A Short History of Russia: How the World’s Largest Country Invented Itself, from the Pagans to Putin

Mark Galeotti. Hanover Square, $27.99 (224p) ISBN 978-1-335-14570-3
Think tank scholar Galeotti (We Need to Talk About Putin) explores the links between national identity, mythmaking, and statecraft in this brisk and idiosyncratic rundown of Russia’s 1,000-year history. Revealing how “grand historical narratives” cobbled from legends and twisted facts have been used to justify expansionist policies and “state-building schemes” from the 10th century to today, Galeotti rehashes the conquests, alliances, and conspiracies that make up Russia’s complex past. He debunks the “convenient” myth that Mongol dominion from 1240 until 1480 cut off Russia from Renaissance Europe and predisposed it to “despotism,” and notes that the Prussian-born monarch Catherine the Great exploited “tenuous” genealogical links to a Viking dynasty and an 800-year-old myth to take the Russian throne in the 18th century. The persistent theme—wielded by Lenin to build socialism, Stalin to modernize the Soviet Union, and Putin to seize the Crimea—behind these and other historical narratives, Galeotti writes, is that Russia’s “greater destiny” justifies its actions. Experts may balk at Galeotti’s self-acknowledged “broad brush” (Napoleon’s 1812 invasion only gets a few paragraphs, for instance), but he often finds clarity through concision and down-to-earth prose. This is an accessible and illuminating summary of how modern Russia came to be. (July)
Reviewed on : 05/19/2020
Release date: 07/14/2020
Genre: Nonfiction
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