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This study is the first of its kind: a street-level inside account of what Stalinism meant to the masses of ordinary people who lived it. Stephen Kotkin was the first American in 45 years to be allowed into Magnitogorsk, a city built in response to Stalin''s decision to transform the predominantly agricultural nation into a "country of metal." With unique access to previously untapped archives and interviews, Kotkin forges a vivid and compelling account of the impact of industrialization on a single urban community.

Kotkin argues that Stalinism offered itself as an opportunity for enlightenment. The utopia it proffered, socialism, would be a new civilization based on the repudiation of capitalism. The extent to which the citizenry participated in this scheme and the relationship of the state''s ambitions to the dreams of ordinary people form the substance of this fascinating story. Kotkin tells it deftly, with a remarkable understanding of the social and political system, as well as a keen instinct for the details of everyday life.

Kotkin depicts a whole range of life: from the blast furnace workers who labored in the enormous iron and steel plant, to the families who struggled with the shortage of housing and services. Thematically organized and closely focused, Magnetic Mountain signals the beginning of a new stage in the writing of Soviet social history.

Review

"One of the most influential of the post-Soviet books . . . a study of the steel city of Magnitogorsk, the U.S.S.R.’s answer to Pittsburgh, as it was constructed in the shadow of the Ural Mountains in the early nineteen-thirties. . . . A sharp-elbowed intervention in the decades-old debate between ''totalitarian'' historians, who saw in the Soviet Union an omnipotent state imposing its will on a defenseless populace, and ''revisionist'' historians, who saw a more dynamic and fluid society, with some portion of the population actually supporting the regime." ― New Yorker

From the Inside Flap

"A kind of archaeological analysis of Soviet life during the momentous years of Stalinist industrialization."—Lewis Siegelbaum, Michigan State University

From the Back Cover

"A kind of archaeological analysis of Soviet life during the momentous years of Stalinist industrialization."―Lewis Siegelbaum, Michigan State University

About the Author

Stephen Kotkin is the John P. Birkelund ''52 Professor in History and International Affairs at Princeton University, where he is also Co-Director of the Program in History and the Practice of Diplomacy and the Director of the Princeton Institute for International and Regional Studies. He is the author of Steeltown, USSR (California, 1991).

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4.4 out of 54.4 out of 5
39 global ratings

