(Robert John Service)
PERSONAL: Male. Education: Cambridge University, undergraduate degree; Essex University, Ph.D.
CAREER: Writer, educator, and historian. University of Keele, Keele, Staffordshire, England, lecturer in Russian studies, 1974–84; School of Slavonic and East European Studies, University College London, London, England, reader and lecturer, 1985–91; University of London, professor of Slavonic and Eastern European studies, 1991–98; St. Antony's College, Oxford, England, professor of Russian history, 1998–.
AWARDS, HONORS: British Academy fellowship, 1998.
The Bolshevik Party in Revolution: A Study in Organisational Change, 1917–1923, Barnes & Noble (New York, NY), 1979.
Lenin: A Political Life, Indiana University Press (Bloomington, IN), Volume 1: The Strengths of Contradiction, 1985, Volume 2: Worlds in Collision, 1991, Volume 3: The Iron Ring, 1995.
The Russian Revolution, 1900–1927, Humanities Press (Atlantic Highlands, NJ), 1986, 3rd edition, St. Martin's Press (New York, NY), 1999.
(Editor) Society and Politics in the Russian Revolution, St. Martin's Press (New York, NY), 1992.
A History of Twentieth-Century Russia, Harvard University Press (Cambridge, MA), 1998.
(Editor, with Geoffrey Hosking) Russian Nationalism, Past and Present, St. Martin's Press (New York, NY), 1998.
(Editor, with Geoffrey Hosking) Reinterpreting Russia, Oxford University Press (New York, NY), 1999.
Lenin: A Biography, Harvard University Press (Cambridge, MA), 2000.
Russia: Experiment with a People: From 1991 to the Present, Macmillan (London, England), 2002, published as Russia: Experiment with a People, Harvard University Press (Cambridge, MA), 2003.
The Best of Robert Service, Courage Books (Philadelphia, PA), 2003.
A History of Modern Russia from Nicholas II to Vladimir Putin, Harvard University Press (Cambridge, MA), 2005.
Stalin: A Biography, Belknap Press of Harvard University Press (Cambridge, MA), 2005.
Contributor to periodicals, including the New Statesman, and various national weeklies.
SIDELIGHTS: Robert Service is a widely recognized authority on twentieth-century Russia, a multi-faceted subject covering a vast amount of social, geographic, and political knowledge. Noting Service's remarkable grasp of his field, commentators have described his books as among the most comprehensive works on the subject.
In his 1979 work, The Bolshevik Party in Revolution: A Study in Organisational Change, 1917–1923, Service discusses the transformation of the Bolshevik Party during the consolidation of its political power. Critics praised the book as a solid historical work, remarking in some cases, however, that Service's interpretation does not offer any new insights. Thus, according to a Choice reviewer, the book "enriches but does not fundamentally alter our understanding of what oc-curred during the first years of Bolshevik power." Reviewers praised Service's analysis of the early period of the Bolshevik party's organizational transformation. For example, John W. Long asserted in Historian that "Service's study is generally well written and organized and contributes some valuable insight into the process of the party's early bureaucratization, especially on the local level."
Service's 1986 book, The Russian Revolution, 1900–1927, examines the international political context of the overthrow of czarist Russia. Writing in the American Historical Review, Theodore H. von Laue described the book as "a well organized survey," providing summaries, as the narrative progresses, of Western reactions to the political events in Russia. Roy Porter, reviewing the work in History Today, characterized The Russian Revolution as a book that "leaves us in no doubt of the gigantic transformation which industrialization was bringing to early twentieth-century Russia." Porter was particularly impressed by Service's grasp of the nature of Bolshevik politics. "What emerges particularly from this crisply written synthesis," Porter affirmed, "is the degree to which the Bolsheviks proved masters of improvisation." Colin Ward added in the Times Educational Supplement that the book, having been based on "new and sometimes unpublished research sources," constitutes a valuable tool for teachers.
Service edited Society and Politics in the Russian Revolution, published in 1992. This book, as several critics have observed, is a collection of articles analyzing the role of non-Bolshevik groups in early Soviet society—groups such as the urban middle class, the peasant class, and even non-Russian ethnic groups. As Roderick Gordon remarked in his History Today review, although "these groups are not generally associated with the Bolsheviks, they all had a role to play in shaping a revolution, even if it was inadvertent, which has its place alongside that of the Red Guards, sailors and workers."
