Author(s): Daniel Beer
SHORTLISTED FOR THE WOLFSON HISTORY PRIZE 2017 THE TIMES, BBC HISTORY and TLS BOOKS OF THE YEAR 2016 'Masterful, gripping ...filled with astonishing, vivid and heartbreaking stories of crime and punishment, of redemption, love and terrifying violence. It has an amazing cast of despots, murderers, whores and heroes. It's a wonderful read' Simon Sebag Montefiore 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. 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. The tsars 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. 'An absolutely fascinating book, rich in fact and anecdote.' - David Aaronovitch '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 'A superb, colourful history of Siberian exile under the tsars' - The Times
Shortlisted for Wolfson History Prize 2017.
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. -- 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 [This] masterly new history of the tsarist exile system... makes a compelling case for placing Siberia right at the centre of 19th-century Russian-and, indeed, European-history. But for students of Soviet and even post-Soviet Russia it holds lessons, too. Many of the country's modern pathologies can be traced back to this grand tsarist experiment-to its tensions, its traumas and its abject failures. Economist Daniel Beer's The House of the Dead is a detailed, rich and powerful account of the inhumane system of imprisonment and exile in Tsarist Siberia that shows how little changed between Tsarism and Stalinism. Both were built on the bones of ordinary Russians -- Neil Robinson Irish Examiner An eye-opening, haunting work that delineates how a vast imperial penal system crumbled from its rotten core Kirkus Reviews Impeccably researched, beautifully written -- Donald Rayfield Guardian Masterful, gripping and deeply researched. It's filled with astonishing, vivid and heartbreaking stories of crime and punishment, of redemption, love and terrifying violence. It has an amazing cast of despots, murderers, whores and heroes, and takes place in godforsaken mines, Arctic villages and beautiful taiga. It's a wonderful read. -- Simon Sebag Montefiore BBC History Magazine
Daniel Beer is Senior Lecturer in the Department of History at Royal Holloway, University of London. He is the author of Renovating Russia: The Human Sciences and the Fate of Liberal Modernity, 1880-1930, 2008.