If You Lack Knowledge About Russian History, Read These Books
17 August, 2016
Best Books To Read About Russian History
Some common traits of tourists in Russia:
1.) ‘Snaccidents’ with packs of sushki
2.) Overwhelming sense of pride when they first manage to read ‘MacDonalds’ in Cyrillic
3.) Expression of studied neutrality when asking locals what they think about Putin
4.) Confidence in passing off a few soundbites about the Bolsheviks as a comprehensive grasp of Russian history.
If you happen to be one of those accompanied by a constant sense of nagging guilt about your lack of knowledge of this country’s history, I feel you. No doubt you’ve discovered that however attentive you are to walking tours and museum wall-labels, it rarely coalesces into actual understanding. That’s where the perfect popular history book comes in. There have been virtually whole libraries written about Russian history, but many are either the detail-strewn, academic-research brand of writing, or else the blatantly sensationlist prose of populism. Those rare books that strike the fine balance between being actually entertaining and informative, however, are an excellent accompaniment to your trip here.
2 Russian History Favourites:
My two most highly recommended English-language authors on Russian history are Robert K. Massie and Orlando Figes. Their books are so expansive that by the time you’re through with them, you’ll feel sufficiently informed to work as a tour guide here.
Massie’s area of speciality is biographies of Imperial leaders such as Peter the Great: His Life and World, and Catherine the Great: Portrait of a Woman. Don’t be put off by the fact that both are the size of breezeblocks, their plots have the pace of thrillers, with plenty of family drama, including usurping thrones, assasinating husbands and sons. Massie has a knack for narrative, as well as an astonishing ability to condense huge amounts of information into suspenseful storytelling. His is particularly good for those interested in the history of St. Petersburg, as he documents the building of the city.
Similarly in-depth but enjoyable are Orlando’s Figes A People’s Tragedy: The Russian Revolution 1891-1924 and Natasha’s Dance: A Cultural History of Russia. The former is one of the major texts of the Bolshevik rev olution, whilst the latter takes the unusual approach of spanning the whole history of the country through a consideration of its culture.
This blog was brought to you by Kamila, student and intern at Liden & Denz, St. Petersburg