Since the coming of perestroika in 1985, scholars have had unprecedented access to Russian archives. In Russia: A History, editor Gregory Freeze and twelve other American and European historians have mined these newly opened archives and browsed through the best contemporary scholarship to provide a major reinterpretation of the history of one of the world's great powers.
Here is the first major history of Russia to appear since the fall of the Soviet Union, beginning in the 8th century and ranging across a thousand years to the recently established Commonwealth of Independent States. What emerges is a nation of extremesof imperial opulence and abject poverty, tyrannical power and subversive resistance, artistic achievement and economic crisis, glittering cities and frozen steppes. The contributors capture a powerful sense of Russia's national destiny of repeated themes and unchanging conditions. We see, for instance, that time and again, all-powerful autocrats like Ivan the Terrible and Stalin employed brutality to eliminate any challenge to their authority. Yet their hold on power was always under attack, threatened by bureaucratic incompetence, pervasive corruption, and resistance from below. Russian rulers have also had to contend with the same immense physical challenges: a huge and widely dispersed population, a perennial dearth of means and men to govern, a primitive infrastructure which, as the authors show, periodically dissolved into times of trouble, as in 1598, 1917, and 1991.
Handsomely illustrated with nearly 170 illustrations, including 12 color plates, this landmark history cuts through the myths that have surrounded Russia to tell the absorbing story of one of the world's most powerful nations.
The historiographical approach to 20th-century Russian history has changed since 1989; current Western thought gives Stalin slightly more benefit of the doubt than current Russian historians do. Among the 12 mostly Western historians Brandeis history professor Freeze has asked to contribute to this work, Donald W. Treadgold (Twentieth Century Russia, 1972) and Merle Fainsod (How Russia Is Ruled, 1963) are examples of pre-1989 historiography. Freeze divides his work into three erasearly modern, modern, and 20th centurywith the last section on 20th-century Russia similar in content to Robert Service's A History of Twentieth-Century Russia (LJ 3/1/98). The 12 writers produce a patchwork of styles, with one author writing sentences that run for a paragraph, but generally the writing quality is high. This book would make an excellent college text and is also recommended for public libraries needing current Russian history information.Harry V. Willems, Southeast Kansas Lib. Sys., Iola