cover image A History of Twentieth-Century Russia

A History of Twentieth-Century Russia

Robert Service. Harvard University Press, $32.5 (688pp) ISBN 978-0-674-40347-5

Politics and political leaders are the main characters of this detailed, balanced trip through Russia's tumultuous century because, as Service says in his introduction, ""[t]he economic, social and cultural order in Russia in the twentieth century is quite incomprehensive without sustained attention to political developments."" Service covers his topic comprehensively, beginning with the final years of the tsarist regime and continuing through the rise of the Bolsheviks, the terror of the Stalinist years and the slow, uneven disintegration that culminated with the reforms initiated by Mikhail Gorbachev and the dismemberment of the Soviet Union. He also includes an afterword that assesses the future of post-Communist Russia. A professor of Russian history and politics at the University of London and the author of a trilogy on Lenin, Service avoids the politicization that has plagued Soviet history of recent years. Indeed, one of his main triumphs lies in his ability to depict the totalitarian nature of the regime, while simultaneously illuminating the unwieldy, chaotic society that co-existed with that regime. At times, the author's attention to detail becomes excessive, and he pays only glancing attention to cultural trends that would have deepened his study. Nevertheless, this book, which is written cleanly and with a bit of humor, is sure to become a reference work that few libraries and students of 20th-century Russian politics will want to be without. (Mar.)