russian history

July booklist

Selection for the rest of this year looks great – if you’re into deterrence, campy World War III thrillers, and exaggerated tales of the Russian Threat. For those of us who demand more from our Russia-related reads, pickings are far slimmer – but not nonexistent.

Russia’s Last Gasp: The Eastern Front 1916-17 by Prit Buttar (Sept 19 2017)

In Russia’s Last Gasp, now in paperback, Prit Buttar looks at one of the bloodiest campaigns launched in the history of warfare–the Brusilov Offensive, sometimes known as the June Advance. With British, French and German forces locked in a stalemate in the trenches of the Western Front, an attack was launched by the massed Russian armies to the east. The assault was intended to knock Austria-Hungary out of the war and divert German troops from the Western Front, easing the pressure on Russia’s allies. Russia’s dismal military performance in the preceding years was forgotten, as the Brusilov Offensive was quickly characterized by innovative tactics. Most impressive of all was the Russian use of shock troops, a strategy that German armies would later use to great effect in the final years of the war.

Drawing on first-hand accounts and detailed archival research Buttar gives a dramatic retelling of final years of the war on the Eastern Front, with the Russian Army claiming military success at a cost so high that it was never able to recover.

Russian Literature Since 1991 by Evgeny Dobrenko et al. (Aug 31 2017)

Russian Literature since 1991 is the first comprehensive, single-volume compendium of modern scholarship on post-Soviet Russian literature. The volume encompasses broad, complex and diverse sources of literary material – from ideological and historical novels to experimental prose and poetry, from nonfiction to drama. Written by an international team of leading experts on contemporary Russian literature and culture, it presents a broad panorama of genres in post-Soviet literature such as postmodernism, magical historicism, hyper-naturalism (in drama), and the new lyricism. At the same time, it offers close readings of the most prominent works published in Russia since the end of the Soviet regime and elimination of censorship. The collection highlights the interdisciplinary context of twenty-first-century Russian literature and can be widely used both for research and teaching by specialists in and beyond Russian studies, including those in post-Cold War and post-communist world history, literary theory, comparative literature and cultural studies.

How Not to Network a Nation: The Uneasy History of the Soviet Internet by Benjamin Peters (Sept 8 2017)

Between 1959 and 1989, Soviet scientists and officials made numerous attempts to network their nation — to construct a nationwide computer network. None of these attempts succeeded, and the enterprise had been abandoned by the time the Soviet Union fell apart. Meanwhile, ARPANET, the American precursor to the Internet, went online in 1969. Why did the Soviet network, with top-level scientists and patriotic incentives, fail while the American network succeeded? In How Not to Network a Nation, Benjamin Peters reverses the usual cold war dualities and argues that the American ARPANET took shape thanks to well-managed state subsidies and collaborative research environments and the Soviet network projects stumbled because of unregulated competition among self-interested institutions, bureaucrats, and others. The capitalists behaved like socialists while the socialists behaved like capitalists.

After examining the midcentury rise of cybernetics, the science of self-governing systems, and the emergence in the Soviet Union of economic cybernetics, Peters complicates this uneasy role reversal while chronicling the various Soviet attempts to build a “unified information network.” Drawing on previously unknown archival and historical materials, he focuses on the final, and most ambitious of these projects, the All-State Automated System of Management (OGAS), and its principal promoter, Viktor M. Glushkov. Peters describes the rise and fall of OGAS — its theoretical and practical reach, its vision of a national economy managed by network, the bureaucratic obstacles it encountered, and the institutional stalemate that killed it. Finally, he considers the implications of the Soviet experience for today’s networked world.

The House of Government: A Saga of the Russian Revolution by Yuri Slezkine (Aug 15 2017)

On the 100th anniversary of the Russian Revolution, the epic story of an enormous apartment building where Communist true believers lived before their destruction

The House of Government is unlike any other book about the Russian Revolution and the Soviet experiment. Written in the tradition of Tolstoy’s War and Peace, Grossman’s Life and Fate, and Solzhenitsyn’s The Gulag Archipelago, Yuri Slezkine’s gripping narrative tells the true story of the residents of an enormous Moscow apartment building where top Communist officials and their families lived before they were destroyed in Stalin’s purges. A vivid account of the personal and public lives of Bolshevik true believers, the book begins with their conversion to Communism and ends with their children’s loss of faith and the fall of the Soviet Union.

Completed in 1931, the House of Government, later known as the House on the Embankment, was located across the Moscow River from the Kremlin. The largest residential building in Europe, it combined 505 furnished apartments with public spaces that included everything from a movie theater and a library to a tennis court and a shooting range. Slezkine tells the chilling story of how the building’s residents lived in their apartments and ruled the Soviet state until some eight hundred of them were evicted from the House and led, one by one, to prison or their deaths.

Drawing on letters, diaries, and interviews, and featuring hundreds of rare photographs, The House of Government weaves together biography, literary criticism, architectural history, and fascinating new theories of revolutions, millennial prophecies, and reigns of terror. The result is an unforgettable human saga of a building that, like the Soviet Union itself, became a haunted house, forever disturbed by the ghosts of the disappeared.

