May booklist

It’s been a while since I’ve created one of these. There’s a reason for that: Paperback Swap – my #1 source of upcoming titles – is no longer functional, and so I had to collect books manually. The following books hail from Amazon, the dark depths of Goodreads, and every other book database that knows how to code functioning search bars (yes Paperback Swap, I went there!). Some are old, most are new. Some look curious, some look unreadable. The only way to find out which are which is to read this post.

Catherine the Great: Portrait of a Woman by Robert K. Massie

The Pulitzer Prize–winning author of Peter the Great, Nicholas and Alexandra, and The Romanovs returns with another masterpiece of narrative biography, the extraordinary story of an obscure young German princess who traveled to Russia at fourteen and rose to become one of the most remarkable, powerful, and captivating women in history.

Born into a minor noble family, Catherine transformed herself into Empress of Russia by sheer determination. Possessing a brilliant mind and an insatiable curiosity as a young woman, she devoured the works of Enlightenment philosophers and, when she reached the throne, attempted to use their principles to guide her rule of the vast and backward Russian empire. She knew or corresponded with the preeminent historical figures of her time: Voltaire, Diderot, Frederick the Great, Empress Maria Theresa of Austria, Marie Antoinette, and, surprisingly, the American naval hero, John Paul Jones.

Reaching the throne fired by Enlightenment philosophy and determined to become the embodiment of the “benevolent despot” idealized by Montesquieu, she found herself always contending with the deeply ingrained realities of Russian life, including serfdom. She persevered, and for thirty-four years the government, foreign policy, cultural development, and welfare of the Russian people were in her hands. She dealt with domestic rebellion, foreign wars, and the tidal wave of political change and violence churned up by the French Revolution that swept across Europe. Her reputation depended entirely on the perspective of the speaker. She was praised by Voltaire as the equal of the greatest of classical philosophers; she was condemned by her enemies, mostly foreign, as “the Messalina of the north.”

[…]

The story is superbly told. All the special qualities that Robert K. Massie brought to Nicholas and Alexandra and Peter the Great are present here: historical accuracy, depth of understanding, felicity of style, mastery of detail, ability to shatter myth, and a rare genius for finding and expressing the human drama in extraordinary lives.

The Gray House by Mariam Petrosyan

The Gray House is an astounding tale of how what others understand as liabilities can be leveraged into strengths.

Bound to wheelchairs and dependent on prosthetic limbs, the physically disabled students living in the House are overlooked by the Outsides. Not that it matters to anyone living in the House, a hulking old structure that its residents know is alive. From the corridors and crawl spaces to the classrooms and dorms, the House is full of tribes, tinctures, scared teachers, and laws—all seen and understood through a prismatic array of teenagers’ eyes.

But student deaths and mounting pressure from the Outsides put the time-defying order of the House in danger. As the tribe leaders struggle to maintain power, they defer to the awesome power of the House, attempting to make it through days and nights that pass in ways that clocks and watches cannot record.

Losing Pravda: Ethics and the Press in Post-Truth Russia by Natalia Roudakova

What happens when journalism is made superfluous? Combining ethnography, media analysis, moral and political theory this book examines the unravelling of professional journalism in Russia over the past twenty-five years, and its effects on society. It argues that, contrary to widespread assumptions, late Soviet-era journalists shared a cultural contract with their audiences, which ensured that their work was guided by a truth-telling ethic. Post-communist economic and political upheaval led not so much to greater press freedom as to the de-professionalization of journalism, as journalists found themselves having to monetize their truth-seeking skills. This has culminated in a perception of journalists as political prostitutes, or members of the ‘second oldest profession’, as they are commonly termed in Russia. Roudakova argues that this cultural shift has fundamentally eroded the value of truth-seeking and telling in Russian society.

Melting the Ice Curtain: The Extraordinary Story of Citizen Diplomacy on the Russia-Alaska Border by David Ramseur

Just five years after a Soviet missile blew a civilian airliner out of the sky over the North Pacific, an Alaska Airlines jet braved Cold War tensions to fly into tomorrow. Crossing the Bering Strait between Alaska and the Russian Far East, the 1988 Friendship Flight reunited Native peoples of common languages and cultures for the first time in four decades. It and other dramatic efforts to thaw what was known as the Ice Curtain launched a thirty-year era of perilous, yet prolific, progress.

