It will never replace Solzhenitsyn’s masterpiece. Whenever Applebaum quotes Solzhenitsyn the contrast between a workman-like writer and a literary genius is evident. Just the same, someone interested in the Gulag should really go to the trouble of reading both.
Married to the former Polish Foreign Affairs Minister, American-born Applebaum betrays her loyalty to her adopted country when she writes: “the NKVD began to shoot inmates in the prisons of Lwów, the Polish-Ukrainian city [should be Lvov, Ukrainian SSR] near the German-Soviet front line”. on several occasions in Gulag. Later she is even worse when she writes: “departing NKVD troops and Red Army soldiers murdered nearly 10,000 prisoners in dozens of Polish and Baltic towns and villages, Wilno, (Vilnius), Drohobycz, [should be “towns and villages near the border, Vilnius, Drogobych”] Pinsk”. The Russian names Lvov and Drogobych have since been replaced by the Ukrainian names, Lviv and Drohobych, which arguably could have been used instead. The book could have and should have had an appendix with the different names of towns and cities whose names have changed. Vilnius is the capital of Latvia and Pinsk is now part of Belarus, so none of the places named are now Polish cities. If any of them had been Polish cities at the time of the German invasion then the NKVD would not have been active there, would they? So it is misleading to use Polish names like Lwów and Drogobych. If she believes that existing borders are unfair to Poland, she could make that argument elsewhere.
On p.44 Applebaum writes: “Economic experiments of various kinds _ the New Economic Policy, War Communism _ had been tried and abandoned”. Tthis inverts the order in which these policies were enacted; War Communism from 1918 to March 21, 1921, and the New Economic Policy from March 21, 1921 until 1928 (the first Five Year Plan was introduced on October 1, 1928); War Communism was not an experiment, but expressed the strong ideological views of the Bolsheviks.
As an economic statistician I found the driveby slanders of economics and statistics offensive: On p.277 Applebaum writes: “economic jargon enabled the camp leadership to justify anything, even death: all was for the greater good”. This is followed by a dialogue between Colonel Tarasyuk, a camp commander, and a camp doctor who argues in vain for giving prisoners an anti-pellagra ration that will keep them alive. Nothing in what Tarasyuk says contains a single economic term. He is simply a mass murderer.
On the next page Applebaum tells us: “Speaking in the purely neutral language of statistics, Comrade Avrutsky made [a proposal to starve Group B, which continues to grow, since Group A is sufficient to do the work].” It isn’t explained how having only one group alive made it easier to fulfill work targets. In any case, Avrutsky’s immoral statements are in no sense statistical.
On p.47 Applebaum writes: “The transformation [collectivization of agriculture] permanently weakened Soviet agriculture, and created the conditions for the terrible, devastating famines in Ukraine and southern Russia in 1932 and 1934 _ famines that killed between six and seven million people. Collectivization also destroyed _ forever _ rural Russia’s sense of continuity with the past.” H er source is Robert Conquest’s Harvest of Sorrow, published in 1986, and its estimates of the death toll of the famines is too high; John Paul Himka thought that 2.5 million to 3.5 million died in the Ukrainian famine, which claimed most of the deaths.