After the failed Russian military coup of 1991, Volkogonov’s repudiation by the military and his previous experience managing the military’s records were perfect qualifications for the job he now holds—manager of the Party’s vast archives. After the fall of the Communist Party in Russia, Dmitri Volkogonov found himself before what for a historian was the equivalent to the burglar’s dreamed unguarded warehouse full of treasures. The Party had been meticulous. Notes, letters, telegrams, receipts, itemized accounts, documents of all kinds, politically inconvenient facts large and small—by the thousands they had been marked “to be preserved forever” and filed away. They were not destroyed, or at least not all of them, being kept ready for some unfathomable eventuality. Unfathomable because by no stretch of the imagination would the story these documents tell ever serve to vindicate the actions of the people whose names they preserve.

Volkogonov’s Lenin has human qualities. He is not the idol found in official hagiographies. Volkogonov reveals that Lenin had Jewish ancestry on one side of his family and Asian on the other, that he had a love affair outside his marriage, and that he was of the titled, landowning class. Except for a brief career as a lawyer, and as a leader once the revolution began, Lenin never held a job. Part of his income came, via his mother, from rents on land. Lenin also was a man of great personal charm, without vanity,...

(The entire section is 565 words.)