The Russian Revolution: A New History
Sean McMeekin

The Russian Revolution: A New History

At the distance of a century, the Russian Revolution still exerts a powerful pull on the political imagination.  The faith of Marxist-Leninism inspired millions in the twentieth century; the spectre of Communism on the march terrified millions more.  Even now, a quarter-century after the collapse of the Soviet Union, Lenin’s legacy endures.  The Communist Party still rules in China.  On the Korean peninsula, the Cold War refuses to die.  The “capitalist” West, improbably, has seen a resurgence of Marxist faith in the wake of the global financial crash of 2008, scarcely a generation after Marx’s obituary seemed to be written in the fall of the Berlin Wall.

            It is well, therefore, to be reminded what the whole thing was about.  In this timely new study, Sean McMeekin recreates more vividly than ever before the atmosphere of 1917, explaining what really happened in Russia under the strain of world war.  Far from the “class conflict” of Marxist legend, the Revolution, McMeekin shows, grew out of a peculiarly Russian blend of mutiny, political demagoguery, popular fury, and not least, government incompetence.  Piggybacking on Russia’s agony, pocketing German subsidies while fending off allegations of treason, Lenin and the Bolsheviks put their own stamp of fanaticism on the Revolution, seizing power and issuing decrees abolishing private property of any kind (even money).  Pursuing policies more radical than socialist dreamers had ever believed possible, the Bolsheviks enthralled the world – and produced an unprecedented economic catastrophe. 

Using never-before seen files from the Soviet archives, McMeekin has produced the definitive account of Bolshevik finances, showing the hidden material reasons the Reds were able to defeat all comers in the Russian Civil War and to spread Communist propaganda to every corner of the globe.

The Russian Revolution captures all the drama and exhilaration of the Bolsheviks’ struggle to, in Trotsky’s words, “overthrow the world,” using Russia as a launching pad for global revolution.

Book Details:

  • Author: Sean McMeekin
  • Published Year: 2017
  • Rights Sold
    • US: Basic
    • Holland: Niewe Amsterdam
    • Spain: Taurus
    • UK: Profile
    • Poland: Bellona
    • China: Beijing Paper Jump Cultural Development Company Ltd
    • Estonia: Rahva Raamat
    • China: Humanities Press Limited
    • Turkey: Yapı Kredi
Sean McMeekin

Sean McMeekin

Sean McMeekin was born in Idaho, raised in Rochester NY, and educated at Stanford and UC Berkeley.  He has been fascinated by modern history ever since playing Winston Churchill in a school reenactment of the Yalta Conference at age 15, and Joseph McCarthy in an even more outlandish reenactment of the Army-McCarthy hearings at age 17, which involved camcorders and double agents in the Russian Club. He pursued this interest into various American and European battlefields, libraries, and archives, venturing as far east as Russia, before settling down to teach for some years in Turkey, wh...
More about Sean McMeekin