Top reviews from the United States

Olga Shabalina
5.0 out of 5 starsVerified Purchase
I was born in Magnitogorsk. My grandfather built Magnitostroi ...
Reviewed in the United States on February 15, 2018
I was born in Magnitogorsk. My grandfather built Magnitostroi, and my dad worked all his life in MMK. So, I was surrounded by stories and events that took place during my childhood. Unfortunately, nobody told me about people who build this legendary metallurgic works, no... See more
I was born in Magnitogorsk. My grandfather built Magnitostroi, and my dad worked all his life in MMK. So, I was surrounded by stories and events that took place during my childhood. Unfortunately, nobody told me about people who build this legendary metallurgic works, no details about how everything took place. The only thing I remember is permanent air pollution in the city, dad''s photo in the city park, and him going to work two hours ahead of the shift. I am extremely thankful to the author for this detailed history of MMK. Now I feel extremely proud that I was born in this city. Thank you!
12 people found this helpful
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Pelicanbrief
5.0 out of 5 starsVerified Purchase
Monumental study
Reviewed in the United States on October 13, 2019
Scholarly study of Magnitogorsk, the great USSR city of steel in the Urals. Not fun to read and the extensive footnotes make it a slog, but fascinating, nonetheless. Stephen Kotkin combed the now available Soviet archives and interviewed some participants involved in... See more
Scholarly study of Magnitogorsk, the great USSR city of steel in the Urals. Not fun to read and the extensive footnotes make it a slog, but fascinating, nonetheless. Stephen Kotkin combed the now available Soviet archives and interviewed some participants involved in building of The Great City of Steel.
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Maxim Nasurdinov
5.0 out of 5 starsVerified Purchase
The author really knows my city better than I do
Reviewed in the United States on February 20, 2018
As a native resident of Magnitogorsk, I admire the depth and authenticity of this study. The author really knows my city better than I do. A lot of things in my hometown''s history I had only a little idea of are now clearly described to me. Thank you, Stephen Kotkin!
5 people found this helpful
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John Booth
4.0 out of 5 starsVerified Purchase
but to serve as a useful reference.
Reviewed in the United States on March 26, 2015
If you want to know how a major interior Russian city functioned (or didn''t) during the Stalin era, this is the work, not only to read, but to serve as a useful reference.
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Pierre
5.0 out of 5 starsVerified Purchase
Avis sur Magnetic Mountain
Reviewed in the United States on November 12, 2011
Très bon livre, livré en bon état et rapidement. Analyse détaillée et sourcée d''une "improvisation-urbanistique". Une écriture lisible qui équilibre l''aspect technique, administratif et humain. Chaudement recommandé !
4 people found this helpful
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Chris
4.0 out of 5 starsVerified Purchase
Not a Russian History buff, however...
Reviewed in the United States on March 3, 2013
I found the book insightful. Kotkin attempts to walk between the two major theses that is between a totalitarian regime and utter chaos. He also attempts to argue that Stalinization was not a great retreat but a reawakening of revolutionary ideas. The book also makes a... See more
I found the book insightful. Kotkin attempts to walk between the two major theses that is between a totalitarian regime and utter chaos. He also attempts to argue that Stalinization was not a great retreat but a reawakening of revolutionary ideas. The book also makes a great comparison book for people studying urbanization and company towns in the U.S. In fact he specifically references Gary, Indiana.
2 people found this helpful
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John A. Dalpino
5.0 out of 5 starsVerified Purchase
Five Stars
Reviewed in the United States on January 7, 2015
Fabulous book that is extremely well written and based on extensive research.
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Tucker
1.0 out of 5 starsVerified Purchase
Kindle edition lacks functional index
Reviewed in the United States on March 12, 2018
The single star is for the Kindle edition (NOT the content) - the lack of a functional index greatly reduces the utility of having the book in digital format.
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F Henwood
5.0 out of 5 starsVerified Purchase
Moving Mountains
Reviewed in the United Kingdom on August 11, 2012
About forty miles east of the southern end of the Ural Mountains in Russia are a collection of small hills so rich in iron ore that compasses in the vicinity behaved strangely - the magnetic mountain. It was at this spot that the Soviet government embarked on building an...See more
About forty miles east of the southern end of the Ural Mountains in Russia are a collection of small hills so rich in iron ore that compasses in the vicinity behaved strangely - the magnetic mountain. It was at this spot that the Soviet government embarked on building an industrial city from scratch: a city that was meant to do more than just produce steel but a new form of human being. Hence the subtitle of the book, `Stalinism as Civilization'': Stalinism cannot be considered merely the autocratic rule of one man but a whole way of life, considered as a conscious break from capitalism (meaning the abolition of private property and the prohibition of privately hiring wage labour), a way of life sustained not by terror and coercion alone. However important these factors were in a dictatorship, Stalinism commanded at its height genuine enthusiasm for the goals it espoused. This is what this book is about: it is a historical examination of the vicissitudes of day to day life, part social history and part sociological analysis, as