The Russian Revolution: A New History

Sean McMeekin. Basic, $32 (480p) ISBN 978-0-465-03990-6

In this brisk history, McMeekin (Ottoman Endgame), professor of history at Bard College, reevaluates the 1917 Russian Revolution on its centennial. With strong scholarly foundations and a riveting narrative, this book provides a broad survey of this tumultuous and fateful social transformation—the dethroning of the czar, the Bolsheviks’ improbable rise to power, and the establishment and consolidation of Bolshevik rule. McMeekin begins with a detailed background, reviewing czarist rule, its weaknesses, and its persistence. The turmoil of WWI roused simmering tensions and the Romanov regime collapsed amid charges of defeatism and treason—and growing protests, strikes, and mutinies. McMeekin navigates the complex political ructions as various factions vied for power, culminating in the Bolsheviks’ triumph. Developments in subsequent years threatened Bolshevik rule, but their victory was solidified with the 1922 Treaty of Rapallo, where the book concludes. McMeekin’s analysis privileges wartime action over the various factions’ raisons d’être, and he suggests—based on flimsy evidence—that Lenin was a German agent and the Bolshevik insurrection was rooted in German strategic policy. The work claims to be “unmediated by our current prejudices,” but it is emphatically anti-Bolshevik. Despite the glaring divergence between its objective and its content, this fluid work offers an overview of the revolution’s wartime context. Maps & illus.[em] Agent: Andrew Lownie, Andrew Lownie Literary (U.K.). (June) [/em]