In A History of Twentieth-Century Russia, his first work following the 1991 collapse of the Soviet Union, Service chronicles Russian communism from its rise during the first decade of the twentieth century to its breakdown and aftermath. It is significant, as some reviewers emphasized, that Service's research includes material from archives that were once closed, as well as information from a number of Russian historians. Offering a general assessment of Service's book, History Today critic Paul Dukes stressed the author's objectivity and ability to incorporate new research into narrative. "Steering a sure course between outright condemnation of the Soviet system and unrestrained approval of its antithesis," the reviewer declared, "Robert Service produces a fair-minded and balanced account." In addition, Dukes continued, the historian "makes considerable use of new material and draws on his experiences in an evocative manner." Dukes was particularly impressed by Service's ability to convey, in graphic detail, the terrible loss of life that the Soviet Union suffered under Stalin's rule and during World War II while under Nazi attack. "No foreigner," the critic concluded, "can fully appreciate the impact of Barbarossa [the Nazi invasion of the Soviet Union], with its staggering loss of life as well as material destruction, yet Service manages to convey a telling sense of the full horror of both the war and of the Stalinist excesses which preceded it."
One of Service's most ambitious projects has been a work that took more than a decade to publish. In 1995 he released the last of a three-volume account of the life of Soviet leader Vladimir Lenin. Volume one of Lenin: A Political Life, subtitled The Strengths of Contradiction, drew favorable reviews from commentators in the Library Journal and Choice, who described the book as a meticulously and carefully crafted work.
Volume two, Worlds in Collision, continues with an account of Lenin's career from 1910 to 1918. As C.A. Linden pointed out in a review in Choice: "The [publishing] dates of the volumes (1985 and 1991) are heavy with irony, since they coincide with the last gasp of the Leninist regime, from Gorbachev's rise to the popular revolution that quelled that regime. This is a timely postmortem both on Lenin and on the system he brought to birth." Admiring Service's detailed and insightful description of Lenin's political craftsmanship, particularly in the arena of day-to-day political struggles and upheavals, Robert Conquest stated in the Times Literary Supplement: "He has concentrated, in admirable documented detail, on Lenin's unceasing efforts as he maneuvered, argued, bullied, and yes, cheated the sometimes balky Bolsheviks into serving as an instrument to carry out his political will." Furthermore, Conquest complimented Service on enriching his historical narrative with a considerable quantity of "engaging trivia."
Written several years after the Soviet collapse, the final volume in the Lenin trilogy—The Iron Ring—covers the years between 1918 and 1924, the year Lenin died. Describing Service's work as an "excellent trilogy," a History Today reviewer Mark Sandle summed the book up as a "fascinating read." Remarking that Service had availed himself of new archival information from the archives, the reviewer deemed the work "a judiciously written account of Lenin's part in the early years of Soviet rule." Adding that Service's approach to Soviet history—namely, his insistence on the importance of key historical figures—may have "gone slightly out of fashion in recent years," Sandle pointed out that "individuals matter" in Service's narrative and the trilogy in many ways "hu manises Lenin." Spectator contributor Dominic Lieven, discussing the depth of Service's research, observed that the Lenin trilogy clearly reflects the fifteen years of study that Service put into his project.
In Russia: Experiment with a People: From 1991 to the Present Service offers a "wide-ranging account of the transformation of the Soviet Union and the emergence of the new Russian Federation," noted Clarence B. Davis in History: Review of New Books. The author covers the fall of communism, outlines a number of turbulent years in the Soviet Union, and discusses some of Russia's prominent modern-day leaders, including Mikhail Gorbachev, Boris Yeltsin, and Vladimir Putin. Service ponders the social and philosophical questions of what constitutes Russia and the Russian people. He also looks carefully at two centuries worth of perceptions and images of Russia and the Russian experience. Furthermore, he carefully analyzes reform efforts instituted by several Russian leaders, in particular Gorbachev, and traces Russia's tumultuous transformation into a market economy. Finally, he offers considered discussion of Russian religion, culture, and private life in both city and rural settings. The book "stands out for its balance, sense of empathy for the Russian experience, and efforts to encompass both successes and failures in the reform process," Davis concluded. Service "offers an unusually wide-ranging description of the new Russia," including intangible aspects such as education, recent literature, the media, and symbols of the state, noted Marcia L. Sprules in the Library Journal. William Fitzherbert, writing in Contemporary Review, stated that Service provides "a brilliant survey of daily life in Russia today, in the villages and towns."
