Cover Image: Into Siberia

Into Siberia

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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.

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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, 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.

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Gregory Wallace’s Into Siberia (12/5) ✨

⁉️: Do you enjoy the winter weather? Any activities that you do during these months?

I tend to prefer being cozy in my living room having hot cocoa/masala chai and reading at home, though I did enjoy tubing when I was in Canada. We also recently finished watching Julian Fellow’s rendition of the Titanic which also resulted in a crash near the chilling Atlantic Ocean.

Gregory Wallace’s Into Siberia is another story of how one man’s harrowing journey exposed the barbaric Siberian exile system that sent a millions Russians without a roof in the late 19th century. George Kennan went to Siberia in 1885 to investigate the exile system and traveled 8000 miles, mostly in horse-drawn carriages, sleighs and horseback in treacherous weather.

Kennan’s adventure in the brutal Siberian winter is captured in this immersive book, in which he exposed the conditions that the prisons had to deal with at the time, including convicts and political exiles who were chained day and night to their wheelbarrows as punishment and often froze to death. After returning to the United States, Kennan generated national outrage over the plight of the exiles by writing the renowned Siberia and the Exile System and going on a nine-year lecture tour, with consequences for the US-Russia relationship that are still felt today.

This story reminded me of the Donner party and how their journey was horrific as they migrated towards California. If you enjoy history, biographies, and adventure novels, then this one is for you.

Thank you @stmartinspress and @gregorywallance for the gifted copy!

#IntoSiberiaBook #SMPInfluencer #GregoryWallace #StMartinsPress #Nonfiction

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An Epic Adventure that Changed History

In the nineteenth century, relations between Russia and the US were good. In the 1860’s, George Keenan, a young telegraph operator was part of an expedition to Siberia by the Russian-American Telegraph Expedition, a project to build a connection between the Americas and Europe. The project never happened, but George Keenan began a life long love affair with Siberia.

At that time many people believed the Siberian exile system was superior to the American prison system. In 1885 Keenan returned to Siberia with the intention of documenting the system. He started believing that the Russian system was preferable because prisoners were able to take their wives and children. The reality was sickening. The women worked themselves to death, froze, and many of the children didn’t survive.

When Keenan returned from his trip, he made it his mission to expose the system. His descriptions of the hardships endured by the prisoners opened people’s eyes to the abuses and led to deteriorating relations with Russia that last to this day.

This is an excellent book part biography of Keenan, part Victorian travel story, and part a discussion of the abuses to the exile system. The book is well documented. Most of the book is easy to read and the travel descriptions are enthralling. Occasionally, the pace slows, but the content is so interesting, I didn’t mind the slow places. I highly recommend this book for an early look at Russian American relations.

Thanks to the publisher and Net Galley for this review copy.

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A fascinating account of George Kennan's travels in Siberia, his lectures afterwards and its impact on American-Russian relations. It is hard to imagine what Kennan went through during his travels and even harder to imagine the suffering of those caught up in the Russian exile system. The scale of suffering and disruption is hard to wrap your mind around. The extremes of weather and geography, the lack of basic comforts in practically every area of life, meant Kennan pushed himself physically and mentally to the breaking point. But his writing and lectures fundamental changed the way Americans saw Russia.

The book is part Kennan biography, part history of Kennan's work on the exile system. and part exploration of the exile system and its relationship to American-Russian relations. Sometimes the jumping between these threads slowed the momentum and felt momentarily disjointed but not enough to truly undermine the story. It truly does capture an amazing slice of history and the man at the center of this unique issue.

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This book was a fascinating view into a bit of history I knew little about. My regular readers will know that I love that stuff.

The book tracks Kennan's visits to Siberia, first in 1865 with the Russian-American Telegraph Expedition, an ambitious project to connect the Americas with Europe via Siberia and Russia (spoiler alert: didn't happen). That was when the young man discovered his love of Siberia--and a fondness for wilderness travel, through which he may have finally put to rest his inner doubts that he had courage.

At that time, the US was on the best of terms with Russia, and Kennan, like (most of)the rest of the world, believed that the Siberian exile system was both humane and effective. When he returned to Russia in 1885, it was with the intention of researching the system in order to demonstrate to the world that it was better than the US prison system (an admittedly low bar).

