Pulitzer Prize Awardees for General Nonfiction

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Gulag: A History (2003)

Written by Anne Applebaum

The Gulag—the vast array of Soviet concentration camps—was a system of repression and punishment whose rationalized evil and institutionalized inhumanity were rivaled only by the Holocaust.

The Gulag entered the world’s historical consciousness in 1972, with the publication of Alexander Solzhenitsyn’s epic oral history of the Soviet camps, The Gulag Archipelago. Since the collapse of the Soviet Union, dozens of memoirs and new studies covering aspects of that system have been published in Russia and the West. Using these new resources as well as her own original historical research, Anne Applebaum has now undertaken, for the first time, a fully documented history of the Soviet camp system, from its origins in the Russian Revolution to its collapse in the era of glasnost. It is an epic feat of investigation and moral reckoning that places the Gulag where it belongs: at the center of our understanding of the troubled history of the twentieth century.

Anne Applebaum first lays out the chronological history of the camps and the logic behind their creation, enlargement, and maintenance. The Gulag was first put in place in 1918 after the Russian Revolution. In 1929, Stalin personally decided to expand the camp system, both to use forced labor to accelerate Soviet industrialization and to exploit the natural resources of the country’s barely habitable far northern regions. By the end of the 1930s, labor camps could be found in all twelve of the Soviet Union’s time zones. The system continued to expand throughout the war years, reaching its height only in the early 1950s. From 1929 until the death of Stalin in 1953, some 18 million people passed through this massive system. Of these 18 million, it is estimated that 4.5 million never returned.

But the Gulag was not just an economic institution. It also became, over time, a country within a country, almost a separate civilization, with its own laws, customs, literature, folklore, slang, and morality. Topic by topic, Anne Applebaum also examines how life was lived within this shadow country: how prisoners worked, how they ate, where they lived, how they died, how they survived. She examines their guards and their jailers, the horrors of transportation in empty cattle cars, the strange nature of Soviet arrests and trials, the impact of World War II, the relations between different national and religious groups, and the escapes, as well as the extraordinary rebellions that took place in the 1950s. She concludes by examining the disturbing question why the Gulag has remained relatively obscure, in the historical memory of both the former Soviet Union and the West.

Gulag: A History will immediately be recognized as a landmark work of historical scholarship and an indelible contribution to the complex, ongoing, necessary quest for truth. This book won the 2004 Pulitzer Prize for Nonfiction, as well as Britain’s Duff-Cooper Prize. It was a finalist for the National Book Award, the National Book Critics Circle Award, the LA Times Book Award and the Samuel Johnson Prize. (Copyright © Doubleday/Random House. All rights reserved.)

Source:  Penguin Random House Company.

Anne Applebaum is a columnist for the Washington Post and Slate. She is also the Director of Political Studies at the Legatum Institute in London, where she runs projects on political and economic transition.

Formerly a member of the Washington Post editorial board, she has also worked as the Foreign and Deputy Editor of the Spectator magazine in London, as the Political Editor of the Evening Standard, and as a columnist at several British newspapers, including the Daily and Sunday Telegraphs.  From 1988-1991 she covered the collapse of communism as the Warsaw correspondent of the Economist magazine.

Her first book, Between East and West: Across the Borderlands of Europe, described a journey through Lithuania, Ukraine and Belarus, then on the verge of independence.

Her book, Gulag: A History (2003) and won the Pulitzer Prize for non-fiction in 2004. The book narrates the history of the Soviet concentration camps system and describes daily life in the camps, making extensive use of recently opened Russian archives, as well as memoirs and interviews. Gulag: A History  has appeared in more than two dozen translations, including all major European languages.

Over the years, her writing has also appeared in The New York Review of Books, The Wall Street Journal, the Financial Times, the International Herald Tribune, Foreign Affairs, The New Criterion, The Weekly Standard, the New Republic, The National Review, The New Statesman, The Independent, The Guardian, Prospect, Commentaire, Die Welt, Cicero, Gazeta Wyborcza, Dziennik, and The Times Literary Supplement, as well as in several anthologies. The Washington Post/Slate column appears in newspapers across the US and around the world. She has also lectured at Yale and Columbia Universities; the University of Heidelberg; the University of Zurich; the Humboldt University in Berlin; and Lafayette, Davidson, and Williams Colleges, among many others.

Anne Applebaum was born in Washington, DC in 1964. After graduating from Yale University, she was a Marshall Scholar at the London School of Economics and St. Antony’s College, Oxford. Her husband, Radoslaw Sikorski, is a Polish politician and writer. They have two children, Alexander and Tadeusz.

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