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The House of the Dead: Siberian Exile Under the Tsars
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Winner of the Cundill History Prize
The House of the Dead tells the incredible hundred-year-long story of "the vast prison without a roof" that was Russia's Siberian penal colony. From the beginning of the nineteenth century until the Russian Revolution, the tsars exiled more than a million prisoners and their families east. Here Daniel Beer illuminates both the brutal realities of this inhuman system and the tragic and inspiring fates of those who endured it. Siberia was intended to serve not only as a dumping ground for criminals and political dissidents, but also as new settlements. The system failed on both fronts: it peopled Siberia with an army of destitute and desperate vagabonds who visited a plague of crime on the indigenous population, and transformed the region into a virtual laboratory of revolution. A masterly and original work of nonfiction, The House of the Dead is the history of a failed social experiment and an examination of Siberia's decisive influence on the political forces of the modern world.
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Format:
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Street Date:
01/03/2017
Language:
English
ISBN:
9780307958914
ASIN:
B01E2GXKF4
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APA Citation (style guide)

Daniel Beer. (2017). The House of the Dead: Siberian Exile Under the Tsars. Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group.

Chicago / Turabian - Author Date Citation (style guide)

Daniel Beer. 2017. The House of the Dead: Siberian Exile Under the Tsars. Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group.

Chicago / Turabian - Humanities Citation (style guide)

Daniel Beer, The House of the Dead: Siberian Exile Under the Tsars. Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group, 2017.

MLA Citation (style guide)

Daniel Beer. The House of the Dead: Siberian Exile Under the Tsars. Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group, 2017. Web.

Note! Citation formats are based on standards as of July 2010. Citations contain only title, author, edition, publisher, and year published. Citations should be used as a guideline and should be double checked for accuracy.
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      • role: Author
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      • bioText: DANIEL BEER is senior lecturer in the Department of History at Royal Holloway, University of London. He has written widely on nineteenth-century Russia and is the author of Renovating Russia: The Human Sciences and the Fate of Liberal Modernity, 1880 to 1930.
      • name: Daniel Beer
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Vintage
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title
The House of the Dead
fullDescription
Winner of the Cundill History Prize
The House of the Dead tells the incredible hundred-year-long story of "the vast prison without a roof" that was Russia's Siberian penal colony. From the beginning of the nineteenth century until the Russian Revolution, the tsars exiled more than a million prisoners and their families east. Here Daniel Beer illuminates both the brutal realities of this inhuman system and the tragic and inspiring fates of those who endured it. Siberia was intended to serve not only as a dumping ground for criminals and political dissidents, but also as new settlements. The system failed on both fronts: it peopled Siberia with an army of destitute and desperate vagabonds who visited a plague of crime on the indigenous population, and transformed the region into a virtual laboratory of revolution. A masterly and original work of nonfiction, The House of the Dead is the history of a failed social experiment and an examination of Siberia's decisive influence on the political forces of the modern world.
reviews
      • premium: False
      • source: The Economist
      • content: "Masterly. . . . Many of [Russia's] modern pathologies can be traced back to this grand tsarist experiment--to its tensions, its traumas and its abject failures."
      • premium: False
      • source: The New York Times Book Review
      • content: "[Beer] has mined an impressive trove of resources. . . . From these rich lodes emerges a history with the sort of granular details . . . that make the terror of the 'very name "Siberia"' so vividly, so luridly clear."
      • premium: False
      • source: The Guardian
      • content: "Impeccably researched, beautifully written."
      • premium: False
      • source: The Wall Street Journal
      • content: "Beer's excellent book will for some time be the definitive work in English on this enormous topic."
      • premium: False
      • source: The Times (London)
      • content: "It is hard to imagine the hell of Siberia's penal colonies under the tsars. This history paints a vivid and grisly picture. . . . An absolutely fascinating book, rich in fact and anecdote."
      • premium: False
      • source: The Christian Science Monitor
      • content: "Enough to make one blush with shame for the human race. . . . Beer's writing is clear, his judgments careful and restrained."
      • premium: False
      • source: The Sunday Times (London)
      • content: "A superb history of the exile system. . . . Though [Beer] is an impressively calm and sober narrator, the injustices and atrocities pile up on every page."
      • premium: True
      • source: Publisher's Weekly
      • content:

        October 17, 2016
        In this meticulously researched and often enlightening account, Beer (Renovating Russia), senior lecturer in history at Royal Holloway, University of London, shows that populating and cultivating the resource-rich expanse east of the Ural Mountains was a test that the czars failed spectacularly. As early as the 17th century, Russian peasants, soldiers, and officials began to settle Siberia, soon joined by exiles “in ever greater numbers.” Throughout the 18th and 19th centuries, the state banished people deemed “harmful agents” to serve prison sentences, perform hard labor, or settle permanently in what became Russia’s “Wild East.” Thrown together in grueling convoys, deteriorating way stations, and hellish mines were minor offenders, hardened criminals, and generations of revolutionaries for whom Siberia was both a punishment and a chance to test and spread revolutionary ideas. Beer details the systemic incompetence of the penal administration and the brutal physical punishments inflicted on exiles, as well as the violence that escaped convicts unleashed on the indigenous population. Loosely organized and often repetitive, Beer’s history is nevertheless dense with memorable anecdotes and images, including a hillside of empty graves dug to serve a penal colony. As Beer demonstrates, the Russian empire’s grand ambitions for Siberia, like those graves, “sank into the earth without a trace.” Illus. Agent: Michael V. Carlisle, InkWell.

