August 5, 2015
Robert Conquest was born in 1917, the year of the Russian Revolution, so it seems fitting that he outlived the Soviet Union by more than 25 years. The indefatigable historian, and enemy, of Soviet totalitarianism died Tuesday at age 98.
Conquest’s major themes were reality and delusion. The Great Terror (1968) was the first and still definitive treatment of Stalin’s purges, gulags, show trials and secret police, meticulously documenting the enormity of the death toll. Harvest of Sorrow (1986) chronicled what he called the “terror famines” that followed agricultural collectivization.
When sources inside Russia were few and most Kremlinologists were oblivious, these classics contributed immensely to understanding the nature of the Communist project. They also helped shape the response that won the Cold War; Reagan and Thatcher were among his readers.