Probably what I most admire about Kennan is that though he left the US with his mind made up and his opinions already set, when he got to Siberia and began to uncover the horrors and inhumanity, and the one-way nature of the system--for wives and children as well as convicts--he was able to change his mind. He became, by the end of his trip, the loudest voice calling for the end of the system, especially perhaps as it was used against political prisoners. All prisoners were condemned not just to exile, but to a specified number of years of hard labor--a sentence which began only after they reached their destination, which could take years of walking, usually in chains. The mortality rate was appalling. When the sentence was up, they might be free--to remain in Siberia and continue to labor for a pittance.

One of the features of the system that Kennan had originally thought was humane, that it permitted families to go with convicted husbands and fathers, proved to be, in reality, one of the most horrific. The women who went labored, starved, and died often with little contact with their men but in equally inadequate prison quarters. And they were too often forced to prostitute themselves to the guards in order to survive at all.

In addition to the grim accounting of what Kennan learned, Wallance's book also tells of Kennan's own trip into Siberia, which might be called Adventure Travel, of the extreme sort which meant discomfort, privation, and repeated near-death experiences. Kennan thrived on it, and he was in love with the land, despite the horrific things he saw there.

When he returned to the US, Kennan went on speaking tours and campaigns against the exile system, calling loudly enough for change that he was eventually banned from entering Russia. The fallout of Kennan's discoveries--and his campaign--are felt to this day, in our nation's difficult relations with Russia (I'm not sure any of it made any difference to the exile system). This book makes a lot of things clear to me, some more clear than I might have wanted them.

My Recommendation:
This isn't reading for the faint of heart, but I definitely learned a lot from reading it!

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This book is part adventure, part fast paced history that covers the life of George Kennan whose writings of the conditions of the prisons and mines and exile in general inspired even Anton Chekhov and Leo Tolstoy.
Great attention to detail and research makes this book an easy read even though it’s fact heavy and fast paced.

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Into Siberia: George Kennan's Epic Journey Through the Brutal, Frozen Heart of Russia
Gregory J Wallance (author)
(This review was from an ARC sent to me by Netgalley)

In the late nineteenth century, close diplomatic relations existed between the United States and Russia.
This is a well-researched compelling biography of George Kennan who began his career as a telegraph operator during the Civil War and managed to get himself appointed to a years long expedition to build an overseas telegraph link through Siberia. He had been very publicly positive about the Tsarist Russian government and its policies.
In 1885 George Kennan, rose to prominence exposing Tsarist Russia’s system of exiling political and criminal prisoners to Siberia and the inhuman conditions under which they were forced to live. Kennan changed his mind about the Russian imperial system. Over ten months Kennan traveled eight thousand miles, on various modes of transport. He endured sandstorms in the summer and blizzards in the winter. His interviews with convicts and political exiles revealed how Russia ran the prison system. He then went on a nine-year lecture tour to describe the suffering of the Siberian exiles, and human rights abuses intensifying the newly emerging diplomatic conflicts between United States and Soviet Union and continued to this day with Russia.

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George Kenan was a telegraph operator and he felt stifled by always being in the booth with no sense of adventure to his life. Ever since he was a young boy he loved anything to do with nature and would read every book he could get his hands on but do to a childhood event he feared he was too scared to be an adventurer. Throughout his first years in the wilds of Siberia he would put himself to the test and pass with flying colors even when he returned home he would force himself to be in dangerous situations go down dark alleys and it was all to prove he wasn’t as scared as he initially feared. his first trip into Siberia was to help run the Atlantic telegram line four Western Union in thus begun his love affair with the people the country and the culture it would be those exiled to Siberia that called him back time and time again. Even after he married Emmaline Wells she would have to share her husband with Russia. Just the beginning of the book and his travels for Western Union in Siberia would’ve been enough for a great adventurous read but the fact that they told his whole life story makes it an epically awesome book! I love historical nonfiction where there’s a witnesses viewpoint and that is definitely what into Siberia is I love this book and highly recommended for any historical nonfiction fan Who loves an eye witness viewpoint of an adventure in the trials that he lived through that most of us never even get to witness this is a great book in George Kenan was a True adventurer. I want to thank Saint martins press and Net galley for my free art copy please forgive any mistakes as I am blind and dictate my review.

