The House of the Dead Siberian Exile Under the Tsars
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Shortlisted for the Wolfson History Prize 2017.
One and a half times the size of Western Europe Siberia has acted as an open prison for centuries. Through physical work the mad, the bad and the dangerous were thought to find the true path to citizenship. There are accounts of such breathtaking savagery it is hard to remember this is truth not fiction. Siberian exile is now remembered as part and parcel of Stalin’s regime, House of the Dead reminds us that the roots of this cruelty go deep into the Tsarist past. ~ Sue Baker
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Wolfson History Prize Judges: “Elegantly written and finely researched, Beer deploys an impressive array of archival sources in this highly original work.”
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The House of the Dead Siberian Exile Under the Tsars by Daniel Beer
THE TIMES and TLS BOOKS OF THE YEAR 2016. It was known as 'the vast prison without a roof'. From the beginning of the nineteenth century to the Russian Revolution, the tsarist regime exiled more than one million prisoners and their families beyond the Ural Mountains to Siberia. Daniel Beer's new book, The House of the Dead, brings to life both the brutal realities of an inhuman system and the tragic and inspiring fates of those who endured it. This is the vividly told history of common criminals and political radicals, the victims of serfdom and village politics, the wives and children who followed husbands and fathers, and of fugitives and bounty-hunters. Siberia served two masters: colonisation and punishment. In theory, exiles would discover the virtues of self-reliance, abstinence and hard work and, in so doing, they would develop Siberia's natural riches and bind it more firmly to Russia. In reality, the autocracy banished an army not of hardy colonists but of half-starving, desperate vagabonds. The tsars also looked on Siberia as creating the ultimate political quarantine from the contagions of revolution. Generations of rebels - republicans, nationalists and socialists - were condemned to oblivion thousands of kilometres from European Russia. Over the nineteenth century, however, these political exiles transformed Siberia's mines, prisons and remote settlements into an enormous laboratory of revolution. This masterly work of original research taps a mass of almost unknown primary evidence held in Russian and Siberian archives to tell the epic story both of Russia's struggle to govern its monstrous penal colony and Siberia's ultimate, decisive impact on the political forces of the modern world.
Excellent... an expansive work that neatly manages to combine a broad history of the Romanovs Gulag with heart-rending tales of the plights of individual prisoners -- Douglas Smith Literary Review
'A splendid example of academic scholarship for a public audience. Yet even though he is an impressively calm and sober narrator, the injustices and atrocities pile up on every page.' -- Dominic Sandbrook, The Sunday Times
'An absolutely fascinating book, rich in fact and anecdote.' -- David Aaronovitch, The Times
'In many ways Siberia truly was a House of the Dead - as Daniel Beer, who borrows the title of Fyodor Dostoevsky's prison novel for his masterful new study, recounts in horrific and gripping detail. Because of its far greater scale and brutality, the Soviet gulag has eclipsed the memory of the Tsarist penal system in the popular imagination. Beer redresses that imbalance by bringing the voices of the million-plus victims of katorga vividly to life. The House of the Dead tells the story of how 'the Tsarist regime collided violently with the political forces of the modern world' - and how modern Russia was born among the squalor, the cockroaches and the casual violence of the world's largest open-air prison' -- Owen Matthews, Spectator
'Although Beer's subject is grim, his writing is not. Grace notes of metaphor elevate The House of the Dead above standard histories; it is also ground-breaking and moving' -- Oliver Bullough, The Telegraph
'If the scale of the Siberian penal exile inspires a sense of dreadful awe, then the detail is tragic, heart-breaking and marked with individual horror. The vast, Steppe-like sweep of Daniel Beer's work is impressive, sustaining a narrative that ranges from 1801 to 1917, and involves more than one million exiled souls into an area that is one and a half times bigger than the continent of Europe ... An extraordinary, powerful and important story' -- Hugh MacDonald, Herald
About the Author
Publication date7th July 2016
More books by Daniel Beer
Author 'Like for Like'
PublisherAllen Lane an imprint of Penguin Books Ltd
Modern history to 20th century: c 1700 to c 1900
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