The decency of communism’s ideals and the horror of its effects form the basis of Robert Service’s masterly handling of the beginning, progress and(all but) end of communism … It is also a finely tuned description of what life was like under communism. A deceptively ambitious book. Neither unreasonably long nor overwhelmingly theoretical, it swiftly chronicles the movement from its philosophical origins to the collapse of the Soviet Union and the economic transformation of China … an ideal introductory history.This book began with an idea and a plan. The idea was to put together a general account of communism around the world; the plan was to do this mainly by assembling the secondary literature on country after country with experience of communism. Surprisingly few attempts have been made at such a project, and nearly all of them were written before the collapse of communist states in eastern Europe and the USSR in 1989-91.The initial idea was knocked about like a punch-bag. As I learned about the five-sixths of the world’s land mass that was not the Soviet Union, the structure and contents of the book underwent much remodelling. This is what happens with most books that have ever been written. Yet the plan was scrapped and for a very positive reason. In 2004-5 I spent a sabbatical year at the Hoover Institution at Stanford University. Archives are the water of refreshment for the historian. When I discovered the vastness of resources available to scholars in the shadow of the Hoover Tower, I went through box after box of documents like a thirsty traveller. The endnotes give some idea of the exceptional holdings on countries such as Hungary, Cuba and India. Just as instructive for me were the boxes on the Soviet Union, especially on its relationship with the world communist movement. And although I did not have it in mind to do much on American and British communism, any reluctance was dissolved when I examined the boxes themselves.