      • premium: True
      • source: Kirkus
      • content:

        Starred review from October 1, 2016
        An elucidating study of how Russias east was wonby hard labor.Since the 16th century, Siberia has served as Russias repository for undesirables, much as the New World and Australia served for Britain. In this engaging study of Russias far-flung penal system, British academic Beer (History/Royal Holloway, Univ. of London; Renovating Russia: The Human Sciences and the Fate of Liberal Modernity, 1880-1930, 2008) reveals how the vast area east of the Ural Mountains was gradually settled by fur trappers, soldiers, fugitive serfs, mercenaries, and exiles, pacifying nomadic tribes already sparsely inhabiting the taiga to the north and the steppe to the south. Imperial banishment to Siberia for criminality served both to purge European Russia of mutinous populations and to populate the vast eastern expanse and harvest raw materials at key labor sites like the mines of Nerchinsk. Exile was severe and final, especially in the early centuries, with the victim given a civil death by a public ceremonial breaking of the sword over his head, flogging, facial scarring, and shaving of one side of the skull; malefactors were fettered together and marched over thousands of miles on primitive roads and many miserable months to reach labor camps. Wives and children were encouraged to accompany the men, although little did the women know of the harsh and dangerous conditions that awaited them (return was barred to them as well). Beer concentrates on political exiles, specifically the Decembrists, who, inspired by ideals of national liberalism, attempted to overthrow Czar Nicholas I in 1825. Many of them were educated aristocrats who used exile for fomenting republicanism, becoming martyrs to the causes of freedom and reform. Beer ably shows how these educated dissidentsincluding Fyodor Dostoevsky, whose House of the Dead lends its title to this worktransformed Siberia from a political wasteland into a crucible of the nascent Russian revolutionary movement. An eye-opening, haunting work that delineates how a vast imperial penal system crumbled from its rotten core.

        COPYRIGHT(2016) Kirkus Reviews, ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.

      • premium: True
      • source: Library Journal
      • content:

        October 15, 2016

        Tsars of the 19th century, from Alexander I to Nicholas II, used Siberia as a penal colony, believing hard labor would transform convicts into motivated settlers who would pioneer the Westernization of the Russian East. Beer (history, Univ. of London; Renovating Russia: The Human Sciences and the Fate of Liberal Modernity, 1880-1930) relates in harrowing detail the misery of 19th-century exile to Siberia. The harsh climate, primitive living conditions, and physical punishments inflicted on convicts (living in fetters, flogging, knouting, gauntlets, and starvation) turned humans feral or broken. Rather than becoming productive workers when released from slave labor to live in the frontier, criminal exiles terrorized peasants and towns. Political exiles, like the Decembrists, returned to western Russia even more radicalized. By the end of the 1800s, Siberian exile was a rite of passage for the revolutionaries who overthrew Nicholas II. VERDICT Readers with an interest in Russian history and the prehistory of the Soviet gulag will appreciate Beer's effective use of 19th-century journalism, Russian novels, and official reports to evoke the hopelessness of Siberian exile and the utter failure of the region as a prison without walls. [See Prepub Alert, 7/25/16.]--Laurie Unger Skinner, Coll. of Lake Cty., Waukegan, IL

        Copyright 2016 Library Journal, LLC Used with permission.

      • premium: True
      • source: Booklist
      • content:

        December 15, 2016
        For nineteenth- and twentieth-century European liberals, the term, Siberian exile, conjured up the worst perceived aspects of Russian autocracy, including arbitrary imprisonment, torture, beatings, and horrible living conditions. It was, as Dostoevsky termed it, truly life in a house of the dead. But British historian Beer shows that the reality was more complex. Brutality certainly existed, with punishment inflicted with the dreaded knout (a knotted whip). Yet, unlike Stalin's gulag, both Western and Russian writers frequently observed the Siberian prisons and were often surprised by the familiarity between guards and prisoners. Some guards, properly bribed, could be induced to perform onerous tasks in place of some prisoners, such as working in mines. Prison populations could be an eclectic mixture, including outspoken liberals, Polish nationalists, and, eventually, violent Marxist rebels. Wives and other family members sometimes joined the convicted in voluntary exile, and the cleverest prisoners could sometimes maintain a relatively comfortable existence. This is a well-researched and interesting effort to examine a lifestyle' that now appears small-scale and almost benign compared to the approaching horrors of Stalinist repression.(Reprinted with permission of Booklist, copyright 2016, American Library Association.)

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shortDescription
A visceral, hundred-year history of the vast Russian penal colony.

It was known as 'the vast prison without a roof.' From the beginning of the nineteenth century until the Russian Revolution, the tsars exiled more than one million prisoners and their families beyond the Ural Mountains to Siberia. Daniel Beer illuminates both the brutal realities of this inhuman system and the tragic and inspiring fates of those who endured it. Here are the vividly told stories of petty criminals and mass murderers, bookish radicals and violent terrorists, fugitives and bounty hunters, and the innocent women and children who followed their husbands and fathers into exile.
Siberia was intended to serve not only as a dumping ground for criminals but also as a colony. Just as exile would purge Russia of its villains so too would it purge villains of their vices. In theory, Russia's most unruly criminals would be transformed into hardy frontiersmen and settlers. But in reality, the...
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