cover image The Soviet Century: Archaeology of a Lost World

The Soviet Century: Archaeology of a Lost World

Karl Schlögel, trans. from the German by Rodney Livingstone. Princeton Univ, $39.95 (880p) ISBN 978-0-691-18374-9

In this magnum opus, Schlögel (Ukraine: A Nation on the Borderland), professor emeritus of Eastern European history at the European University Viadrina, surveys the “Soviet lifeworld,” from megaprojects like the 1920s Dnieper Hydroelectric Station (where “elegance and barbarism were intertwined”) to WWII medals that are up for sale at a contemporary flea market. Drawing on several decades of research and travel in the U.S.S.R., Schlögel explains the nuances of Five-Year-Plans that reorganized the Soviet economy; describes workers’ sanatoriums and state-run wedding palaces; remarks on famous denizens like fashion designer Nadezdha Lamanova, who “turned fashion à la russe into a brand”; documents the recycling of churches and church bells into construction materials; and disparages the era’s “brutal violence” while visiting the ruins of forced labor camps along the river Kolyma. Though Schlögel’s thoughts on “the physical and moral decline of the megamachine” and other ruminations can veer toward the esoteric, this vast and vivid montage stresses the era’s cultural validity and eschews the tendency of recent histories to view the epoch strictly through a Cold War lens, with the West as winner-take-all. “The dissolution of empires is always something of a happy catastrophe,” the author writes. This invaluable study casts a lost world in a new light. (Mar.)