Robert Service (historian)

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Robert Service
Service, Robert.IMG 1910.JPG
Service speaking at the Tallinn Literature Festival HeadRead in May 2011
Born Robert John Service
(1947-10-29) 29 October 1947 (age 67)
United Kingdom
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[edit]

Between 1986 and 1995, Service published a three-volume biography of Vladimir Lenin. He wrote several works of general history on 20th-century Russia, including A History of Twentieth-Century Russia. His trilogy of Bolsheviks and Mensheviks leaders biographies include Lenin (2000), Stalin (2004) and Trotsky (2009).

His biography of Trotsky was favourably reviewed in the British and American press on its publication, but two years later was strongly criticised by Service's Hoover Institution colleague Bertrand Patenaude in a review for the American Historical Review.[1] Patenaude, reviewing Service's book alongside a rebuttal by the Trotskyite 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".[2] 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, 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 was harshly criticised by the German historian of communism, and one-time Marxist, Hermann Weber, 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.[3][4] Suhrkamp announced in February 2012 that it would publish a German translation of Robert Service's Trotsky in July 2012.



  1. ^ McLemee, Scott. "The Re-Assassination of Leon Trotsky". Inside Higher Ed. 8 July 2011
  2. ^ 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. 
  3. ^ “Robert Service has written a diatribe, not a scientific polemic!” The World Socialist Web Site. Retrieved 28 November 2011
  4. ^
  5. ^ "Review of Robert Service's Stalin: A Biography–Part One". Retrieved 31 August 2011. 
  6. ^ "John Gray on Trotsky by Robert Service". Literary Review. Retrieved 31 August 2011. 
  7. ^ "Review: A ‘dis-Service’ to Leon Trotsky". Retrieved 31 August 2011. 
  8. ^ A book that fails to meet the basic standards of historical scholarship The American Historical Review discredits Robert Service’s biography of Leon Trotsky
  9. ^ "The Penguin History of Modern Russia – Robert Service – Penguin Books". 24 September 2009. Retrieved 31 August 2011. 
  10. ^

External links[edit]