The Gulag—the Soviet Union’s vast system of forced-labor camps, internal exile, and prisons—has long been referenced as a gruesome symbol of tyranny in the Stalin era. But why did Soviet authorities act as they did? Death and Redemption: The Gulag and the Shaping of Soviet Society by Steven A. Barnes, director of the Center for Russian and Eurasian Studies at George Mason University, takes a fascinating look at the role of the Gulag, contrasting it with Nazi concentration camps and exploring how it operated primarily as a brutal penal institution and instrument of ‘reeducation’, and not one of genocide. This week the book is the subject of an ongoing blog conversation at the Russian History Blog. A number of Gulag specialists will be discussing the book over the next seven to ten days. Catch the first installments here.