Death Orders

The Vanguard of Modern Terrorism in Revolutionary Russia

by Anna Geifman


In the first decade of the 20th century, the world witnessed an unprecedented escalation of political terrorism in imperial Russia. Some 23,000 terrorist acts yielded approximately 17,000 victims. Russian radicals in the early 1900s initiated the tradition of using "human bombs" for terrorist purposes, preceding by almost a century radical Islamists' efforts to do the same.

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May 2010


Pages 229
Volumes 1
Size 6 1/8x9 1/4
Topics Security Studies/Terrorism
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This fascinating study shows how terrorism as developed and practiced in Romanov Russia has, over the past century, manifested itself as the template for modern and postmodern terrorism as a universal sociocultural, psychological, and existential experience, irrespective of particular political causes, ethnic distinctions, and ideological boundaries.

Arguing that Russia is the birthplace of modern terrorism, Death Orders: The Vanguard of Modern Terrorism in Revolutionary Russia uses the nation as a case study of psycho-historical patterns of worldwide terrorist activity during the past century. Key features of early-20th century Russian political extremism serve as models for terrorist experiences in other periods and regions as author Anna Geifman builds a typology of a universal phenomenon.

The book shows how, in Russia and elsewhere, terrorists' objectives have degenerated from punishment of individual adversaries and attempts to intimidate political elites to indiscriminate acts of political violence. It shifts attention from ideology to practices that had been previously hidden, ignored, or rationalized, demonstrating that what terrorists say about their motives may not be what actually drives them to brutality. By looking closely at Russian precedents for the general experience of modern political violence, the book helps illuminate many obscure aspects of terrorism today.


  • Offers data based on extensive archival and primary research
  • Includes citations from numerous original sources found in Russian, American, European, and Israeli depositories
  • Provides a comprehensive bibliography of primary and secondary sources


  • Is the first book to seek to establish a typology of terrorist activity over the past 100 years based on a one-country model, analyzed as a representative case study
  • Shows that terrorists' motives are not always consistent with their political ideologies and that the one thing all modern terrorists seem to have in common is a love of death
  • Features a unique intercultural and interdisciplinary psycho-historical approach to the understanding of modern terrorism
  • Examines precedents comparatively, allowing for the first scholarly speculation about patterns of terrorists' behavior as state leaders
Series Description

Praeger Security International

As the world gets "smaller" through technology and globalization, the security risks we face grow and multiply.

International security in the 21st century is not a topic that can be adequately addressed in nightly news soundbites or online articles intended to be relevant for 24 hours or less. Comprehending these complex issues requires insight from foreign policy specialists, diplomats, military officials, peace scholars, historians, and security experts—participants and observers on all sides of each conflict. This series provides the tools for understanding security issues in our uncertain, unstable world.

Written by subject experts and well-known researchers, the books in the Praeger Security International series give readers access to carefully considered and highly informed viewpoints on the critical security issues that threaten to destabilize our world. With titles authored by diplomats, first responders, economists, journalists, civil servants, military leaders and combatants, legal experts, psychologists, and other knowledgeable specialists, these books offer in-depth reflections, thorough analysis, and international perspectives that are unavailable in mass media. These titles represent an invaluable resource for students and researchers as well as anyone who seeks a deeper understanding of the complex issues that affect our lives and future.


  • Provides reliable, comprehensive information on all matters relating to security that is ideal for students, teachers, researchers, and professionals
  • Offers insightful commentaries written by a diverse group of scholars and experts who provide interdisciplinary treatments of newsworthy events and important historical occurrences
Author Info

Anna Geifman, PhD, is professor of history at Boston University and research associate at the University of Bar-Ilan, Israel. She is the author of Thou Shalt Kill: Revolutionary Terrorism in Russia, 1894-1917, Entangled in Terror: The Azef Affair and the Russian Revolution, and La mort sera votre Dieu: Du nihilisme russe au terrorisme islamiste.



"...a striking counterweight to today's dominant scholarly understanding of terrorism as a rational act. Her argument is exhaustively documented, and Geifman writes with clarity and verve..."


"This is a wide-ranging insight into terrorism, the bane of modern life. It analyzes the psychology of terrorists in Russia, where this scourge began, as well as Palestine, Chechnia and elsewhere to bring out the common mind-sets of people perpetrating this kind of criminal activity. As such it is of great value to anyone concerned with the massive and often indiscriminate assaults on human life that have become a feature of modern life."—Richard Pipes, Baird Professor of History, Harvard University

"This highly original, and thoroughly researched, comparative study of modern political terror illuminates the apocalyptic beliefs of its perpetrators and brings together the psychological, cultural and political dimensions of the phenomenon.
Focusing on the dislocations of modernity the author provides exceptional insight into the mentality and methodology of 19th century Russians terrorists, present day Islamic suicide bombers and political extremists in general.
A unique case study of the connections between the personal and political realm, and the transformation of consuming hatred into potent political energy and action."—Paul Hollander
Professor Emeritus of Sociology, University of Massachusetts, Amherst;

Associate, Davis Center for Russian and Eurasian Studies, Harvard University;

Author of Political Pilgrims and The End of Commitment: Intellectuals, Revolutionaries and Political Morality

"Anna Geifman's most recent book is a must read for anybody seeking to decipher the psyche of today's international terrorists. Approaching the issue from a psychohistorical perspective, Professor Geifman traces the historical ascension of terrorism from 20th Century Russia to modern day Israel, drawing fascinating parallels along the way. Through an in-depth analysis, Professor Geifman shows that the Russian extremists of days past are to a large extent the forefathers of today's Islamic fanatics."—Steven Emerson, Executive Director of The Investigative Project on Terrorism, author of American Jihad: The Terrorists Living Amongst Us, and producer of the documentary "Jihad in America"

"A vital contribution to the historical, political, philosophical, and psychological understanding of terrorism. Anna Geifman has written an indispensable sequel to the Devils, conceptualizing, updating, and completing Dostoyevsky's prophecy on contemporary nihilism".—Jean-François Colosimo, scholar, writer, Director of CNRS Editions, The publishing house of the French National Center for Scientific Research. Author of Dieu est américain, de la théodémocratie aux Etats-Unis; L'Apocalypse russe, Dieu au pays de Dostoievski; Le Paradoxe persan, un carnet iranien. Jean- François Colosimo has been made "Chevalier de la Légion d'honneur" by the French President Nicolas Sarkozy in 2008.

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