The American Historical Review, among the oldest and most prestigious academic journals in the United States, has published in its June 2011 issue a critical examination of two books: the denunciatory biography Trotsky by British historian Robert Service and In Defense of Leon Trotsky, by David North, the chairman of both the Socialist Equality Party in the United States and the international editorial board of the World Socialist Web Site. The author of the combined review is the historian Bertrand Patenaude, a lecturer in history and international relations at Stanford University, and a fellow at the Hoover Institute. He is also the author of Trotsky: Downfall of a Revolutionary, published by Harper Collins in 2009.
Service’s biography was published to great acclaim in 2009. Its relentless attack on Trotsky guaranteed Service the praise of the reactionary British press, which in one review described the biography as the “second assassination” of Trotsky. The author did nothing to discourage such degraded commendations. At a book launch in London, in October 2009, Robert Service declared: “There’s life in the old boy Trotsky yet—but if the ice pick didn’t quite do its job killing him off, I hope I’ve managed it.”
North’s In Defense of Leon Trotsky was published by Mehring Books in 2010. A substantial portion of the book is devoted to a detailed refutation of Service’s biography.
In his review essay Patenaude undertakes an examination of the historical accuracy of Service’s portrayal of Trotsky and, within that context, the validity of North’s attack on the biography.
The result of Patenaude’s investigation of the controversy is an unequivocal condemnation of Service’s biography and explicit endorsement of North’s critique.
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