the genesis of a system of tyranny and faith that changed the course of Russia’s history forever and transformed the international political climate.

(retrieved from Amazon Sat, 29 Oct 2016 23:09:17 -0400)

"A gripping, meticulously researched account of Lenin's fateful rail journey from Zurich to Petrograd, where he ignited the Russian Revolution and forever changed the world. In April 1917, as the Russian Tsar Nicholas II's abdication sent shockwaves across war-torn Europe, the future leader of the Bolshevik revolution Vladimir Lenin was far away, exiled in Zurich. When the news reached him, Lenin immediately resolved to return to Petrograd and lead the revolt. But to get there, he would have to cross Germany, which meant accepting help from the deadliest of Russia's adversaries. Germany saw an opportunity to further destabilize Russia by allowing Lenin and his small group of revolutionaries to return. Now, drawing on a dazzling array of sources and never-before-seen archival material, renowned historian Catherine Merridale provides a riveting, nuanced account of this enormously consequential journey--the train ride that changed the world--as well as the underground conspiracy and subterfuge that went into making it happen. Writing with the same insight and formidable intelligence that distinguished her earlier works, she brings to life a world of counter-espionage and intrigue, wartime desperation, illicit finance, and misguided utopianism. This was the moment when the Russian Revolution became Soviet, the genesis of a system of tyranny and faith that changed the course of Russia's history forever and transformed the international political climate"--… (more)

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