Former People by Douglas Smith
The Final Days of the Russian Aristocracy

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Mr. Smith has written an engaging and absorbing book.
-WSJ online


Epic in scope, precise in detail, and heart-breaking in its human drama, Former People is the first book to recount the history of the aristocracy caught up in the maelstrom of the Bolshevik Revolution and the creation of Stalin's Russia. Filled with chilling tales of looted palaces and burning estates, of desperate flights in the night from marauding peasants and Red Army soldiers, of imprisonment, exile, and execution, it is the story of how a centuries'-old elite, famous for its glittering wealth, its service to the Tsar and Empire, and its promotion of the arts and culture, was dispossessed and destroyed along with the rest of old Russia.

Yet Former People is also a story of survival and accommodation, of how many of the tsarist ruling class—so-called "former people" and "class enemies"—overcame the psychological wounds inflicted by the loss of their world and decades of repression as they struggled to find a place for themselves and their families in the new, hostile order of the Soviet Union. Chronicling the fate of two great aristocratic families—the Sheremetevs and the Golitsyns—it reveals how even in the darkest depths of the terror, daily life went on.

Told with sensitivity and nuance by acclaimed historian Douglas Smith, Former People is the dramatic portrait of two of Russia's most powerful aristocratic families, and a sweeping account of their homeland in violent transition.


About Douglas Smith

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Douglas Smith is an award-winning historian and translator and the author of three previous books on Russia. Before becoming a historian, he worked for the U. S. State Department in the Soviet Union and as a Russian affairs analyst for Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty in Munich. He lives in Seattle with his wife and two children.
Published October 2, 2012 by Farrar, Straus and Giroux. 496 pages
Genres: History, Travel. Non-fiction
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Critic reviews for Former People
All: 3 | Positive: 3 | Negative: 0

NY Times

Reviewed by Liesl Schillinger on Nov 02 2012

...with evocative photographs of counts and princesses in fur hats, ornamental swords and masquerade dress, and with richly detailed event and anecdote, bringing its social tableau into renewed clarity.

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Reviewed by Rodric Braithwaite on Nov 17 2012

It's hard to pity a privileged elite… until you read this fluent account of what befell the Russian aristocracy under the Bolsheviks.

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WSJ online

Reviewed by Jennifer Siegel on Oct 25 2012

Mr. Smith has written an engaging and absorbing book.

Read Full Review of Former People: The Final Days... | See more reviews from WSJ online

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