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Alexander Herzen’s own brilliance and the extraordinary circumstances of his life combine to place his memoirs among the great testimonies of the modern era. Born in 1812, the illegitimate son of a wealthy Russian landowner, he became one of the most important revolutionary and intellectual figures of his time – as theorist, polemicist and political actor; and fifty years after his death Lenin pronounced him ‘the father of Russian socialism’.
My Past and Thoughts uniquely assimilates the personal to the historical, and is both a classic of autobiography an an unparalleled record of his century’s remarkable life. His account of a privileged childhood among the Russian aristocracy is illuminated with the insight of a great novelist; his friends and enemies – Marx, Wagner, Mill, Bakunin, Garibaldi, Kropotkin – are brought brilliantly to life; and as a sceptical and free-thinking observer, he unerringly traces the line of revolutionary development, from the earliest stirrings of Russian radicalism through the tumultuous ideological debates of the International.
‘His power of observation is extraordinary. He tells a story with the economy of a great reporter. His gift is for knowing not only what people are, but how they are historically situated. Somewhere in the pages of this hard, honest observer of what movements do to men, we shall find ourselves.’ – V. S. Pritchett
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