cover image The House of Government: A Saga of the Russian Revolution

The House of Government: A Saga of the Russian Revolution

Yuri Slezkine. Princeton Univ., $39.95 (1,096p) ISBN 978-0-691-17694-9

In this mammoth and profusely researched work, Slezkine (The Jewish Century), professor of history at UC Berkeley, recounts the Russian revolution through the activities and inhabitants of the House of Government, Europe’s largest residential building. Built in 1931 in a central Moscow swamp, the house was home to hundreds of Communist Party officials, their dependents, and maintenance workers. The community lasted just over a decade; Stalin purged many residents in the 1930s and the rest were evacuated in 1941 as the Nazis advanced. Slezkine finds the story of the House of Government worth telling because it was “where revolutionaries came home and the revolution came to die.” This is a family saga of the “Old Bolsheviks,” the men and women who midwifed the revolution and guided its early steps before falling victim to Stalin’s paranoid excesses. Slezkine illuminates myriad aspects of these lives, including fashion choices and intellectual schisms. He also analyzes Bolshevism’s failure so soon after its apparent triumph, inviting controversy by describing the Bolsheviks as “millenarian sectarians preparing for the apocalypse.” Slezkine asserts that the cosmopolitanism and humanism of postrevolutionary culture undermined the single-mindedness necessary to maintain their ideology. It’s a work begging to be debated; Slezkine aggregates mountains of detail for an enthralling account of the rise and fall of the revolutionary generation. Illus. Agent: Zoë Pagnamenta, Zoë Pagnamenta Agency. (Aug.)