I’m writing this review because although it’s too late to get my money back, but it’s not too late to save yours.
I bought this book on the recommendation on an (almost former) friend. (Okay, I think our friendship will survive, but I’m going to give the guy a good talking to.)
Naively, I kept going even after reading the Preface, which was negative about both Wilson and Lenin who had a “dogmatic belief in their own mission,” further saying “Lenin’s dream (in contrast to Wilson’s) was of one class of human beings obliterating other classes.”
Not being much of a student of history, I thought I might learn facts that I hadn’t known before. And, to be fair, I did. Herman’s accounting of the major events of WWI sound right, including the importance of the Zimmerman Telegram, which was a major contributor to pushing the US into the war.
So, I shouldered on, even past “In Lenin’s mind, Russia was what we today would call a failing state, and like other radical fanatics (including Mao Zedong, Fidel Castro, and nearly a century later, Osama bin Laden), he sensed that a failing state offered a huge opportunity for even a tiny revolutionary minority…”
Whew! I should definitely have stopped here. First, let’s consider Mao Zedong. In the first place, Mao was hardly someone riding in at the last moment. He had been a major figure in China from 1920 until his army defeated Chiang Kai-shek and the Kuomintang in 1949. Previously, Mao and Chiang had been allies in fighting the Japanese colonialists. Before and after this was simply civil war. And Castro? He and his army overthrew a brutal dictator, Batista, whose government wasn’t a “failed state” in US eyes. And bin Laden, what state did he take over?
But I kept reading, enduring Herman’s steady, brutal criticism of Lenin. I finally had to stop when I read “The alternative was catastrophe, although no one quite grasped it…except Lenin, who could sense weakness and disaster as a barracuda senses blood in the water.” (page 201) Or should I have been impressed that Herman could descend to understanding Lenin’s cold-blooded barracuda mind?
Having stopped, I did what I should have done originally – look at some of Herman’s sources. He heavily cites two: The Russian Revolution, by Richard Pipes and Lenin: A Biography, by Robert Service. Here’s part of what Wikipedia has to say about Pipes: “The writings of Richard Pipes have provoked criticism in the scholarly community… critics have written that Pipes wrote at length about what Pipes described as Lenin's ‘unspoken’ assumptions and conclusions, while neglecting what Lenin actually said.” This corresponds well to Herman’s channeling how Lenin “could sense weakness.”
BTW – Mr. Pipes was head of Plan B, a group of right-wingers who saw the Soviet Union as a big threat, in contrast to the CIA who said the Soviet Union was weak. This led to the giant US military buildup that we are still paying for today. From Wikipedia: “The international relations journalist Fred Kaplan writes that Team B ‘turns out to have been wrong on nearly every point’.”
Robert Service, a senior fellow at the right-wing Hoover Institute, is hardly likely to be an unbiased biographer of Lenin.
Arthur Herman himself is a member of the Hudson Institute, “a politically conservative…think tank.” He wrote another book Joseph McCarthy: Reexamining the Life and Legacy of America's Most Hated Senator, a sympathetic portrait where he argues “"McCarthy was making a good point badly." I know a number of decent Americans who lost their livelihoods thanks to this guy.
If you like right-wing propaganda, this is a book for you. Otherwise, save your money.