Back in my university days, I bought and read Dmitri Volkogonov’s biography on Lenin to help me with an essay I was writing on the lovable old mass murderer. The question asked whether he was a revolutionary before he was a Marxist or the other way around. Taking the question literally I argued that he became a revolutionary because the Tsar had his brother executed and that he formed his own brand of Marxism later. This is no departure from standard texts on Lenin but my source, Volkogonov, had written three biographies on the three iconic figures of the Russian Revolution, Stalin, Lenin and later on Trotsky which certainly were departures from the way that they had been portrayed by the Soviet Union. Volkogonov had been known as a hard-line general in the Soviet Union when his book denouncing Stalin for his crimes was published leading to his dismissal from his job as head of the Institute of Military History at the Ministry of Defense by none other than Mikhail Gorbachev. Subsequently he wrote the biography on Lenin which dismissed its subject as a murderer and then, around the time I was writing my essay on Lenin, his biography on Trotsky was about to be published in English which was widely expected to consign him to the same league of blood-stained butchers as the other two.
But as that was the end of my formal education in history I never got round to reading Volkogonov’s biography on Trotsky and my interest in him diminished until Robert Service brought out his new tome on the man who many people had pinned their hopes on as the real hope for the Russian Revolution - Animal Farm’s Snowball and 1984’s Goldstein who could have made it all better if that dastardly Stalin (or Napoleon or Big Brother) hadn’t destroyed him. Robert Service mentions in his introduction, two biographers of Trotsky who were particular admirers of Trotsky, Pierre Broue and Isaac Deutscher, the latter of whom wrote a famous Trotsky trilogy of “literary dash” that Service himself doesn’t claim to rival.
A review of Service’s new biography has appeared in the London Review of Books by a writer called Sheila Kirkpatrick in which she says Service has written a book that is “less fun to read than Deutscher or Volkogonov” and which she takes issue with because it highlights his love affairs such as with Frida Kahlo.
Frida Kahlo: Don't Mention the affairs!
I would suggest the first “up” is superfluous.
On pages 24-25: “but if Leiba’s difficulties with the vocabulary a couple of year later are anything to go by…”
“Year” is a countable noun and the plural is “years”! Sheesh!
On page 31, a childhood friend of Trotsky is named “Karlson” and then later on in the same paragraph as “Carlson”!
On page 48, a hectograph is described in parentheses as “[a small, rudimentary, gelatin duplicator)”
Spot the typo!
Here’s one that I don’t know if it is a mistake or not. In the chapter, “Love and Prison” Trotsky is described as incarcerated, along with his first wife, from 1898 onwards. But on pages 55-56 it reads, “It was in fact another year before they learned of their fate. In November 1898 the Nikolaev group heard that they were to serve a term of administrative exile.”
Shouldn’t that be “November 1899”?
Still, I do like the picture of Trotsky's assassin, Ramon Mercader, which appears in the book. He seems to be diguised as a hitman or secret agent.