Robert Service (historian)
Service speaking at the Tallinn Literature Festival HeadRead in May 2011
|Born||Robert John Service
29 October 1947
|Main interests||Russian history (1917–53)|
|Major works||Biographies of Vladimir Lenin, Joseph Stalin, and Leon Trotsky|
Robert John Service (born 29 October 1947) is a British historian, academic, and author who has written extensively on the history of the Soviet Union, particularly the era from the October Revolution to Stalin's death. He is currently a professor of Russian history at the University of Oxford, a Fellow of St Antony's College, Oxford, and a senior fellow at Stanford University's Hoover Institution. As an author Service is known for his 2000, 2004, and 2009 biographies of Vladimir Lenin, Joseph Stalin, and Leon Trotsky, respectively.
Service spent his undergraduate years at King's College, Cambridge, where he studied Russian and classical Greek. He went to Essex and Leningrad universities for his postgraduate work, and taught at Keele and the School of Slavonic and East European Studies, which later joined University College London, before joining Oxford University in 1998, where he currently teaches.
Work and critical reception
Between 1986 and 1995, Service published a three-volume biography of Lenin. He has also written several works of general history on 20th-century Russia such as A History of Twentieth-Century Russia. Robert Service has written a trilogy of biographies: Lenin (2000), Stalin (2004) and Trotsky (2009).
His biography of Trotsky was positively reviewed in the British and American press on its publication, but two years later was strongly criticized by Service's Hoover Institution colleague Bertrand Patenaude in a review for the American Historical Review. Patenaude, reviewing Service's book alongside a rebuttal by the Trotskyist David North (In Defence of Leon Trotsky), charged Service with making dozens of factual errors, misrepresenting evidence, and "fail[ing] to examine in a serious way Trotsky's political ideas". Service responded that the book's factual errors were minor and that Patenaude's own book on Trotsky presented him as a "noble martyr". In July 2009, prior to the publication of his own book, Robert Service had written a review of Partenaude's publication Stalin's Nemesis: The Exile and Murder of Leon Trotsky which he applauded for being "vividly told" but also criticised for neglecting Trotsky's crimes while sharing power in the USSR.
The book has also been harshly criticized by the German historian of communism Hermann Weber, a former KPD member, who led a campaign to prevent Suhrkamp Verlag from publishing it in Germany. Fourteen historians and sociologists signed a letter to the publishing house. The letter cited 'a host of factual errors,' the 'repugnant connotations' of the passages in which Service deals with Trotsky’s Jewish origins, and Service’s recourse to 'formulas associated with Stalinist propaganda' for the purpose of discrediting Trotsky. Suhrkamp announced in February 2012 that it will publish a German translation of Robert Service's Trotsky in July 2012.
In 2010, books by Robert Service were criticized in several anonymous reviews posted by another British historian, Orlando Figes, on the UK site of the online bookseller Amazon. In response, Robert Service threatened to sue Figes for libel. Figes issued an apology.
- The Bolshevik Party in Revolution 1917-23: A Study in Organizational Change (1979)
- A History of Twentieth-Century Russia (1997)
- The Russian Revolution, 1900-27 (Studies in European History) (1999)
- A History of Modern Russia, from Nicholas II to Putin (1998, Second edition in 2003)
- Lenin: A Biography (2000)
- Russia: Experiment with a People (2002)
- Stalin: A Biography (2004), Oxford, 715 pages ill. ISBN O-330-41913-7(2004)
- Comrades: A World History of Communism (2007)
- Trotsky: A Biography (2009)
- The Penguin History of Modern Russia From Tsarism to the 21st Century (1997)
- Spies and Commissars: Bolshevik Russia and the West (2011)
- McLemee, Scott. "The Re-Assassination of Leon Trotsky". Inside Higher Ed. July 8, 2011
- Bertrand M. Patenaude (June 2011). "Robert Service. Trotsky: A Biography. David North. In Defense of Leon Trotsky". The American Historical Review (book review ) 116 (3): 900–902. doi:10.1086/ahr.116.3.900.
- “Robert Service has written a diatribe, not a scientific polemic!” The World Socialist Web Site. Retrieved 2011-11-28
- Amazon row don admits: 'It was me', The Daily Mail, 23 April 2010
- Post (2011-08-27). "The Sunday Times". The Sunday Times. Retrieved 2011-08-31.
- Historian Orlando Figes agrees to pay damages for fake reviews,The Guardian, Alexandra Topping. 16 July 2010
- Historian and Wife Will Pay Over Savage Online Reviews, New York Times, Dave Itzkoff, July 19, 2010
- It's a war of the historians (part two),London Evening Standard, Diary, 7 October 2010
- Award-winning historian Orlando Figes: I posted anonymous reviews on Amazon, The Telegraph, 24 Apr 2010
- "Historian pays damages for fake Amazon reviews - News, Books". The Independent. 2010-07-16. Retrieved 2011-08-31.
- "Review of Robert Service’s Stalin: A Biography–Part One". Wsws.org. Retrieved 2011-08-31.
- "John Gray on Trotsky by Robert Service". Literary Review. Retrieved 2011-08-31.
- "Review: A ‘dis-Service’ to Leon Trotsky". socialistworld.net. Retrieved 2011-08-31.
- A book that fails to meet the basic standards of historical scholarship The American Historical Review discredits Robert Service’s biography of Leon Trotsky
- "The Penguin History of Modern Russia - Robert Service - Penguin Books". Penguin.co.uk. 2009-09-24. Retrieved 2011-08-31.
- Robert Service's homepage
- C-SPAN Q&A interview with Service, July 18, 2010
- Hoover Institute
- Roberts, Russ (July 26, 2010). "Robert Service on Trotsky". EconTalk. Library of Economics and Liberty.