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  • Published: 17 July 2017
  • ISBN: 9780241957523
  • Imprint: Penguin Press
  • Format: Paperback
  • Pages: 512
  • RRP: $26.99

The House of the Dead

Siberian Exile Under the Tsars

An epic work of Russian history from a major new talent

It was known as 'the vast prison without a roof'. From the beginning of the nineteenth century to the Russian Revolution, the tsarist regime exiled more than one million prisoners and their families beyond the Ural Mountains to Siberia. Daniel Beer's new book, The House of the Dead, brings to life both the brutal realities of an inhuman system and the tragic and inspiring fates of those who endured it. This is the vividly told history of common criminals and political radicals, the victims of serfdom and village politics, the wives and children who followed husbands and fathers, and of fugitives and bounty-hunters.

Generations of rebels - republicans, nationalists and socialists - were condemned to oblivion thousands of kilometres from European Russia. Over the nineteenth century, however, these political exiles transformed Siberia's mines, prisons and remote settlements into an enormous laboratory of revolution.

This masterly work of original research taps a mass of almost unknown primary evidence held in Russian and Siberian archives to tell the epic story of both Russia's struggle to govern its monstrous penal colony and Siberia's ultimate, decisive impact on the political forces of the modern world.

  • Published: 17 July 2017
  • ISBN: 9780241957523
  • Imprint: Penguin Press
  • Format: Paperback
  • Pages: 512
  • RRP: $26.99

Praise for The House of the Dead

Excellent... an expansive work that neatly manages to combine a broad history of the Romanovs' Gulag with heart-rending tales of the plights of individual prisoners

Douglas Smith, Literary Review

A splendid example of academic scholarship for a public audience. Yet even though he is an impressively calm and sober narrator, the injustices and atrocities pile up on every page.

Dominic Sandbrook, The Sunday Times

An absolutely fascinating book, rich in fact and anecdote.

David Aaronovitch, The Times

In many ways Siberia truly was a House of the Dead - as Daniel Beer, who borrows the title of Fyodor Dostoevsky's prison novel for his masterful new study, recounts in horrific and gripping detail. Because of its far greater scale and brutality, the Soviet gulag has eclipsed the memory of the Tsarist penal system in the popular imagination. Beer redresses that imbalance by bringing the voices of the million-plus victims of katorga vividly to life.

Owen Matthews, Spectator

Although Beer's subject is grim, his writing is not. Grace notes of metaphor elevate The House of the Dead above standard histories; it is also ground-breaking and moving

Oliver Bullough, The Telegraph

If the scale of the Siberian penal exile inspires a sense of dreadful awe, then the detail is tragic, heart-breaking and marked with individual horror. The vast, Steppe-like sweep of Daniel Beer's work is impressive, sustaining a narrative that ranges from 1801 to 1917, and involves more than one million exiled souls into an area that is one and a half times bigger than the continent of Europe ... An extraordinary, powerful and important story

Hugh MacDonald, Herald

[This] masterly new history of the tsarist exile system... makes a compelling case for placing Siberia right at the centre of 19th-century Russian-and, indeed, European-history. But for students of Soviet and even post-Soviet Russia it holds lessons, too. Many of the country's modern pathologies can be traced back to this grand tsarist experiment-to its tensions, its traumas and its abject failures.


Daniel Beer's The House of the Dead is a detailed, rich and powerful account of the inhumane system of imprisonment and exile in Tsarist Siberia that shows how little changed between Tsarism and Stalinism. Both were built on the bones of ordinary Russians

Neil Robinson, Irish Examiner

An eye-opening, haunting work that delineates how a vast imperial penal system crumbled from its rotten core

Kirkus Reviews

Impeccably researched, beautifully written

Donald Rayfield, Guardian

Masterful, gripping and deeply researched. It's filled with astonishing, vivid and heartbreaking stories of crime and punishment, of redemption, love and terrifying violence. It has an amazing cast of despots, murderers, whores and heroes, and takes place in godforsaken mines, Arctic villages and beautiful taiga. It's a wonderful read.

Simon Sebag Montefiore, BBC History Magazine

The wretched existence of those banished to Russia's freezing expanses east of the Urals is vividly described in this excellent study... if you want to read the most remarkable recent study of Siberian exile under the Tsars, [read] Beer

Paul Dukes, History Today

Daniel Beer's The House of the Dead: Siberian exile under the Tsars (Allen Lane) is both a gripping read and an extraordinary feat of scholarly analysis, delivered with the scope and empathy of a novelist - appositely, as both Dostoevsky and Chekhov are part of Siberia's story. The microhistories as well as the grand narrative illuminate a terrible swathe of Russian (and Polish) history.

Roy Foster, TLS

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