Saturday, June 04, 2011

What is Steven A. Barnes reading?

The current featured contributor at Writers Read: Steven A. Barnes, author of Death and Redemption: The Gulag and the Shaping of Soviet Society.

His entry begins:
I’m always reading a number of different books—books for the history courses I teach at George Mason University, books for my own research on the history of the Soviet Union, books read aloud with my elementary school daughters and popular novels as guilty pleasures before falling asleep each night. I have just finished reading Ian Buruma’s Murder in Amsterdam: Murder in Europe, Islam, and the Limits of Tolerance, the final assigned reading for my course on the history of Europe since 1945. The book explores the circumstances surrounding the murder of Theo van Gogh, the Dutch film director, columnist, talk show host, author, and actor. Van Gogh loved to create controversy and fatally did so when he made the film Submission with Ayaan Hirsi Ali. The short film raised the relationship between Islam and violence against women and did so by provocatively displaying verses from the Koran on naked, battered, female bodies. The film raised the ire of many Muslims in the Netherlands and one, Mohammed Bouyeri, a Dutch citizen of Moroccan dissent, shot and killed van Gogh on an Amsterdam street in November 2004. Bouyeri then used a knife to attach a letter to the chest of the dead van Gogh.

The book is fascinating and important for my students, as it brings up issues of racism, Islamophobia, radical Islam, immigration, and anti-immigrant sentiment in contemporary Europe. In particular, I urged my students to...[read on]
Among the early praise for Death and Redemption:
"The Gulag has been deployed as the central metaphor of the Soviet experiment. In many ways, it was the brutal double of the Stalinist system as a whole, as it combined violence and social transformation simultaneously. In this compelling and illuminating book, Barnes examines the vast prison and camp system literally from top to bottom. He brings to life a world of horror and despair perversely aimed at founding a transcendent society."
--Ronald Grigor Suny, University of Michigan

"Death and Redemption is a work of major scholarly significance. Barnes demonstrates a sophisticated understanding of the workings of ideology in Soviet penal practice as well as a mastery of the sources. This wide-ranging study brings to light for the first time in English the vast variety of penal institutions that fell under the jurisdiction of the Gulag, and grounds the Gulag within the broader history of the Soviet Union."
--Lynne Viola, author of The Unknown Gulag

"Death and Redemption provides an extraordinarily rich account of the Gulag that goes far beyond traditional views of life in the camps to show how it mirrored and recreated the hierarchies and tensions of broader Soviet society. When all is said and done, this is a brilliant book. Readers, both general and scholarly, will find material for thought here, supported by careful documentation and excellent, absolutely first-rate analysis."
--Elizabeth A. Wood, Massachusetts Institute of Technology
Learn more about Death and Redemption at the Princeton University Press website.

Steven A. Barnes is associate professor of history and director of the Center for Russian and Eurasian Studies at George Mason University. He is part of the group behind the Russian History Blog.

The Page 99 Test: Death and Redemption.

Writers Read: Steven A. Barnes.

--Marshal Zeringue