This was so fascinating! If I had been asked, I would have said that the communists invented “exile to Siberia” with the Gulags, but the Tzars had been using the exile system to send criminals, political dissidents, or anyone they didn’t want around to mines and prisons in Siberia for over a century before the Russian revolution. And they were always absolutely terrible.
George Kennan was a 19th-century American journalist who toured Siberia and wrote and lectured about the miseries of exile. The American public, which had been quite pro-Russia, was horrified and Wallace argues that the seeds of US mistrust of Russia was born.
If you like history - I’d highly recommend this book: A story I knew nothing about, interesting writing, and (bonus!) it wasn't too long.
Thank you to and St Martin's Press and NetGalley for an advance copy of this e-book in exchange for honest review.
This was a really interesting book but I was a little disappointed in it as well.
There wasn't enough detail about the life of the exiles and I found the narrative to be repetitive in some areas, for example travel between locations and descriptions of the different prisons. I did put this book down several times to read something else and then returned later to continue reading.
Amazingly, at the time when this book depicts, the US and Russia had excellent diplomatic relations. that existed until George Kennan travels into Siberia and sees first hand the horrible treatment Russians were given by Russians. Most of these so called criminals were dissidents.
Kennan traveled by the only means available to him in those days, horse carriages, horseback or sleighs traveling through blizzards, and weather conditions that threatened his life daily. He found people working in mines, chained to wheelbarrows, women and children freezing to death, and torture and punishments that were harsh and cruel. During his eight thousand miles journey, he found people living or surviving in deplorable circumstances.
When he returned to the US, he describes his journey in a journal plus a lecture tour many years in duration. Many believe the cooling of the relationship between Russia and the US which continues to this day started with Kennan's exposure of the dire conditions existing in Siberia.
Thank you to Gregory J. Wallace, St Martin's Press, and NetGalley for a copy of this book which published in December of '23.
I didn't love this one but I also didn't hate this one. However I'm not sure how I feel about this one.
Excellent! This book is both a telling of the Siberian exile system and of George Kennan's journey through Siberia and his relations with Russia as an American. As an average reader and semi-Russophile, I've read an extensive amount of Russian classic literature as well as history and biographies. I've read the first 5 parts of The Gulag Archipelago. But the Siberia of this book was new to me! I had no idea it was so bad and so evil before the Gulags.
The narrative and writing were great. It's clear, concise, and is told in good order. I liked the details of Kennan's life and travels. There was a great balance of context and on-topic content.
I would recommend this for any reader who enjoys reading history, biographies, or about Russia or that time period specifically.
Thank you to St Martin's Press and Netgalley for an arc to read and voluntarily review. I'm coming to expect great nonfiction from SMP!
Over ten months Kennan traveled eight thousand miles, mostly in horse-drawn carriages, sleighs or on horseback. He endured suffocating sandstorms in the summer and blizzards in the winter. His interviews with convicts and political exiles revealed how Russia ran on the fuel of inflicted pain and fear. Prisoners in the mines were chained day and night to their wheelbarrows as punishment. Babies in exile parties froze to death in their mothers’ arms. Kennan came to call the exiles’ experience in Siberia a “perfect hell of misery.”
This book was so intense I couldn’t stop reading it. I enjoyed this book. The scene descriptions were so well laid out I could see where the author was describing, so much so that I felt I was right there with them. I liked the writing style and would read more books by this author. The flow of the book was very well laid out.
Nonfiction about an American journalist's fact-finding trip regarding Russia's system of exiling political prisoners to Siberia in the 1880s – or at least that's what the title suggests. The book itself ends up being more of a biography of the journalist, George Kennan; he doesn't even arrive in Russia until nearly halfway through the text. Which is theoretically fine, but I was here for deadly explorations of Arctic regions, and didn't care about his meaningful childhood nights spent in the woods or career as a telegraph engineer. So the first half was quite the trudge for me.
Once we finally get to Siberia, much of Wallance's text feels like a simple rewording of what Kennan himself wrote. I like reading popular historical nonfiction, and I've come across this problem frequently lately: when writing about a past journalist or diarist or other writer, the modern author just updates their language for the 21st century and ends their job there. No! Give me more! Give me other perspectives – what did Russians think about Kennan's trip? what conclusions have historians or other researchers come to about the exile system in the century-plus since Kennan's work? It just seems like Wallance didn't do any research outside of Kennan's own writings, and that's annoying. If that's all I wanted, I could have read Kennan myself.
It's a fascinating topic, but I feel like there's a broader, more in-depth coverage waiting to be written.
A fascinating look into George Kennan’s trek into Siberia to look into the country’s exile system. Before his experience at Tomsk, a prison in Siberia, Kennan was prepared to write in defense of the system, but his mind was quickly changed.
