The last decade has seen a rise in the popularity of [Topic] for Dummies books, vernacular Shakespeare, and a hundred variants of Cliff’s Notes, the little summaries and study guides that have saved the grades of countless numbers of high school and college students.
Introducing Lenin & the Russian Revolution—one entry in an Introducing… series dealing with topics political, social, and even literary—is one such book, attempting to distill a semester’s worth of study of Communist Russia into a scant 170 pages. Amazingly, they don’t even attempt a series of distinct bullet points—rather, each page is made up of cartoon illustrations, such as Lenin, with a speech bubble shouting one of the Bolshevik’s slogans. On the top of the page will doubtlessly be a topic in large balloon letters. At the bottom of the page will be a paragraph (maybe) of text describing anything that wasn’t conveyed in a speech bubble.
Maybe if you haven’t bothered to read any of your material, and it’s suddenly Sunday night and your test is tomorrow, you’ll like this book, which at least does a decent enough job of listing the major players, dates, and idea. Maybe if you’re curious about the origins of Communism but you’re petulantly lazy and don’t like large blocks of text, you’ll enjoy this book. Personally, I find it laborious and stupid to get little bites of information from scratchily-drawn depictions of scruffy Russians. Plus, you get absolutely no subtext at all, little more than some bullet points to memorize—there’s no context, subtext, or any other kind of text that will let you understand the subject rather than just know about it.
The Russian Revolution and the origins of Communism are of course well-researched, with an enormous canon of literature. If you’re daring, go ahead and read Marx’s Das Kapital and The Communist Manifesto. Read Lenin’s The Development of Capitalism in Russia. For a historian’s perspective, read the exemplary A People’s Tragedy by Orlando Figes, perhaps the book on the subject, though it runs near 1’000 pages. A much shorter—but still excellent—choice is Sheila Fitzpatrick’s The Russian Revolution.
If you’re at all serious about learning this material, and not just the salient points so you can pass your history exam, don’t even bother with this book. It’s a joke.