Russia and the Western Far Right: Tango Noir by Anton Shekovtsov (Sept 16 2017)

The growing influence of Russia on the Western far right has been much discussed in the media recently. This book is the first detailed inquiry into what has been a neglected but critically important trend: the growing links between Russian actors and Western far right activists, publicists, ideologues, and politicians. The author uses a range of sources including interviews, video footage, leaked communications, official statements and press coverage in order to discuss both historical and contemporary Russia in terms of its relationship with the Western far right.

Initial contacts between Russian political actors and Western far right activists were established in the early 1990s, but these contacts were low profile. As Moscow has become more anti-Western, these contacts have become more intense and have operated at a higher level. The book shows that the Russian establishment was first interested in using the Western far right to legitimise Moscow’s politics and actions both domestically and internationally, but more recently Moscow has begun to support particular far right political forces to gain leverage on European politics and undermine the liberal-democratic consensus in the West.

Contributing to ongoing scholarly debates about Russia’s role in the world, its strategies aimed at securing legitimation of Putin’s regime both internationally and domestically, modern information warfare and propaganda, far right politics and activism in the West, this book draws on theories and methods from history, political science, area studies, and media studies and will be of interest to students, scholars, activists and practitioners in these areas.

Reminiscences of Lenin by Nadezhda Krupskaya (Aug 15 2017)

Nadezhda Konstantinovna Krupskaya was a founding member of the Russian Bolshevik Party and the wife of Vladimir Lenin from 1898 until his death in 1924. As both his closest political collaborator and personal confidant, Krupskaya offers invaluable insights into the life and thought of the most important leader of the Russian Revolution. The portrait of Lenin that emerges is of a man unwavering in his convictions, but also—contrary to the mythology later woven around him—quick to laugh and tender in his affections.

Putin’s Olympics: The Sochi Games and the Evolution of Twenty-First Century Russia by Robert W. Orttung

President Vladimir Putin’s Olympic venture put the workings of contemporary Russia on vivid display. The Sochi Olympics were designed to symbolize Russia’s return to great power status, but subsequent aggression against Ukraine, large-scale corruption, and the doping scandal have become the true legacies of the games. The Kremlin’s style of governance through mega-projects has had deleterious consequences for the country’s development. Placing the Sochi games into the larger context of Olympic history, this book examines the political, security, business, ethnic, societal, and international ramifications of Putin’s system.

A Short Life of Pushkin by Robert Chandler (Sept 12 2017)

A short yet fascinating account of Russia’s most celebrated writer.

In Robert Chandler’s exquisite biography, literary giant Alexander Pushkin, lauded as the Russian Shakespeare, is examined as writer, lover and public figure. Chandler explores his relationship to politics and provides a fascinating glimpse of the turbulent history Pushkin lived through. The book acts as a succinct guide to anybody trying to understand Russia’s most celebrated literary figure and also illuminates the wider historical and political context of early nineteenth-century Russia.

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4 thoughts on “July booklist

  1. “In How Not to Network a Nation, Benjamin Peters reverses the usual cold war dualities and argues that the American ARPANET took shape thanks to well-managed state subsidies and collaborative research environments and the Soviet network projects stumbled because of unregulated competition among self-interested institutions, bureaucrats, and others. The capitalists behaved like socialists while the socialists behaved like capitalists.”

    Ha! Yet another confirmation of my thesis that the Progress is impossible without direct and forceful presence of the State. This annotation though don’t mention the other half of any “story of success” – that new development must be done for the military (which was precisely the case with the Internet).

    “Written in the tradition of Tolstoy’s War and Peace, Grossman’s Life and Fate, and Solzhenitsyn’s The Gulag Archipelago, Yuri Slezkine’s gripping narrative tells the true story…”

    “True story”? Naaaah…

    “The result is an unforgettable human saga of a building that, like the Soviet Union itself, became a haunted house, forever disturbed by the ghosts of the disappeared.”

    So much pathos!

    “Contributing to ongoing scholarly debates about Russia’s role in the world, its strategies aimed at securing legitimation of Putin’s regime both internationally and domestically”

    Here they lost me. They think that Russia needs “legitimation”?

    “The Kremlin’s style of governance through mega-projects”

    “Mega-projects” are not some invention of “Putinism”. It’s our national idea. We can’t live without devoting ourselves to some project of the cosmic scale. At the same time, going and paining a bench in your couryard – that’s beyond our scope! 🙂

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  2. “Drawing on previously unknown archival and historical materials, he focuses on the final, and most ambitious of these projects, the All-State Automated System of Management (OGAS), and its principal promoter, Viktor M. Glushkov.”

    J.T., if you haven’t, listen to Argonov’s “2032“. It’s a techno-opera, featuring among the major protagonists Glushkov’s OGAS.

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  3. “The Sochi Olympics were designed to symbolize Russia’s return to great power status, but subsequent aggression against Ukraine, large-scale corruption, and the doping scandal have become the true legacies of the games.”

    Anyone writing a whole book in the framework that these principles are factual – we need only look at how the ‘doping scandal’ is falling apart to see that it was completely fabricated as a prime mover to nullify Russia’s medal wins and prevent the country from competing at Rio – will of a necessity finish with a flawed product which reaches the usual blasé cookie-cutter conclusions. Might be worth reading for laughs, though.

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