Tuesday, November 24, 2009

NY Times book review: "History of Russia. XX Century"

A new two-volume history of Russia’s turbulent 20th century is being hailed inside and outside the country as a landmark contribution to the swirling debate over Russia’s past and national identity.

Written by 45 historians led by Andrei Zubov, a professor at the institute that serves as university to the Russian Foreign Ministry, the weighty history — almost 1,000 pages per volume — was published this year by AST Publishers and is already in its second printing of 10,000 copies.

Retailing at the rough equivalent of $20 a volume and titled “History of Russia. XX Century,” the books try to rise above ideologically charged clashes over Russia’s historical memory. They are critical both of czarist and Communist Russia, and incorporate the history of Russian emigration and the Russian Orthodox Church into the big picture of a chaotic, violent century. While written from a clearly Christian perspective — one author is a Russian Orthodox priest — the history avoids overt nationalism or anti-Semitism.

Eminent historians in the United States and Poland who often take a critical view of Russia’s passionate, partisan discussion of history lauded its balance.

“Nothing like it has ever been published in Russia,” Richard Pipes, the Harvard University Sovietologist, wrote in an e-mail message, noting that he was trying to raise money for a translation and publication in English. “It is a remarkable work: remarkable not only for Russia but also for Western readers. For one, it has gotten away from the nationalism so common in Russian history books, according to which the Russians were always the victims of aggression, never aggressors.”

Mr. Pipes noted that it made extensive use of Western sources — rare in Russia — and praised its attention to often overlooked questions of the role of morals and religious beliefs.
Read the rest here.


Stephen said...

Relative context is often left out in historical efforts such as this; who's to say we in America shouldn't do the same self-analysis? For example, which would you prefer to have been at the same point in time in the 19th century, a Russian peasant outside of say Kazan, or an Indian living say in the Missouri territory????

Anonymous said...

While I'm delighted to see some independent historical reflection in Russia, a country near and dear to me personally, I shudder to think what it might consist of when I see Richard Pipes in such a heated state.

Stephen said...

Indeed. Pipes seems quite happy with his lifelong hyper-antagonistic posture vis a vis Orthodoxy and even Russia. Every country, like every person, has its faults, and countries and people can be judged by their fruit - provided we all share the same standard of good and evil. The issue, however, is what standards are being used? It may have been Stalin, but it just as well may have been Boss Tweed, who said, "It's not the votes that count, but who counts the votes." And many who would judge in the West most definitely do not share the same set of standards as, I would hazard, many of those who read this blog.