In A History of Modern Russia from Nicholas II to Vladimir Putin Service provides a sweeping historical overview of Russia from the time of Russia's last Emperor, Tsar Nicholas II, to the early twenty-first century and the influence of Vladimir Putin. Within the scope of Service's history lie bloody revolution, the profound effects of two world wars, mass terror, and the unexpected but historically amazing collapse of communism and the Soviet Union, once thought to be inseparable and invincible. Service identifies numerous areas, however, in which the lingering specter of communism still influences Russian life. The volume covers the widespread economic and social change in Russia at the beginning of the twenty-first century. In addition, Service considers the implications of Russia's reduced presence in world affairs.
Stalin: A Biography is "a life-and-times biography in the grand style: deeply researched, well written, brimming with interpretations," commented a reviewer in Publishers Weekly. Service offers here a complex biography of a world leader whose infamy has grown to nearly match that of Adolf Hitler. He covers Stalin's early childhood and education, including a nearly complete seminary education. He explores Stalin's family life, social issues, health, and psychological structure. Service also provides details on Stalin's early days in the Communist party and his rise to power within that political system. Service speculates on Stalin's mental state, concluding that if Stalin was not technically insane, he at least suffered from a gross personality disorder. The author attempts to put Stalin into the historical perspective he demands. Service also strives to humanize Stalin, but does so without "diminishing the extent of the atrocities he unleashed upon the Soviet population," commented the Publishers Weekly critic. Stalin "was evil and in support of an evil regime but he was also a human being and it is this human being which this biography so admirably delineates," commented a Contemporary Review contributor. "Service has amassed an enormous quantity of research and leaves virtually no note or paper uncommented on in this narrative—he even revives some of Stalin's early published poetry," noted Angela Brintlinger in Antioch Review. A reviewer for First Things: A Monthly Journal of Religion and Public Life remarked that Service's biography of Stalin, "with its low-key, frequently wry, and exhaustively researched telling of the story, will be a standard reference for years to come."
BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:
American Historical Review, October, 1988, Theodore H. von Laue, review of The Russian Revolution, 1900–1927, p. 1090.
Antioch Review, fall, 2005, Angela Bringlinger, review of Stalin: A Biography, p. 797.
Biography, winter, 2001, Laura Engelsten and Gerald Glaubitz, review of Lenin: A Biography, p. 338.
Booklist, March 1, 1998, Gilbert Taylor, review of A History of Twentieth-Century Russia, p. 1090; September 15, 2000, Gilbert Taylor, review of Lenin: A Biography, p. 214; March 15, 2005, Jay Freeman, review of Stalin, p. 1262.
Business Wire, February 28, 2005, "Hoover Institution: New Biography on Stalin by Hoover Fellow Robert Service," review of Stalin.
Canadian Journal of History, December, 2001, N.G.O. Pereira, review of Lenin: A Biography, p. 563; April, 2003, John McCannon, review of Lenin: A Biography, p. 121.
Choice, November 1985, review of The Bolshevik Party in Revolution: A Study in Organizational Change, 1917–1923, p. 517; January, 1990, review of Lenin: A Political Life, Volume 1: The Strengths of Contradiction, p. 1496; June 1992, C.A. Linden, review of Lenin: A Political Life, Volume 2: Worlds in Collision, p. 1614.
Contemporary Review, September, 2000, John Knight, "The Elusive Lenin," review of Lenin, p. 180; January, 2003, William Fitzherbert, review of Russia: Experiment with a People: From 1991 to the Present, p. 50; May, 2005, review of Stalin, p. 318.