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Into Siberia by Gregory J. Wallance was received directly from the publisher and I chose to review it. This book surprised me as I was expecting a more "boring" book. This book is an adventurous travel guide covering travels across Siberia, a land much more vast than I ever imagined and I lived in Alaska for many years. The book is also a biography and gives a lot of history about several topics such as telegraphy, Russian penal systems we have heard about growing up, Russia/the Soviet Union as a whole, and Siberia in general. If any of this interests you, this is the book to read as it is apparently well-researched, moves along, and is never boring.

4 Stars

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When I initially requested this book I thought it would be about the Kennan who crafted the Cold War containmen policy. But to my surprise, there was amother George Kennan who traveled the lengths of Siberia and saw firsthand the treatment for the exiled.
It’s a fascinating glimpse of Russia in the waning days of the last two Romanov tsars.
Russia is a harsh forbidding country and this examination of Kennan’s adventures demonstrates the draconian penal system.
I think the book adds to the canon of knowledge about Russia in the late 19th century and the fact that an American journalist traveled the length of Siberia is endlessly interesting.

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Very compelling. Well-researched and well-written, giving detailed, in-depth accounts of late 1800s researcher/journalist George Kennan's early life, his travels throughout Russia and his realization that conditions in the prison camps in Siberia were so much worse than his naïve mind could ever have imagined. Once his eyes were opened he was determined to reveal the truth whatever the cost. What follows in fascinating, even if it is very difficult to read about the brutal cruelty inflicted on the prisoners. Kennan sometimes seems like a bit of an odd duck but this only adds to the allure of this book. He is dedicated and single-minded, and his strength, endurance – and stubbornness – are amazing. This is not a book to be rushed through. I had to take a break now and again because it is heartbreaking and overwhelming at times, but well worth the read. Informative and thought-provoking.

Thanks to St. Martin’s Publishing Group for providing an advance copy of Into Siberia via NetGalley. I voluntarily leave this review; all opinions are my own.

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This is the story of the journey of a young man looking for both adventure and reassurance of his ‘manliness’ becoming an outspoken advocate for prisoners in a foreign country. That journey involved three treks into Siberia and the Caucasus. The first two trips led to a career in writing and Kennan’s emergence as an authority on Russia, which led, in turn, to the third expedition. He thought he would verify his belief that the Tsarist system of internal exile was fairly benevolent. It was physically and emotionally arduous and he returned to crusade against the corruption and abhorrent cruelty he saw. Gregory Wallance has combined biography, travel, politics and history into a very readable book of George Kennan’s accomplishments and his person.

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Into Siberia by Gregory J. Wallance is the true adventure story about American George Kennan who as a young man joined Western Union to route a telegraph line from Alaska to St. Petersburg. Russia and America were allies in the 1860s and though Kennan endured frigid winter conditions on foot, appalling jarring "roads" with wagons and carriages, sleepless nights in furs under the stars and danger at every turn, he viewed residents and their exile system favourably. His adventurous spirit was sometimes cracked by fear but he pressed on and often experienced fulfillment.

Two decades later, Kennan and his friend Frost traversed to Siberia to research conditions of the Siberian Exile System. What they saw with their own eyes horrified them. Women had to decide whether to stay home and starve or leave with their exiled husbands as they journeyed under deplorable conditions to despicable prisons. But at least they'd be together. Or would they?

Rife with disease, vermin, sleep deprivation and humiliation, prisons were pure misery. Details are not glossed over. Upon witnessing this themselves and gagging at the putrid prison smells, the two researchers were stunned. Kennan's previous ideas were upended and he was flooded with disgust. He returned to America and his research contributed to the changing of American views of Russia. He lectured on the topic and drew attention to grim realities with a view for improvement.

What an eye-opening book! It's written conversationally with a kaleidoscope of colourful vividness through the eyes and writing of George Kennan. Interestingly. the landscape and winter conditions are so bleak and depressing but somehow alive. If you seek true adventure chock full of riveting moments, Into Siberia is the ultimate reading experience.

My sincere thank you to St. Martin's Press and NetGalley for providing me with a digital copy of this stupendous book.

