In This Review

Leon Trotsky: A Revolutionary's Life (Jewish Lives)
Leon Trotsky: A Revolutionary's Life (Jewish Lives)
By Joshua Rubenstein
Yale University Press, 2011, 240 pp

Not much new can be added to the story of a man who has been wondered over, lionized, and demonized many times before. The merit of this trim book is that it pulls together all the essentials of the life of Leon Trotsky and the revolution he so significantly shaped into a seamless, intelligent, and wonderfully accessible synopsis. This book is part of Yale’s series of biographies about noteworthy Jews, and its particular angle is to understand Trotsky as a Jew. On the one hand, he scorned the faith of his fathers: “I’m not a Jew; I’m a Marxist internationalist.” On the other hand, he showed a special sensitivity to Jewish suffering in a dying Russian empire and gravitated toward Jewish communities abroad. Such dichotomies defined the man. He was brilliant, compelling, even admirable as a young revolutionary, but brutal, arrogant, and obtuse once in power -- a contrast Rubenstein draws well. In many ways, his life was a metaphor for the Soviet revolution. “The tragedy at the heart of Leon Trotsky’s life,” Rubenstein writes, was that “it had begun with contagious idealism and ended entangled in a murderous dream.”