Economist, February 21, 1998, review of A History of Twentieth-Century Russia, p. 84.
English Historical Review, April, 2000, John Keep, review of Reinterpreting Russia, p. 495.
Europe-Asia Studies, November, 1996, review of Lenin: A Political Life, p. 1219; November, 1996, Benno Ennker, review of Lenin: A Political Life, Volume 3: The Iron Ring, p. 1229; September, 1998, Ronald Kowalski, review of A History of Twentieth-Century Russia, p. 1096.
First Things: A Monthly Journal of Religion and Public Life, June-July, 2005, review of Stalin, p. 57.
Foreign Affairs, May-June, 1998, Robert Legvold, review of A History of Twentieth-Century Russia, p. 148.
Historian, November, 1981, John W. Long, review of The Bolshevik Party in Revolution: A Study in Organizational Change, 1917–1923, p. 110; spring, 2003, Michael Melancon, review of Lenin: A Biography, p. 769.
History Review, March, 2001, Christopher Read, review of Lenin: A Biography, p. 50.
History: Review of New Books, fall, 1998, Davis Stefanic, review of A History of Twentieth-Century Russia, p. 36; spring, 2001, Victor Rosenberg, review of Lenin: A Biography, p. 126; winter, 2004, Clarence B. Davis, review of Russia: Experiment with a People, p. 71.
History Today, August, 1987, Roy Porter, review of The Russian Revolution, 1900–1927, p. 55; February, 1996, Roderick Gordon, review of Society and Politics in the Russian Revolution, p. 53; January, 1997, Mark Sandle, review of Lenin: A Political Life, Volume 3: The Iron Ring, p. 58; June, 1998, Paul Dukes, review of A History of Twentieth-Century Russia, p. 57; June, 2000, S.A. Smith, review of Lenin: A Biography, p. 59.
Houston Chronicle, March 25, 2005, Lynwood Abram, "Study of a Monster's Motives," review of Stalin.
Journal of European Studies, March-June, 1998, Wendy Slater, review of A History of Twentieth-Century Russia, p. 213.
Journal of Interdisciplinary History, October, 1999, Heather Hogan, "Reworking Russia's History: Two Steps Forward, One Step Back," review of A History of Twentieth-Century Russia, p. 273.
Journal of Modern History, June, 2002, Graeme Gill, review of Lenin: A Biography, p. 459.
Library Journal, July 1985, review of Lenin: A Political Life, Volume 1: The Strengths of Contradiction, p. 65; March 1, 1998, Harry V. Willems, review of A History of Twentieth-Century Russia, p. 106; September 15, 2003, Marcia L. Sprules, review of Russia: Experiment with a People, p. 75; June 1, 2005, Harry Willems, review of Stalin, p. 142.
London Review of Books, October 5, 1995, review of Lenin: A Political Life, pp. 14-15.
New Leader, September, 2000, Anatole Shub, review of Lenin: A Biography, p. 43.
New Statesman, December 12, 1997, John Lloyd, review of A History of Twentieth-Century Russia, p. 46; October 18, 2004, Richard Gott, "Lenin's Wonderful Georgian," review of Stalin, p. 50.
Publishers Weekly, February 16, 1998, review of A History of Twentieth-Century Russia, p. 198; February 21, 2005, review of Stalin, p. 164.
Spectator, February 25, 1995, Dominic Lieven, review of Lenin: A Political Life, p. 39.
Teaching History: A Journal of Methods, fall, 2003, William B. Whisenhunt, review of The Russian Revolution, 1900–1927, p. 101.
Theoria, December, 2002, Derek Hook, review of Lenin: A Biography, p. 123.
Times Educational Supplement, August 5, 1987, Colin Ward, review of The Russian Revolution, 1900–1927, p. 29.
Times Literary Supplement, September 20, 1991, Robert Conquest, review of Lenin: A Political Life, Volume 2: Worlds in Collision, p. 3.
World and I, March, 2001, Dmitri Shlapentoky, "Reconsidering Lenin," review of Lenin: A Biography, p. 252.
University of Oxford Department of History Web site, http://www.history.ox.ac.uk/ (December 6, 2005), biography of Robert Service.