Great Reads: Understanding modern Russia 100 years on

A People’s Tragedy – The Russian Revolution – 1891-1924 – Orlando Figes, 1996. An epic sweep through the last days of Tsar Nicholas, the attempts to bring some sort of democracy or public representation, and the way Lenin and the Bolsheviks succeeded in pushing through to victory with cunning and determination. A vital scene-setter to understand how those early days played out and how they resonate now – Peter Bale, WikiTribune

The Man without a Face: The Unlikely Rise of Vladimir Putin – Masha Gessen, 2013. Gessen is a controversial and clearly personally brave journalist and analyst who has charted Putin’s early days, KGB life and gone deep into the bloody and corruption allegations that swirl around him. Reviewed here by Foreign Affairs magazine.  Gessen is also a frequent contributor to the New Yorker on modern Russia – PB

The Kremlin
The Kremlin in Moscow. By Pavel Kazachkov, Wikimedia

Putin’s Kleptocracy: Who Owns Russia? – Karen Dawisha. An academic, Dawisha goes where others fear to tread in analysing the network of oligarchs and plunderers around President Putin. She comes up with evidence for the widely assumed but seldom shown conclusion that he is at the center of the web. Publication of the book was controversial as her UK publisher, Cambridge University Press, declined to release it. Details from Index on Censorship. – PB

The Less You Know, the Better You Sleep: Russia’s Road to Terror and Dictatorship under Yeltsin and Putin and It Was a Long Time Ago, and It Never Happened Anyway: Russia and the Communist Past – David Satter, 2016 and 2012 respectively. Satter clearly loves Russia and Russians and loathes Putin and what he has created from the legacy of Boris Yeltsin and earlier. The Less You Know (review by the National Review) suggests state and presidential complicity in some of the worst acts of terror in Russian history and, like Dawisha’s book, the creation of a kleptocracy around Putin. It Was a Long Time Ago (review by Foreign Affairs), is a sadder and more poignant look at how Russia wrestles but never deals with the history of Gulag and the Great Terror.
WikiTribune has an interview with David Satter as part of our Russia-100 years on series. – PB

Nicholas and Alexandra – Robert K. Massie, 1968. At the lighter end of the spectrum, and basis for the 1971 film of the same name, this is still an absorbing portrait of the times and the personalities who were caught in the whirlwind as the Romanov dynasty met its fate.

And Quiet Flows the Don – Mikhail Sholokhov. This great novel by the 1965 Nobel Laureate for literature has become controversial over its genuine authorship. But its tale of Cossack life in the first part of the 20th century, spiked with war, and the recurrent presence of the mighty river, has all the trademarks of the great Russian writers in its restraint, gloom, and understanding of human nature. – Angela Long, WikiTribune

Putin’s Games – David Remnick. A New Yorker piece from 2014, explaining why Vladimir Putin pursued the Winter Olympics with such intensity, and giving a broader picture of the enigmatic leader’s motivations. – Burhan Wazir, WikiTrbune

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