He first entered the country in 1865 to help lay telegraph lines and experience adventure. His time there led to a book and he wrote about the exile system and how he thought it was good in that families were kept together instead of separated.
His tune changed in 1885 when he returned and experienced Tomsk first hand. He found it to be cruel, unsanitary, dangerous and corrupt. He wrote another book detailing his experiences and how his mind had been changed by his first hand experience.
A great nonfiction read for those interested in journalism, the power of observation and adventure.
This started out slow and then got excellent. The descriptions were outstanding and almost frighteningly immersive, and the mental journey Kennan himself went on was really powerful to witness. I loved the conclusion, which showed a connection between the older Kennan and his relative who would later take up the baton of working with Russia.
For those who love a grand adventure - this is it! Get lost in the vast wildernesses of Russia. Go through the bustling cities. This book is full of the good, the bad, and the ugly. The tiered system of the monarchy and subjects, and more are discussed throughout this book, while George Kennan continues the journey of a lifetime through the frozen tundras.
I absolutely could not put this book down. One of the top books of the year already!
An absolutely fascinating read about a person who changed history and relationships between countries during a time and about a place in history about which I knew little. It is not something normally addressed by modern non-Russian authors because of a lack of access or interest. I did not realize the Union’s only ally during the civil war was Russia. Western nations were more tied to the confederacy. Out of this grew a warm adoring relationship between our countries. Until, that is, a reporter between jobs who had previously travelled across Siberia returned intending to write a puff piece about the gulags and found them to be far from what he imagined. This is a brilliant, in depth study of the historical record of this time and the permanent change in our national perception of Russia and its system of justice.
This is such a fascinating read about the exile system of Siberia. I had no idea how crazy it really was.
I had never heard of George Keenan and couldn't imagine why ANYONE would want to march into Siberia willingly, so I knew I needed to read this book, and what a read this was.
George Keenan and Mr. Frost [his illustrator and photographer] went into Siberia [a trip of 8,000 miles that took 10 months by train, horseback and carriage rides] with the idealist notion that the exile system [that even Russians didn't deem horrible because "families were allowed to go to with the "criminals"] was the perfect way to rehabilitate criminals and due to the excellent relationship at that time between Russia and the USA, was going to write articles about that very thing. Of course, in reading this, one would think that George Keenan was the bad guy here, but as one reviewer put it, one of George Keenan's greatest accomplishments was his ability to change his mind, and change his mind he did. His interviews with convicts and political exiles revealed how Russia ran on the fuel of inflicted pain and fear and the more he saw, the more horrified he became and when he came home, he proceeded to let the world know just how awful it all was [leading to the start of the great rift between the US and Russia]. The story of how he started and where he ended up is very enlightening, brutal at times to read, bleak, and amazing, often all at once and I found myself NOT wanting to put the book down because I was so wrapped up in all of it.
Well-written and researched, this is a book well worth the read - if you love an adventure story with a "hero" that goes from naive to eyes wide open, this is the book for you. I highly recommend this.
Thank you to NetGalley, Gregory Wallance, and St. Marten's Press for providing this ARC in exchange for an honest review.
This non-fiction account of George Keenan's journey into Siberia to see Russia's exile system, expecting to find a better way to treat prisoners and political dissidents. But the subtitle is a huge clue as to what it really was - Epic Journey, Brutal, Frozen and I'd add horrible treatment of human beings by other human beings.
Keenan had been to Russia before with the American Telegraph Company, who was laying a telegraph line from the US, through Canada, through Russia-Alaska under the Bering Sea and into Siberia Russia - lofty goals! This was his second trip into Siberia and it was truly a brutal trip to travel in sub zero temperatures in the winter, sandstorms in the summer, no roads or good places to stop for their travel on horseback or by sleighs, and at best finding villages of poor peasants. The worst was seeing first hand the horrific treatment of the prisoners. Even family members who traveled to find their loved ones often became prisoners. There were certainly no human rights organizations to fight for these people.
An interesting period of time I had not read about before and although it is brutal and a bit depressing, it is good to bring this story to light again today given the focus on Russia's invasion of Ukraine and their value and respect of human lives isn't much better today.
My thanks to Net Galley and St. Martin's Press for an advanced copy of this e-book.
A deeply fascinating look at the relationship between the US and Russia, as well as some horrid human rights abuses, all through the lens of one man who actively sought to document these occurrences even at the cost of his own personal safety. Thank you to NetGalley and the publisher for the free advance copy.
Thanks to St Martin's Press and Netgalley for this advanced copy!
Somehow I've gotten on a list for ARCs about Russia, and I'm not sure how that happened, but I've really been enjoying the books I've read, including Into Siberia. A fascinating story of an American in Siberia, it was an interesting look into how views on Russia formed in the US in the 1880s based on one man's accounts of a tour of Siberia. He went, he saw, he reported back on the horrors of exile and stress and torture of living that far away from everything else. I appreciated how the author put Kennan's travels and speaking tours into a larger US/Russia context while not bogging the book down with unnecessary information. I also appreciated the inclusion of his wife in the narrative, given her contributions., as well as his connection to George Frost Kennan, the future Cold War diplomat.
