On Biographies: Robert Service’s Trotsky Again (and Some Tangential Remarks on “Principle of Charity” and Related Nonsense)

I mentioned Robert Service’s new biography of Trotsky before. I haven’t bought it or read it yet, mainly because I don’t have time and I’m waiting for something like summer or a prolonged debilitating decease disease to read some books I’ve set aside. But also because I’ve read some mixed reviews of the book’s intention and style. Here‘s the review of it by David North that raises a number of larger issues.

The review begins with a different story, a reaction to the now class three-volume biography of Trotsky by Deutscher:

In 1955 James Burnham, the intellectual godfather of modern American neo-conservatism, reviewed The Prophet Armed,the first volume of Isaac Deutscher’s monumental biography of Leon [Lev Davidovich] Trotsky. Fifteen years had passed since Burnham had resigned from the Fourth International at the climax of a political struggle in which he had crossed polemical swords with Leon Trotsky. It had been a difficult experience for Burnham, who felt somewhat overmatched in this political and literary contest.

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Robert Service’s New Biography of Trotsky

There’s a review of it in The Times.  I remember reading his 2002 biography of Lenin with great interest, and I haven’t had a chance to read his Stalin biography (never had much interest in Stalin actually). In any case, an anecdote: Trotsky liked to hang out in Cafe Central in Vienna (as I have learned recently) and apparently when the Austrian Ministry of Interior received a request from Russia to squash the revolutionary activities in Viennese cafes, the minister reacted with laughter asking: “Who do they think will make a revolution? Herr Trotsky from Cafe Central?” Herr Trotsky, of course, did go and make a revolution later on and The Times has a nice picture of him and Lenin: