The New York Times Sunday Book Review
In the introduction to this important book, Anne Applebaum, a columnist for "The Washington Post," ponders why the Soviet and Nazi regimes are treated so differently in the popular imagination. Young people who would never purchase Nazi regalia think nothing of sporting T-shirts emblazoned with the Communist hammer and sickle. Yet, as Applebaum shows, the Soviet killing machine was certainly equal to its Nazi counterpart. Wisely, she avoids wandering into the muck of comparing the two totalitarian terror apparatus to decide which was worse, but she argues that ''at a very deep level, the two systems are related.''
Ever since Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn published his magisterial three-volume history of the Soviet concentration-camp network, ''The Gulag Archipelago,'' in the early 1970's, the grim details of life in what he called the Soviet sewage system have been well known. From arrest by the Soviet secret police through interrogation, to deportation and hard labor, the life-and-death cycle of the gulag is a familiar story. Other witnesses, like Varlam Shalamov and Evgeniya Ginzburg, have also brilliantly described prisoners' constant struggle against hunger, cold and disease. So a great deal of what Applebaum writes about in ''Gulag: A History'' has been told before.
Steven Merritt Miner, a professor of history at Ohio University, is the author of ''Stalin's Holy War.''
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