If you have any interest in Siberia, russian exile, or US/Russia relations, this is a great book to pick up.
George Kennan got a rude awakening when he volunteered to spend months in Siberia thinking the Russian prisons could not be that bad! The horrors of his journey were unbelievable! It was not pretty by any means. Amazingly he survived to tell all. A very interesting read!
Into Siberia is a biography, a history, a lesson in geography and a story of human rights abuses that changed the American opinion of Russia. George Kenner always wanted to explore. He also had a fascination with the telegraph. Too young to serve during the Civil War, he became a telegraph operator. When a joint Russian and American project was proposed to run a telegraph line through Alaska and Siberia, Kenner traveled to Siberia to explore a route for the line, encountering hostile weather conditions and the indigenous people of the area. He developed a love of the region and the people that never left him.
Russia supported the Union in the war and became a friend to America. When rumors reached America of the abuses in the Tsar’s penal system Kenner was sent to investigate. By that time he had become a journalist and his familiarity with the area was an asset. Accompanied by George Frost, an artist, he set out to discover the truth, interviewing prisoners and their families, witnessing the abuses and the conditions that the prisoners were subjected to. The revelations were disturbing and left Frost to suffer a breakdown. Kenner’s initial support of the Tsar’s penal system changed drastically by what he saw. Writing a series of articles that were published as Siberia and the Exile System, it changed the way America viewed Russia. From the son of an American pioneer to an explorer and journalist, Gregory Wallance tells a story that is fascinating, yet sometimes disturbing. It is a well told tale and an important part of history. I would like to thank NetGalley and St. Martin’s Press for providing this book for my review.
Russia always seems to have vicious, cruel, authoritarian governments. George Kennan documented the horrifying repressions of the tsarist regime of Alexander III, father of the ill-fated Nicholas II. The adventurous man whose trip through Siberia Author Wallance is epitomizing first went to Siberia, governed by our then-close ally Russia, to lay a telegraph line across the country beginning in 1864 and eventually have it reach Western Europe. There was an Atlantic cable to England, but the Atlantic has these terrible, damaging things called "hurricanes" every so often, and then there's that big line of volcanoes up the middle of it that periodically erupts here and there...think Iceland's Eyjafjallajökull, 2010...so it has always made sense to have a backup.
Kennan spent a couple years doing the work, and was in love with Siberia by the end of it. The US and Russia, after a long period of close ties that peaked after we bought Alaska from them in 1867, began getting terrible reports about the political prisoners being abused in Siberian prisons. Kennan, by now a professional journalist, was widely thought to be the best possible person to investigate the situation on behalf of the US. He was vocal in his love for Siberia. He said publicly that he felt the complaints of terrible conditions were unlikely to be true...prisoners' families could join them there, after all!
Kennan and artist George Albert Frost traveled through the tsarist penal system, documenting conditions as they found them. Kennan wrote an eleven hundred-page exposé of the horrors they witnessed; Frost's drawings and photographs were included. Frost himself suffered a breakdown—what we would call today PTSD—and really was never quite the same again.
Kennan never lost his love for Siberia and its people but he became an implacable detractor of the Imperial Russian government. He had the evidence to back his outrage and disgust up. He devoted his next decade to a lecture tour enlightening audiences to the facts of what was euphemistically called "the Exile System" of political repression. When, decades later, the October Revolution brought the Bolsheviks to power, Kennan famously said that "the Russian leopard has not changed his spots."
I read this fascinating history of events I'd had only a passing awareness of in the context of Kennan's report to Woodrow Wilson about the Bolsheviks and his subsequent criticism of the Wilson Administration's pusillanimous response to them. His 1885 trip was touched on, but I now know why he was tasked by Wilson with preparing the ignored report. This book, not at all a long read, brings the full awfulness of Kennan and Frost's experiences to life. It is nothing short of gut-wrenching at times. It is extremely carefully footnoted and supplied with an admirable bibliography. I believe Author Wallance has done everything except invent time travel to bring us the best report of the facts possible. His contextualization was emotionally honest, but not of the sort that leads me to mutter, "don't try so hard."
I recommend it highly...but with the warning that delicate fleurs who don't enjoy details of physical cruelty should pass right by. I did, to be honest, feel as though these facts were rather more abundant than was strictly necessary. I had a half-star knocked off for feeling like I was being knocked in the teeth. As Frost's art exists, I wanted to see it, or some of the photos, just to see the realities behind the descriptions of the place itself, though not the abuses!
Not always an easy read, but a wonderfully immersive and interesting historical light on a country whose past binds it to the US.