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Robert John Service (born 29 October 1947) is a British historian, academic, and author who has written extensively on the history of the Soviet Union, particularly the era from the October Revolution to Stalin's death. He was until 2013 a professor of Russian history at the University of Oxford, a Fellow of St Antony's College, Oxford, and a senior Fellow at Stanford University's Hoover Institution. He is best known for his biographies of Vladimir Lenin, Joseph Stalin and Leon Trotsky.

Robert Service
Service, Robert.IMG 1910.JPG
Service speaking at the Tallinn Literature Festival HeadRead in May 2011
Robert John Service

(1947-10-29) 29 October 1947 (age 71)
United Kingdom
Academic work
Main interestsRussian history (1894–)
Notable worksBiographies of Vladimir Lenin, Joseph Stalin, and Leon Trotsky

Career and criticismsEdit

Service spent his undergraduate years at King's College, Cambridge, where he studied Russian and classical Greek. He went to Essex and Leningrad universities for his postgraduate work, and taught at Keele and the School of Slavonic and East European Studies, before joining Oxford University in 1998.

Between 1986 and 1995, Service published a three-volume biography of Vladimir Lenin. He wrote several works of general history on 20th-century Russia, including A History of Twentieth-Century Russia. He published a trilogy of biographies on the three most important Bolshevik leaders: Lenin (2000), Stalin (2004) and Trotsky (2009).

His biography of Trotsky was strongly criticised by Service's Hoover Institution colleague Bertrand Mark Patenaude in a review for the American Historical Review.[1] Patenaude, reviewing Service's book alongside a rebuttal by the Trotskyist David North (In Defence of Leon Trotsky), charged Service with making dozens of factual errors, misrepresenting evidence, and "fail[ing] to examine in a serious way Trotsky's political ideas".[2] Service responded that the book's factual errors were minor and that Patenaude's own book on Trotsky presented him as a "noble martyr". The book was criticised by the German historian of communism Hermann Weber, who led a campaign to prevent Suhrkamp Verlag from publishing it in Germany. Fourteen historians and sociologists signed a letter to the publishing house. The letter cited 'a host of factual errors,' the 'repugnant connotations' of the passages in which Service deals with Trotsky's Jewish origins, implicitly accusing him of anti-Semitism, and Service's recourse to 'formulas associated with Stalinist propaganda' for the purpose of discrediting Trotsky.[3][2] Suhrkamp announced in February 2012 that it would publish a German translation of Robert Service's Trotsky in July 2012.[4]


  • The Bolshevik Party in Revolution 1917-23: A Study in Organizational Change (1979)
  • A History of Twentieth-Century Russia (1997)
  • The Penguin History of Modern Russia From Tsarism to the 21st Century (1997)[5]
  • A History of Modern Russia, from Nicholas II to Putin (1998, Second edition in 2003)
  • The Russian Revolution, 1900-27 (Studies in European History) (1999)
  • Lenin: A Biography (2000)
  • Russia: Experiment with a People (2002)
  • Stalin: A Biography (2004), Oxford, 715 pages ill. ISBN 0-330-41913-7(2004)[6]
  • Comrades: A World History of Communism (2007)
  • Trotsky: A Biography (2009)[7][8][9]
  • Spies and Commissars: Bolshevik Russia and the West (2011)[10]
  • The End of the Cold War: 1985-1991 (2015)
  • The Last of the Tsars: Nicholas II and the Russian Revolution (2017)
  • Russia and Its Islamic World (2017)


  1. ^ McLemee, Scott. "The Re-Assassination of Leon Trotsky". Inside Higher Ed. 8 July 2011
  2. ^ a b Weber, Wolfgang. "European historians oppose publication by Suhrkamp of Robert Service's Trotsky biography".
  3. ^ “Robert Service has written a diatribe, not a scientific polemic!” The World Socialist Web Site. Retrieved 28 November 2011
  4. ^ "The Books Interview: Robert Service". Retrieved 2 September 2018.
  5. ^ "The Penguin History of Modern Russia – Robert Service – Penguin Books". 24 September 2009. Archived from the original on 3 October 2012. Retrieved 31 August 2011.
  6. ^ "Review of Robert Service's Stalin: A Biography–Part One". Retrieved 31 August 2011.
  7. ^ "John Gray on Trotsky by Robert Service". Literary Review. Archived from the original on 19 August 2011. Retrieved 31 August 2011.
  8. ^ "Review: A 'dis-Service' to Leon Trotsky". Archived from the original on 5 March 2012. Retrieved 31 August 2011.
  9. ^ A book that fails to meet the basic standards of historical scholarship The American Historical Review discredits Robert Service’s biography of Leon Trotsky
  10. ^ "The Books Interview: Robert Service".

External linksEdit