A visceral, hundred-year history of the vast Russian penal colony.
From the beginning of the nineteenth century to the Russian Revolution, the last tsarist regimes exiled more than one million prisoners and their families to Siberia. Common criminals, political radicals, prostitutes, and alcoholics arrived desperate and half-starving in a land of harsh weather, grueling work, and pestilential conditions. A place of brutal realities, it was known as “the vast prison without a roof.”
In his riveting new history, Daniel Beer takes readers deep inside Siberia, unearthing true-life tales of inhuman punishments and the crimes that occasioned them. Focusing his gaze on the last five tsars (1801 to 1917), Beer sheds light on how the massive penal colony, a project of correction and colonization, became an incubator for the radicalism of revolutionaries who would one day rule Russia.
As comprehensive as it is bloody, The House of the Dead delves beneath the statistics and dares to imagine the human experience of Siberian exile. Beer’s original scholarship–examining letters, petitions, and court records in Russian and Siberian archives–tells the story of Russia’s struggle to master its prison continent as revolution loomed.