American diplomat George F. Kennan considered Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn’s The Gulag Archipelago 1918–1956: An Experiment in Literary Investigation to be the “most powerful single indictment of a political regime ever to be leveled in modern times.” In it, Solzhenitsyn exposed the vast underworld of forced labor camps stretching across the Soviet Union from Moscow to Magadan in Siberia. It’s no exaggeration to say that the book was instrumental in the implosion of the Soviet Union and the collapse of the Soviet empire in 1991. It remains essential reading for our understanding of not just the murderous Soviet regime but of the good and evil that runs, as Solzhenitsyn wrote, “right through every human heart.”

A Day in the Life

The history of the Gulag Archipelago begins in the closing months of World War II when a decorated Soviet captain of artillery, corresponding with a childhood friend, criticized Stalin for “betraying the cause of the Revolution.” For “counter-revolutionary crimes,” Captain Solzhenitsyn was sentenced in July 1945 under Article 58 of the Criminal Code to eight years in the Gulag followed by “perpetual exile.”

Solzhenitsyn spent three of those eight years in the forced labor camp of Ekibastuz in Kazakhstan where he conceived the idea of portraying his experience

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