In This Review

Lenin: A Biography
Lenin: A Biography
By Robert Service
Harvard University Press, 2000, 561 pp.

Scholars will probably still be writing biographies of Lenin a hundred years from now, so is a new one necessary at this point? Yes, for two essential reasons, says Service. First, the chance to read the notes and memoirs of Lenin's family and friends in newly opened archives-versus the sanitized versions released by his Soviet hagiographers-allows an author to fashion a far more personal biography than before. Second, newly available official records suggest a leader more complex than the one-dimensional, largely pathological figure who emerges from the recent work of Russian scholars from whose eyes the scales have fallen. Service's Lenin is no soft-hearted, liberal romantic and certainly not the omniscient, heroic father figure of Soviet myth. He is hard, immensely calculating, fanatical, narrow-sighted, and cruel when it serves his purpose. But he is not cynical at the most fundamental level. On the contrary, argues Service, he remained possessed by an idea to the very end.