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Loved this brutal history - a true story about George Kennan who traveled to and through Siberia all to learn how Russia was treating or mistreating its political prisoners. Great research!

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Thank you Netgalley and St. Martin's Press for access to this arc.

To be honest, I was drawn to reading this book because of the subtitle – “George Kennan’s Epic Journey Through the Brutal, Frozen Heart of Russia.” Adventure, excitement, travel, I thought. Then I read further and realized that there was a great deal more to the book than that.

What a journey! Holy &^#$. The bitter cold, the roads, the travel inns, the bed bugs. And then the two men traveled into (to borrow a phrase) “the heart of darkness.” Remember that Kennan had begun this trip as a friend of Russia and generally agreed with the need for a penal system given the political upheavals that were convulsing the country. What he saw exposed him to depths of human suffering of which he had no inkling. No one to whom he applied for permission to visit jails, camps, and mines said no. Nothing was prettied up though Kennan realized that word and intent of his journey had been telegraphed ahead of him. He said that the people in charge there appeared to feel that attempting to deny the horror of it was useless. One of the things that Kennan had (in theory) liked about the Russian system – that wives and children could travel into exile with their male relations rather than having the family broken up – became a reality that crushed him.

As the trip continued, both Kennan and Frost began to feel the effects. They were constantly afraid of being arrested in spite of the documents and letters they carried which added to the mental and physical exhaustion of the trip itself. Unknown to Kennan, Frost had suffered from a nervous breakdown before the trip and he slowly slipped back into another while Kennan’s physical health began to deteriorate. When they emerged back into European Russia and then London, friends barely recognized them. Kennan’s wife feared for his health.

The first hand information they carried out and to the world set off tsunamis of dismayed emotion among the American public and while the diplomatic corps had to try to smooth relations between the two countries. After writing an extensive series of articles, Kennan tirelessly lectured to packed auditoriums for years – which further damaged his health. But there were critics as well who pointed out that by speaking for those imprisoned for crimes against the state, he was sanctioning their violent actions and oh what about the similar crimes that the US was perpetrating against its own minorities and Native Americans that no one who was lauding Kennan seemed to care about. Kennan was also banished from entering Russia and later arrested when he did.

Up until the 1890s, the US and Russia had had a friendly diplomatic relationship. Kennan’s book and lectures in part dropped a bomb on this so that, even before the October Revolution (which Kennan foresaw turning into something even worse than the Czarist system), it had been cooling. Experiencing it and reporting on it brought George Kennan and George Frost to the brink, physically and emotionally. Sadly the Gulag that followed might have been worse than the Imperial penal system. Gregory Wallance covers all this expertly and distills Kennan’s efforts into a very readable book. B

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Into Siberia
By Gregory J. Wallance

This is the true story of not one but two treks through Siberia, some 20 years apart, which led to very different conclusions concerning imperial Russia and her treatment of her own citizens.

George Kennan was an American sent to Siberia as part of an expedition to map out a telegraph line to link up the United States and Europe. While this first expedition suffered untold hardship, Kennan came away from the experience believing the Russian manner of exiling criminals and dissidents to the harsh conditions in the far reaches of Siberia was a more humane way of dealing with prisoners – who were allowed to take their families with them – than the western world's incarceration of prisoners.

But years later, Kennan returned to Siberia to do an in-depth report on the exiles and their living conditions. What he found caused him to change his mind. Kennan's report caused a great upheaval in the West's views of Russia. He was so horrified by what he experienced that he spent the rest of his life advocating for more humane treatment of the exiles and their families.

While this is a true life adventure story, it goes beyond that. Kennan's experiences changed the shape of America's thinking about Russia – and still affect our viewpoint to this day.

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Fascinating. Who knew George Kennan traveled around Russia in the 1880s to investigate the Tsarist prison camps? Wallance brings Kennan and the journey, with all its difficulties and grim findings to life in this highly readable volume. He's expanded on Kennan's own writings, adding new information which illuminates and informs. Thanks to Netgalley for the ARC. A very good read.

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Into Siberia: George Kennan's Epic Journey Through the Brutal, Frozen Heart of Russia is a intriguing book to read by Gregory J. Wallance. I give five stars.

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What an absolutely fascinating book. As a history buff I can truly appreciate all the research and hard work that went into this. Outstanding book.

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