Robert Service's biography of Trotsky
The start of the book is a bit slow and kinda annoying. Partly because the stuffy formal style and the unfamiliar British idioms. Also annoying is the pseudo-psychoanalysis of each minute detail of his childhood and attempts to link it with what Trotsky was like as an adult. Mostly because the only way we know about what happened in his childhood is from interviewing the people that were around him, and by the time they were interviewed, Trotsky was already famous, so of course they saw all sorts of portents in every detail of his childhood.
The book does get better as it moves on. One thing that is interesting is the picture of the Czar's secret police and the Russian justice system. I'd always had the impression that the revolutionaries were ruthlessly persecuted and mistreated, but Service seems to paint a very different picture.
The impression I get from reading his description of the interactions between the revolutionaries and the law is that they were almost bordering on incompetent Keystone Cops. Sure they were imprisoned and exiled to Siberia, but it seemed very easy to escape from exile to Europe, which is what most of the revolutionaries wound up doing. I'd have figured that the punishments would be much worse for people charged with trying to overthrow the monarchy.
Another interesting thing - Trotsky was basically a vain blowhard. He was very good at writing moving and poignant prose and for this he was sought out by the Marxists, but he was an argumentative and polemic person. It was ironic because in the big split between the Bolshevik and Menshevik Marxists he always envisioned himself as a person trying to unify the two factions, but he basically managed to have both of them pissed at him.
Something else - reading this book, you really do get a sense of how enamored these people were with "ideas" - the "right way of thinking" vs errors of dogma. Yet at the same time, you get the sense that at least some of them, especially Trotsky were just into it because it gave them a chance to show off. It is telling that as a young man, when Trotsky first joined the revolutionary circles, he read Schopenhauer's The Art of Controversy, so he could basically always win the argument by any means necessary, regardless whether he was right or wrong.
More thoughts later...