Melting the Ice Curtain tells the story of how inspiration, courage, and persistence by citizen-diplomats bridged a widening gap in superpower relations. David Ramseur was a first-hand witness to the danger and political intrigue, having flown on that first Friendship Flight, and having spent thirty years behind the scenes with some of Alaska’s highest officials. As Alaska celebrates the 150th anniversary of its purchase, and as diplomatic ties with Russia become perilous, Melting the Ice Curtain shows that history might hold the best lessons for restoring diplomacy between nuclear neighbors.

Revolution: Russian Art 1917-1932

One hundred years after the Russian Revolution, Revolution: Russian Art, 1917–1932 explores one of the most momentous periods in modern world history through its groundbreaking art. The October Revolution of 1917 ended centuries of Tsarist rule and left artists such as Malevich, Tatlin, Popova and Rodchenko urgently debating what form a new “people’s art” would take.
Painting and sculpture were redefined by Kandinsky’s boldly innovative compositions, Malevich’s dynamic abstractions and the Constructivists’ attempts to transform art into technical engineering. Photography, architecture, film and graphic design also experienced revolutionary changes. These debates were definitively settled in 1932, when Stalin began to suppress the avant-garde in favor of Socialist Realism―collective in production, public in manifestation and Communist in ideology.
Based around a remarkable exhibition shown in Leningrad’s State Russian Museum in 1932―which was to be the swansong of avant-garde art in Russia―this volume explores that revolutionary 15-year period between 1917 and 1932 when possibilities seemed limitless and Russian art flourished across every medium. Published to accompany a major exhibition at the Royal Academy of Arts, London (the first to attempt to survey the entire artistic landscape of post-Revolutionary Russia), Revolution explores the painting, sculpture, photography, film, poster art and product design of the years after the Russian Revolution.
Including contributions from some of the most prominent scholars in the field (John Milner, Natalia Murray, Nick Murray, Masha Chlenova, Ian Christie, John E. Bowlt, Nicoletta Misler, Zelfira Tregulova, Faina Balakhovskaya, Evgenia Petrova and Christina Lodder), Revolution is a timely and authoritative exploration of both the idealistic aspirations and the harsh realities of the Russian Revolution and its aftermath.

One Minute to Midnight: Kennedy, Khrushchev, and Castro on the Brink of Nuclear War by Michael Dobbs

In October 1962, at the height of the Cold War, the United States and the Soviet Union came to the brink of nuclear conflict over the placement of Soviet missiles in Cuba. In this hour-by-hour chronicle of those tense days, veteran Washington Post reporter Michael Dobbs reveals just how close we came to Armageddon.

Here, for the first time, are gripping accounts of Khrushchev’s plan to destroy the U.S. naval base at Guantánamo; the handling of Soviet nuclear warheads on Cuba; and the extraordinary story of a U-2 spy plane that got lost over Russia at the peak of the crisis.

Written like a thriller, One Minute to Midnight is an exhaustively researched account of what Arthur Schlesinger, Jr. called “the most dangerous moment in human history,” and the definitive book on the Cuban missile crisis.

Creating Russophobia: From the Great Schism to Anti-Putin Hysteria by Guy Mettan

Why do the USA, UK and Europe so hate Russia? How is it that Western antipathy, once thought due to anti-Communism, could be so easily revived over a crisis in distant Ukraine, against a Russia no longer communist? Why does the West accuse Russia of empire-building, when 15 states once part of the defunct Warsaw Pact are now part of NATO, and NATO troops now flank the Russian border?

These are only some of the questions Creating Russophobia iinvestigates. Mettan begins by showing the strength of the prejudice against Russia through the Western response to a series of events: the Uberlingen mid-air collision, the Beslan hostage-taking, the Ossetia War, the Sochi Olympics and the crisis in Ukraine. He then delves into the historical, religious, ideological and geopolitical roots of the detestation of Russia in various European nations over thirteen centuries since Charlemagne competed with Byzantium for the title of heir to the Roman Empire. Mettan examines the geopolitical machinations expressed in those times through the medium of religion, leading to the great Christian schism between Germanic Rome and Byzantium and the European Crusades against Russian Orthodoxy. This history of taboos, prejudices and propaganda directed against the Orthodox Church provides the mythic foundations that shaped Western disdain for contemporary Russia. From the religious and imperial rivalry created by Charlemagne and the papacy to the genesis of French, English, German and then American Russophobia, the West has been engaged in more or less violent hostilities against Russia for a thousand years. Contemporary Russophobia is manufactured through the construction of an anti-Russian discourse in the media and the diplomatic world, and the fabrication and demonization of The Bad Guy, now personified by Vladimir Putin. Both feature in the meta-narrative, the mythical framework of the ferocious Russian bear ruled with a rod of iron by a vicious president. A synthetic reading of all these elements is presented in the light of recent events and in particular of the Ukrainian crisis and the recent American elections, showing how all the resources of the West’s soft power have been mobilized to impose the tale of bad Russia dreaming of global conquest.

