An earthquake of a book about an earthquake event

Ten Days that Shook the WorldTen Days that Shook the World by John Reed
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This vivid first-hand reportage of the first ten days of Bolshevik power, from the seizure of the Winter Palace in Petrograd, 25 October 1917 (by the Julian or Old Style calendar, which corresponds to 7 November 1917 in the Gregorian or New Style calendar) to its consolidation in Moscow and gathering force in the rest of Russia, is strongly partisan, pro-Lenin and the Bolsheviks, but also scrupulously documented and honestly, frankly observed. Reed describes the appearance, voices and quirks of the protagonists, including anonymous soldiers, sailors, Red Guards and workers, making apparent the chaotic, improvised character of most of the events, and the quick-witted decision-making and sometimes pitiless actions, especially those of the austere and uncompromising Lenin and the far more colorful, dramatic, and sarcastic Trotsky that repeatedly saved the Bolshevik insurrection from impending disaster. Reed does not hesitate to describe flaws, doubts and internal disputes, showing how precarious was their adventure and how close to failure. He collected leaflets, newspapers and bulletins from all parties, many of them reproduced in the book, and learned enough Russian not only to translate these but also to conduct interviews of Kerensky, Trotsky, Lenin and many other actors in this drama. Events in Petrograd and, later, Moscow are acutely observed, making this an indispensable account of the violent, chaotic, suspenseful first days of the seizure of power by masses of workers and soldiers with no administrative experience and, for all but the few intellectual leaders of the various parties, scant literacy or general knowledge of culture or history.
Those first ten days did indeed shake the world: they determined Russia's withdrawal from the Great European War, shaking diplomacy and strategy for all the other powers involved (Germany, Austria, England, France, the US especially), and created the beginnings of the hastily assembled Red Army which would eventually to triumph over the many fronts in the civil war in the world's largest nation, which was also one of Europe's least developed. The book itself continues to shake readers loose from more simplistic interpretations of this terribly complex series of events that redrew the lines of world power for the rest of the 20th century.
This 1922 edition is the first to appear with a foreword by Vladimir Lenin, encouraging all to read it. Reed was surprised and delighted to learn that Lenin had actually read it, and apparently was not offended by the very frank reporting that did not glorify the Bolsheviks, even though it supported them. Recognized even by the fiercest opponents of Communism as splendid and indispensable reportage, reader demand has not diminished and the book continues to be reissued by any number of publishers and in virtually all languages. Even if you have no particular interest in the Russian revolution (unlikely, but who knows?), you will find this book a model of vivid, scrupulous journalism — as Reed had already demonstrated in an earlier book, "Insurgent Mexico" but was unable to repeat after "10 Days," because he died in 1920 of typhus, in Russia. He was 33. He is buried alongside other revolutionary heroes just outside Lenin's mausoleum in Red Square.

View all my reviews