978-0-674-01114-4 / 9780674011144

Russia and the Russians: A History


Publisher:Belknap Press of Harvard University Press



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About the book:

Calling your book Russia and the Russians may be plain speaking but it is also asking for trouble. Unlike China and other eastern countries, whose differences are all too obvious, Russia is a country that feels familiar to Western observers; we acknowledge the proximity and its writers, such as Tolstoy and Turgenev, speak recognisably to our condition. Yet it is a country that is barely understood outside its national boundaries. So attempting to describe, explain and interpret 1,000 years of history within 600 pages is a big ask and one that would be beyond most Russians--let alone Britons. Geoffrey Hosking, Professor of Russian history at the University of London, is one of the few scholars you would back to get away with it. Hosking has been steeped in Russian history since he taught himself to speak the language as a teenager and has already cut his teeth on such prize-winning books as History of the Soviet Union and Russia: People and Empire and is more than up to the challenge. In short, Russia and the Russians is as close to the authoritative take on the subject as you could dare to ask.

Russia is a country full of contradictions. It is a huge expanse of land, yet its very physical accessibility has laid it open to many more invasions than many lesser nations. Its administrative power structures lean towards the east, its culture to the west and its religion to the Byzantine. Its economic underdevelopment has not been so much caused by the inefficiencies of size and the extremes of temperature but by the need to devote so much manpower to its physical protection. Its size and vulnerability required an authoritarian state but conversely its very size and economic backwardness meant that most people's lives were not directly controlled by the state. It is a country of mirrors where nothing is quite as it seems, where anything is up for grabs. Hosking has a relaxed style that eases us gently through the early settlers through the Mongol hordes, the autocracies of Ivan the Terrible and Peter the Great, to the Crimean War, the Bolshevik Revolution, Stalinism, Glasnost and the current war in Chechnya. What emerges is an, as yet, unfulfilled search for identity. Twenty-five years ago, you'd have been laughed out of academia for even suggesting that the Communist system might one day collapse; 10 years ago, it was widely assumed that Russia would helter-skelter into a Western democracy. Today, it has metamorphosed into a new disparate entity, recognisable primarily for its unrecognisability. What it will look like in 10 years time is anyone's guess. But you can bet that Hosking's perspective will be more accurate than most. --John Crace

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