Russian Foreign Policy Beyond Putin by Eugene B. Rumer

Russia’s resurgence as an assertive actor in the global diplomatic arena after a long period of introspection and preoccupation with domestic troubles, and the economic revival that underpins it, are among the most striking developments in international relations of recent years. But what drives Russian foreign policy at the end of the Putin era? To what extent is it shaped by Russia’s role as a major energy supplier, and how long can the country remain an ‘energy superpower’, if indeed it is one? How might Russian foreign policy change in the years ahead? Which way will Russia, faced with the might of growing powers around it, and struggling with the fragility of its economic success and stability at home, choose to face in international relations?

This Adelphi Paper examines the domestic context of contemporary Russian foreign policy and its key political, economic, military and security drivers, as well as looking at the contrasting outlook that preceded it, and at how Russia’s international posture may adjust again in the coming years. It concludes with recommendations for Western policy makers on how to respond to Russia’s return.

New Trends in Russian Political Mentality: Putin 3.0 by Elena Shestopal et al.

This book examines popular perceptions of recent political and psychological changes during Vladimir Putin’s third term, a unique period in the post-Soviet political history of Russia. The contributors analyze recent trends in Russian society and interpret citizens’ views of political power, institutions, and leaders.

Orders to Kill: The Putin Regime and Political Murder by Amy Knight

Ever since Vladamir Putin came to power in Russia, his critics have turned up dead on a regular basis. According to Amy Knight, this is no coincidence. In Orders to Kill, the KGB scholar ties dozens of victims together to expose a campaign of political murder during Putin’s reign that even includes terrorist attacks such as the Boston Marathon Bombing.

The New Autocracy: Information, Politics, and Policy in Putin’s Russia by Daniel Treisman

I refuse to believe this is the same Daniel Treisman who authored The Return.

Rapture by Illiazd

The draft dodger Laurence yearns to take control of his destiny. Having fled to the highlands, he asserts his independence by committing a string of robberies and murders. Then he happens upon Ivlita, a beautiful young woman trapped in an intricately carved mahogany house. Laurence does not hesitate to take her as well. Determined to drape his young bride in jewels, he plots ever more daring heists. Yet when Laurence finds himself casting bombs alongside members of a revolutionary cell, he must again ask: is he a free man or a pawn of history?

Rapture is a fast-paced adventure-romance and a literary treat of the highest order. With a deceptively light hand, Iliazd entertains questions that James Joyce, Virginia Woolf, and Thomas Mann once faced. How does the individual balance freedom and necessity, love and death, creativity and sterility? What is the role of violence in human history and culture? How does language both comfort and fail us in our postwar, post-Christian world?

Censored for decades in the Soviet Union, Rapture was nearly lost to Russian and Western audiences. This translation rescues Laurence’s surreal journey from the oblivion he, too, faces as he tries to outrun fate.

Advertisements

2 comments

  1. The Amy Knight book does not inspire confidence:

    ‘In Orders to Kill, the KGB scholar ties dozens of victims together to expose a campaign of political murder during Putin’s reign that even includes terrorist attacks such as the Boston Marathon Bombing.

    Knight … offers new information about the most famous victims, such as Alexander Litvinenko, the former FSB officer who was poisoned while living in London, and the statesman Boris Nemtsov, who was murdered outside the Kremlin in 2015, and she puts faces on many others who are less well-known in the West or forgotten. She shows that terrorist attacks in Russia, as well as the Boston Marathon bombing in the U.S., are part of the same campaign.’

    Is she really going to claim that Putin ordered the Boston bombing? Sounds like it.

    Can’t wait not to read this one when it comes out.

    Like

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s