Douglas Smith

Local historian Douglas Smith has spent five years painstakingly documenting the extermination of the 1 percent. Far from Wall Street, his Former People: The Final Days of the Russian Aristocracy (Farrar, Straus and Giroux, $30) chronicles the systematic destruction of that ruling elite after the Russian Revolution. "If you want to know what class warfare really looks like, read my book," says Smith, dismissing the hyperbole of our political pundits. "Class warfare is not raising someone's taxes from 30 to 39 percent. Class warfare is when the secret police come into your house, take the male members of your family, put them in prison and shoot them." Declared public enemies and "hunted like dogs," these families were wiped from the history books under Lenin and Stalin. To tell their forgotten stories, Smith tracked down the descendants of the book's two most prominent families—the Sheremetevs and the Golitsyns—and studied their letters and diaries. Former People is both a sweeping historical and an intensely personal family saga. Of these old aristocrats, says Smith, "These people [are] not just representatives of a class. They're human beings with feelings and families—people who lost everything in a way that we can't even begin to imagine, yet accepted their fates with a remarkable stoicism and enduring patriotism for the country that disowned them." (Also: Town Hall, Oct. 22.) ILONA IDILIS

Fri., Oct. 19, 6:30 p.m., 2012

 
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