SUNLIGHT AT MIDNIGHT: St. Petersburg and the Rise of Modern Russia

W. Bruce Lincoln, Author
W. Bruce Lincoln, Author . Basic $35 (419p) ISBN 978-0-465-08323-7
Paperback - 468 pages - 978-0-465-08324-4
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Published posthumously, this history is based on the old adage that St. Petersburg is Russia's "window to the West," that it represents a "psychological force, an intellectual vision, and a way of life against which everything else in Russia has been measured." Lincoln (Conquest of a Continent, one of PW's Best Books for 1994), a top Russian scholar and professor at Northern Illinois University for 31 years, offers a highly accessible and gripping account. ("Dancing was her favorite pastime, and fashion one of her chief concerns," Lincoln writes of Catherine the Great. "Pages at her court strutted in bottle-green uniforms trimmed with gold lace and faced in red as they served guests in the European fashion.") Lincoln focuses on major events like the city's construction, the October Revolution and the Great Blockade; Russian history buffs will find little new here. However, Lincoln's meticulous, colorful detail enlivens these well-trod stories. The work would have benefited from more current material—Lincoln barely grazes post–WWII St. Petersburg—and the city's window-to-the-West status rings more romantic than true today. Lincoln's homage to St. Petersburg doesn't address the city's present or future. He concludes with a platitude: "the people of St. Petersburg have always striven to reach beyond the limits of normal human experience. No doubt they will do so again, but only time can reveal what form their efforts will take." It's unfortunate that this fine, passionate work, too, didn't strive a bit more. 75 photos. (June)

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