Lenin on the Train by Catherine Merridale
Billed as the story of Lenin's journey on the "sealed train" (it wasn't) through enemy Germany and neutral Sweden to return to Russia after the February 1917 revolution, this is actually an introductory history of the February revolution. Lenin's actual train journey is only one chapter.
All my reactions to this book are coloured by the fact that I also recently read China Mieville's October.
Lenin on the Train has been generally well received, so I'm going to be the voice of dissent here.
Part of it is me - I often have difficulty with history books for the general reader, being an ex academic historian. I was expecting a detailed blow-by-blow account of the train journey. (Stupid, I know, there's a special level of nerdiness that would entail which would not lead to it being on prominent display at Waterstones).
In the introduction Merridale says she retraced Lenin's steps. A travel book comparing the journey now with then would also have been something that floated my boat, but that was dispensed with in a couple of pages.
I might have welcomed another good general book on the Russian revolution - I did the Russian history module as an undergrad but what little I remember is 20 years out of date. But I found a lot frustrating.
A lot of the story is told through the lens of the British diplomatic and military staff in Russia. I found this really troubling - as if the author decided that an English-reading audience could not deal with the "otherness" of narrating from a Russian POV. Descriptions from the Germans' POV are much more relevant - they were the ones who let Lenin through in the hopes that he would destabilise Russia enough to get them out of the war.
This goes beyond my usual reaction to history books for a general reader ("it wasn't technical or nerdy enough) and veers into "does cultural imperialism have to ruin everything?"
Another niggle was that I didn't think she did a good job of getting across just how doomed everybody thought the Russian regime was in the decades up to its downfall.
Fun factoids gleaned include: Neutral Sweden was awash with spies (there's a trashy novel or six in there); forces of extreme reaction in Russia actually wanted to side with authoritarian Germany rather than with liberal democratic Britain and France; spies from all countries were such upper class twits it's astonishing any actual intelligence ever got through.