Book Reviews

  • "Sean McMeekin's new history of the Russian Revolution is, as always with his work, dynamic, compelling, and revisionist, telling the familiar story with vigour, accessibility, and elan but ornamented with fascinating new archival revelations on, amongst other things, German funding of the Bolsheviks."
    Simon Sebag Montefiore, author of The Romanovs
  • "It is a quarter of a century since Richard Pipes published his history of the Bolshevik seizure of power in the Russian empire, and twenty years since Orlando Figes's A People's Tragedy. Back then, in the wake of the Soviet collapse, those seemed definitive. But now comes Sean McMeekin with a vivid new account, drawing on fresh evidence and offering an original, geopolitical perspective. The full, shocking extent to which Lenin was a German operative now becomes clear, as does the magnitude of Kerensky's blunder in not finishing the Bolsheviks off before their “revolutionary defeatism” went viral. McMeekin writes muscular history. His Russian Revolution grips the reader."
    Niall Ferguson, senior fellow, the Hoover Institution, Stanford
  • "McMeekin enhances his high reputation in this comprehensively researched, persuasively developed account of the Russian Revolution as a contingent consequence of specific policies and decisions. Russia’s army, economy, and society did not collapse from the structural overstretch of World War I. Instead McMeekin emphasizes the might have beens, the roads not taken, that led to a “hostile takeover” standing as a grim warning against armed prophets promising earthly utopias."
    Dennis Showalter, professor of history, Colorado College
  • "This is a book that we have been waiting for. The Russian Revolution is an enormous subject, and to write a short and authoritative book on it is very difficult indeed. Sean McMeekin brings many gifts to the task, not the least of which is that he can describe crowd scenes with immediacy. It should count as a classic."
    Norman Stone, author of World War One
  • "In vivid colors, Sean McMeekin presents a provocative narrative of the 1917 Russian revolutions with an emphasis on the conspiracies, mutinies, and acts of treason behind the scenes of both revolutions. He shows how the revolutions were a direct result of Russia's involvement in World War I in new ways. It is a book that will generate much debate."
    Eric Lohr, Susan Carmel Lehrman Chair of Russian History and Culture, American University
  • "The Tsar didn’t fall, he wilted, and this briskly written, fresh take on the revolution sketches the process in poignant detail—orgies, vodka, Rasputin, pogroms, plots, and war on the Eastern Front. McMeekin’s Lenin is more seedy than heroic, his Bolshevik victory an act of treason engineered by a German army that had stuffed a billion dollars in Lenin’s pockets before the bourgeois exile mounted his first barricade in Petrograd."
    Geoffrey Wawro, author of A Mad Catastrophe: The Outbreak of World War I and the Collapse of the Habsburg Empire
  • "A fresh history of the revolution…McMeekin refreshingly doesn't muddy the waters with too many characters, but he is thorough in his treatment, which is that much more interesting due to the wealth of information released following the downfall of the Soviet Union…McMeekin effectively shows how easily one man could undermine the foundations of a nation, and he makes the revolution comprehensible as he exposes the deviousness of its leader.  "
  • "With strong scholarly foundations and a riveting narrative, this book provides a broad survey of this tumultuous and fateful social transformation…This fluid work offers an overview of the revolution’s wartime context."
    Publishers Weekly
  • "McMeekin success in offering a fresh take through inclusivity of contributing events…A well-written and rewarding read on the Russian Revolution’s lasting historical import."
    Library Journal
  • "a gifted writer with historical talents equal to the challenge of helping the reader to follow the events of the revolution and appreciate their terrible significance…. McMeekin is formidably skilled in navigating his way through these factions and especially good at showing how the shifting fortunes of war affected the balance of power in these elite circles… McMeekin’s magisterial study repays careful reading."
    Sunday Times
  • "[A] superb and eye-opening account of this important chapter in 20th century history that will be indispensable reading for those anxious to learn more about this seminal event and the aftershocks that followed….The Russian Revolution is a carefully researched, well-written assessment of the complex and confusing events that did so much to shape the last century. McMeekin is a reliable guide to a complex story and the book moves seamlessly and clearly across a vast landscape of people and events."
    Christian Science Monitor
  • "Well-written, with new details from archival research used for vivid descriptions of key events…"
    New York Times
  • " excellent job of highlighting the international nature of the revolution, discussing in lucid, crisp prose the roles played by the various European powers in shaping Russia's fate. McMeekin's research is quite simply remarkable. Few historians working today have come close to matching his indefatigable archival digging."
    Douglas Smith, Literary Review
  • "As the bibliography shows and as the splendidly related narrative makes clear, Sean McMeekin, a tenaciously skilful historian from New York by way of Turkey, has dug deeply into the archives to produce a wondrous book which not only tickles the upper brain cells but will force readers to think again about the Russian Revolution of 1917… a history which is rich in subtlety and replete with frequently startling information. He is particularly good at building up a believable yet shocking view of life at the Russian court with its sordid intrigues and larger-than-life characters, each one intent on furthering their own interests… This is an endlessly complicated story with a gallery of startling characters, some good, some bad, and a physical backdrop which spans the entirety of Mother Russia (as the country is so often personified) but McMeekin has risen to the challenge. Not only does he emerge as a dexterous helmsman skilfully navigating his way through some treacherous waters, but he also has the vision and the temperament to bring his readers safely ashore."
  • "A richly documented look at the Russian Revolution ."
  • "lively revisionist ‘new history’ does cover new terrain’ ."
  • "McMeekin’s magisterial study repays careful reading."