it was experienced by the inhabitants of Stalinism''s showcase city. The book opens with a brilliant reflection on the meaning of the Russian revolution, and then proceeds to deal with the conception, building and settling of this outpost of socialist construction. But, as Kotkin writes, `Magnitogorsk was not just any old steel town ... [it was] part barracks settlement, part village, part labor camp and place of exile, part elite enclave ... a microcosm of the Soviet Union during the building of socialism ... (p.144). The city was an expression of great squalor and promethean achievement, open cesspits and sewage trenches and a steelworks that seemingly sprung out from nowhere, but combined with high ideals in building a new kind of mankind, not just a new steel plant. The second part deals in greater detail with the paradoxes of this reality as lived and recorded in the history of the city in the 1930s. The construction of this beacon of socialism was achieved at great cost and enormous waste, but, to its inhabitants, this was not necessarily how it seemed at the time. The enfeeblement of capitalism by the Great Depression of the 1930s lent credence to the regime''s contention that the city represented progression to a new and superior form of modernity to that offered in the West. Hence the rigours and sacrifices demanded of its population could be plausibly represented as the price to pay for a better future. To what extent this found popular resonance in what was undoubtedly a repressive police state, strictly controlling access to information about the outside world, is impossible to gauge with exact precision but sufficient primary evidence survives to strongly suggest that the regime''s summons to its population to build socialism did not rest on merely on intimidation and threat. To concede this is not to whitewash Stalinism - no one will come away from this book thinking that such an experiment should be repeated again - but to move away from Cold War caricatures of what made the Soviet Union tick, and understand it historically. Ironically part of what made this society tick was the cooption of incentives that we recognize exist under capitalism. In return for a demonstrable contribution over and above the call of duty to the socialist cause - such as Stakhanovite workers - rewards of higher social status and better access to material goods were granted. And, contrary to one might have been led to expect, the market economy was not entirely done away with in the Soviet Union, with the so-called shadow economy an essential part of life. The authorities conceded a degree of `socialist'' trade, a notorious grey area of Soviet life that co-existed with actually existing socialism until the end of the Soviet experiment in 1991. This is not to say that Kotkin considers Stalinism to be a counterrevolution in the sense of restoring capitalism - the shadow economy sprung spontaneously from below and existed on sufferance from above. The formal restoration of the legal right to hold private property and hire labour was never countenanced during the Stalinist era. Finally, the author deals with the impact of the Great Terror/Purges in the late 1930s on the life of the city. Critiquing both Robert Conquest - the standard Cold War account - and revisionists like J Arch Getty, who basically wrote Stalin out of mechanics of the Great Terror altogether, he presents instead a nuanced account of the terror, made possible, in his summation, `by the adversarial nature of Soviet industrialization, which dictated the use of massive force and presupposed the creation of armies of enemies ... by the general resentment of the lifestyle and behaviour of the new elite, whose mere existence pointed to unacknowledged contradictions; by the popular conspiratorial mentality and the Stalin cult of the "good tsar"; and the widespread belief in a grand crusade, building socialism, in whose name the terror was conducted'' (p. 353) The crash industrialisation of the Soviet Union in the 1930s inevitably created a new elite of technocrats and managers, essential to the development of a non-capitalist modernity but standing in contradiction to the utopian aspirations of a classless society and hence widely resented. The decimation of the city''s communist elite - repeated in towns and cities across the Soviet Union - by Stalin''s terror could be seen as one way of attempting to resolve this contradiction by using revolutionary violence from above against this new elite. This is of course to simplify a complicated subject but the terror was no accident and cannot be understood without reference to the society out of which it grew, the contradictions of which could be seen and experienced in Stalin''s showcase city, and demonstrated in massive and vivid detail in this superb book of history.
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Amazon Customer
5.0 out of 5 starsVerified Purchase
Magnificent
Reviewed in the United Kingdom on December 26, 2018
A brilliant account of Stalin''s project of Soviet industrialization at Magnitogorsk. Full of facts and restrained judgement.
2 people found this helpful
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toms
5.0 out of 5 starsVerified Purchase
More than a case study
Reviewed in the United Kingdom on March 5, 2019
Enormous and inspirational research on the subject matter, providing theoretical frameworks for understanding of the era.
2 people found this helpful
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Amazon Customer
5.0 out of 5 starsVerified Purchase
... history and society is probably required to get the best from this extraordinary book
Reviewed in the United Kingdom on May 1, 2016
not for the casual reader-a knowledge of soviet history and society is probably required to get the best from this extraordinary book.
2 people found this helpful
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Slawomir Sobisz
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Five Stars
Reviewed in Canada on July 20, 2018
Awesome Book.
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