In This Review

Lenin on the Train
Lenin on the Train
By Catherine Merridale
Metropolitan Books, 2017, 368 pp

In most histories of the Russian Revolution, Vladimir Lenin’s return from exile in western Europe to Russia in the crucial month of April 1917—ensconced by the German high command in a sealed train, “like a plague bacillus,” as Winston Churchill later put it—figures as a footnote. But Merridale uses it as a focal point, recounting in fascinating detail the eight-day journey from Switzerland, across Germany, through Sweden, and down through Finland to St. Petersburg, weaving in the tumultuous events unfolding simultaneously in Russia and in the revolutionary movement abroad. With verve, she assembles a vast panorama of players and brings to vivid life the drama and chaos of a world collapsing and a tragic future forming. The Lenin who rushes into this maelstrom comes off here as no less driven and brutal than in other biographies, yet he also appears to be more genuinely charismatic and, in some ways, more mundane. Merridale sees echoes in recent events of the ruinously myopic behavior of players and powers that stormy winter.