When asked in 1972 about the significance of the French Revolution, Chinese premier Zhou Enlai reportedly quipped, ‘It’s too soon to tell.’ But while the meaning of the revolution in France could still be considered open to debate nearly two hundred years after it happened, the verdict on the Russian Revolution seems to be beyond doubt a mere century after the event. Although there are still a few commentators who see the collapse of the Romanovs and the rise of Lenin’s Bolsheviks as a historical moment of rare hope for humanity (see China Miéville’s recent October: The Story of the Russian Revolution, for example), the overwhelming consensus is that the events of 1917 were nothing short of a tragedy. Such also is the conclusion of Sean McMeekin’s The Russian Revolution, one of a spate of works published in the West to mark the revolution’s centenary.
McMeekin knows the territory well, having written a number of books on Russia in the period of the revolution, most notably History’s Greatest Heist: The Looting of Russia by the Bolsheviks (2008) and The Russian Origins of the First World War (2011). Among the strengths of this latest book, and