“The line dividing good and evil cuts through the heart of every human being.”
The Gulag Archipelago is one of the most impactful books I’ve ever read. Books like this one serve to remind us all that it’s hard to overestimate the human capacity to do evil.
The book’s author, Aleksandr Solzhenitsn, was a decorated officer with the Soviet Union’s Red Army during World War II, whose crime was grumbling with fellow officers about Soviet dictator Joseph Stalin and the higher-ups within the Red Army.
Solzhenitsn found himself on trial in a kangaroo court when the war ended, tried and convicted under “Article 58” of the criminal code (which is well explained in the book as a flimsy snare meant to ensure mass convictions of “political prisoners” for counter-revolutionary behavior). He was convicted and spent years in a gulag where he experienced starvation, weeks of sleep deprivation, mass overcrowding, and Typhus, among other atrocities.
Solzhenitsn’s own experience led him to interview hundreds of sources, thoroughly research the Soviet legal and gulag prison system, as well as study the political history and system as a whole.
There are too many atrocities to do Solzhenitsyn’s research justice, but here are a few things that stand out:
1. He lists thirty-one methods of interrogatory torture methods (such as beatings, smashing genitals, and days/weeks of sleep deprivation).
2. Stalin starved to death millions of Ukrainian farmers.
3. The Soviet Union was openly hostile to academics and religious figures, and the Russian Orthodox Church came under fire as a “subversive organization.” Many religious leaders were tried and shot as “counter-revolutionaries.”
4. Estimates vary (I’ve seen estimates as low at twenty-million), but Solzhenitsn places his estimate at sixty-six million men and women who were murdered in the Soviet Union as a result of being starved to death or killed in the gulags.
5. Mass arrests; incredibly, Solzhenitsn writes that at one point, a quarter of the entire city of Leningrad was rounded up and arrested.
6. People were arrested on the basis of national origin, race, and even the perception of wealth.
7. False confessions via torture led to the imprisonment and deaths of tens of millions.
Like I said, that’s really just scratching the surface. If you’ve read the book, you know that my list is quite incomplete.
Often sarcastic (in a good way) in his delivery, Solzhenitsyn’s harsh criticisms of socialism feature prominently in the book. Actually he started out as a socialist, but he saw enough to become a convert. He also manages to sneak in some important philosophical thoughts if you pay attention, such as the quote that led the review.
The bottom line is that it’s an important book. Read it!
Thanks for reading! If you are so inclined, go pick up my book (available on Kindle or paperback) at Amazon. It’s called “Jamey Jones and the Sons of Noah.” It’s a fun science fiction book about a group of teenagers living on a planet called Kepler 438b. It’s seventy pages long, inexpensive, and it’s kinda good, even if I say so myself.