Who gives a Figes for Orlando?





THERE have been several controversies over the years with the anonymous reviews placed on Amazon, but the latest is perhaps the most astonishing. The upshot is a broadside worthy of the Battleship Potemkin blasting through the hull of the reputation of Orlando Figes, whose books of Russian history such as The Whisperers: Private Life in Stalin’s Russia have been widely acclaimed, not least by himself on amazon.co.uk. And it turns out he was also the nameless trasher of fellow historians Robert Service (Lenin, Stalin and, most recently, Trotsky — ‘‘a dull read’’) and Rachel Polonsky (Molotov’s Magic Lantern — ‘‘This is the sort of book that makes you wonder why it was ever published’’).

Dogged detective work by Polonsky and an email sent out by Service suggested Figes might be the culprit and he responded with threats of legal action. Next he blamed his wife, barrister and academic Stephanie Palmer, before admitting he was the author of the scabrous reviews (and also the ones praising his own work). In a statement he apologised to all and sundry. Polonsky replied bluntly: ‘‘I understand that he is claiming that he has been traumatised by the research he did with victims of the Russian gulags which caused him to behave like this. I think it is horrific to use one of the greatest acts of criminality in history to excuse his bad behaviour. In any case he has been behaving like this for years beforehand.’’

This week, Figes was on ‘‘sick leave’’ from his position at London University’s Birkbeck College, where he is professor of history. You may recall having seen him at the Melbourne Writers Festival a couple of years ago....

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