J.T.’s note: I’ve done it. I’ve found the very first Russia review I ever did – which dates back to when I first became interested in Russian affairs several years ago – in a very, very old folder on my computer. It even predates my decision to pursue Russian studies as a major. My, how my views have changed since I wrote this!
Growing up in a post-Cold War America, I was not unlike many of my peers when it came to literacy of Russian culture, values, or history – almost everything I knew of the “Wild East” I learned from 80’s and 90’s film villains. Those stereotypes were readily abandoned however after being exposed to the language, Russian politics and some enchanting soviet/post-soviet films, and with my interest in the culture so peaked I sought out books that would provide a concise over-view of the country I had previously been content to simple write off (like so many Westerners) as a “riddle, wrapped in a mystery, inside an enigma.”
Russia: A 1000-Year Chronicle is a painless and engaging starting point to the country’s exciting history and does a fair job at encapsulating the significance of certain points and players in Russia’s history without the reader feeling as if they’re being patronized with child-like simplifications or, conversely, on the receiving end of a heady lecture. Sixsmith does a good job of keeping the reader engaged with his relaxed tone and frequent interjection of poetry and accounts of personal experiences. In fact, the only point in which I felt my eyes starting to glaze over with disinterest was when reading the specifics of Russian military action during WWII – I’m not that big about military history.
Concerning criticism of the book, some have found the book guilty of presenting a “cartoon version” of Russian history and the critique is not wholly unfounded. It truly would be a mistake to take Sixsmith’s sweeping account of Russia’s entire history as the final word. I can only counter that due to the scope of the material, simplifications will be made, but whether or not those simplifications are responsibly handled is up for debate.
Here is what I did not like about the book:
-It’s more a history of the Soviet Union than of Russia. All of pre-Soviet history is covered within the first 100 pages or so and almost all the rest of it is Soviet Union.
-I take issue with the author’s identification of “Asiatic” with oppressive, despotic, and irrational while “Western” or “European” represents everything enlightened, grand, and great. This is a pretty old, simplistic, and false prejudice that has no place in modern politics.
Instead of being satisfied with the history presented at the author’s hand, I am inspired to continue to research Russia and the people who have shaped its history. Overall, Russia is a good introduction to the world’s largest country.
★ ★ ★
Russia: A 1000-year Chronicle of the Wild East by Martin Sixsmith. Pub. 2013 by The Overlook Press. Paperback, 624 pages. ISBN13: 9781468305012