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Publisher's Summary

A visceral, 100-year history of the vast Russian penal colony.
It was known as 'the vast prison without a roof'. From the beginning of the 19th century until the Russian Revolution, the tsars exiled more than one million prisoners and their families beyond the Ural Mountains to Siberia. Daniel Beer illuminates both the brutal realities of this inhuman system and the tragic and inspiring fates of those who endured it. Here are the vividly told stories of petty criminals and mass murderers, bookish radicals and violent terrorists, fugitives and bounty hunters, and the innocent women and children who followed their husbands and fathers into exile.
Siberia was intended to serve not only as a dumping ground for criminals but also as a colony. Just as exile would purge Russia of its villains, so too would it purge villains of their vices. In theory Russia's most unruly criminals would be transformed into hardy frontiersmen and settlers. But in reality the system peopled Siberia with an army of destitute and desperate vagabonds who visited a plague of crime on the indigenous population. Even the aim of securing law and order in the rest of the empire met with disaster: Expecting Siberia also to provide the ultimate quarantine against rebellion, the tsars condemned generations of republicans, nationalists, and socialists to oblivion thousands of kilometers from Moscow. Over the 19th century, however, these political exiles transformed Siberia's mines, settlements, and penal forts into a virtual laboratory of revolution. Exile became the defining experience for the men and women who would one day rule the Soviet Union.
Unearthing a treasure trove of new archival evidence, this masterly and original work tells the epic story of Russia's struggle to govern its prison continent and Siberia's own decisive influence on the political forces of the modern world. In The House of the Dead, Daniel Beer brings to light a dark and gripping reality of mythic proportions.
©2017 Daniel Beer (P)2017 Random House Audio
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Critic Reviews

"An elucidating study of Russia's far-flung penal system...Beer ably shows how educated dissidents...transformed Siberia from a political wasteland into a crucible of the nascent Russian revolutionary movement. An eye-opening, haunting work that delineates how a vast imperial penal system crumbled from its rotten core." (Kirkus)
"Enlightening...meticulously researched...dense with memorable anecdotes and images...Beer details the systemic incompetence of the penal administration and the brutal physical punishments inflicted on exiles, as well as the violence that escaped convicts unleashed on the indigenous population...[and] shows that populating and cultivating the resource-rich expanse east of the Ural Mountains was a test that the czars failed spectacularly." (Publishers Weekly)
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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful
4 out of 5 stars
By Gwbach on 02-25-17

the wild east

it us a long book, but packed with stories and facts that I found hard to believe, but over and over I started to understand. I have no clue on what suffering is. Russian history , human suffering and how we love our freedom.

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1 of 1 people found this review helpful

5 out of 5 stars
By Rex Riethmeier on 11-07-17


good summarization for Siberia in the 19th century. Lot of important events /people. I liked the narrator nice balanced even pace without any unnecessary drama in his tone-age. A good book. Interesting.

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