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The Shadow of the Winter Palace: Russia's Drift to Revolution 1825-1917
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The Shadow of the Winter Palace: Russia's Drift to Revolution 1825-1917

3.71 of 5 stars 3.71  ·  rating details  ·  108 ratings  ·  15 reviews
An elegantly expostulatory narrative about the Russian century between the failed 1825 Decembrist conspiracy against Tsardom & the WWI collapse. Crankshaw, author of Khrushchev ('66) & Tolstoy ('74), focuses on the monarchy itself, the "sad fatuity" of its earlier attempts to ablish serfdom & the ministers who perpetuated "the sheer frivolity of the system," a ...more
Hardcover, 429 pages
Published August 19th 1976 by Viking Press (NYC) (first published 1976)
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If Robert Massie, in his splendid biography of Catherine the Great, loves her too much and is too uncritical, the same cannot be said of Edward Crankshaw, who likes the Romanovs very little. Even when he recounts some important things they accomplished, he allows them no credit and finds a way to disparage what they achieved and/or their part in it. Yet, he is never mean-spirited as is that other journalist, G.J. Meyer, who discredits everything any of the Tudor monarchs accomplished.

A friend of mine worked at University and saw a stack of copies being remaindered; he purchased these for our literature club and I duly devoured it. Crankshaw may appear to be a determinist per the Saga Rus but it is more nuanced than such. This is a remarkable text.
Embarking on 2-3 months of solid engagement with the Russians, this book is my first stop on the way to Tolstoy, Dostoyevsky and Vasily Grossman. It basically takes in the 90 years that preceded Bruce Lincoln's book on the October Revolution and the Civil War - i.e. the short 19th century from the failed Decembrist uprising to the fall of the Romanovs.

We are blessed when it comes to fluent narrators of Russian history - Crankshaw is almost as fine a stylist as Bruce Lincoln was. His attitude is
Erik Graff
Jul 27, 2013 Erik Graff rated it 4 of 5 stars
Recommends it for: Russian revolution fans
Recommended to Erik by: no one
Shelves: history
This is a popular history of the revolutionary ferment in Russia from the Decembrist Revolt in 1825 to the revolutions of 1917. While neither radical nor scholarly, Crankshaw provides an engagingly accessible introduction to the period--so good, in fact, that I've given copies of this book away as well-received gifts.
Bob H
A witty and wide-ranging study of Russia's drift to revolution from the 1825 Decembrist uprising to the final downfall in WWI. Mr. Crankshaw has drawn in the cultural influences on the Russian intelligentsia through those years -- Dostoyevsky, Rimsky-Korsakov, Mendeleyev -- and their influence and despair. (Mr. Crankshaw notes Mendeleyev's removal from his university professorship by the Minister of Education, a political hack, and the scientist's subsequent rescue by the Finance Minister, Witte ...more
One need not agree with all of Crankshaw's opinions to find this book beautiful, perceptive historical writing. I found his thoughts on Nicholas I to be intriguing; he spends so much time telling us how awful Nicholas was, but the details he shares make Nicholas's reign seem like a rare moment of stability which set the stage for all of Alexander II's reforms. I suspect he sympathized with Nicholas more than he was able to articulate. Additionally, Crankshaw's description of Stolypin as a cold, ...more
Peter Crouse
It's rare for me to arrive at a consensus about what I'm reading, until after I've finished. As it turned out, though, it only took me 40 pages to come to a conclusion about The Shadow of the Winter Palace. After Crankshaw first castigates the Muscovite boyars for inviting the untrammeled accession of the Romanovs in 1613, and then goes on to describe the autocracy as a system where Tsar and people each "brutalized the other", my impression of ivory-tower ignorance on the author's part was set. ...more
As the title makes clear, the author examines 19th-century Russia, told from the Tsar's point of view. The book begins with the tragic and comical uprising in December 1825 against Tsar Nicholas I, an ill-led and small revolt that ended with the deaths of many conspirators. A small cabal in and out of government had convinced just enough illiterate Russians that Nicholas was an illegitimate Tsar. The true Tsar was Nicholas' older brother, Constantine, who was living in Warsaw.

Like all other 19th
Pretty much what it says on the tin.

I'm a bit ambivalent – it's quite readable (and appropriately painful in places) – but there was also a shocking lack of primary sources. And you can't tell me raging egoists like the Romanovs didn't write letters and diaries, because I'll call you a liar. I might more easily believe a lot of it didn't survive, but this book was a lot more 'an entire century compressed and themed and fabricated into inevitable-feeling order' than I like in my history, and that
Evan Thomas
An excellent piece of very readable Russian history. More than that this book is just a surprisingly good read. The author has a breezy style without condescending to his readers. I wanted to underline so many elegant phrases. A memorable, if not elegant, favorite of mine was "Lenin was calm and collected, despite his reddish hair." It sounds like someone had a couple of fights with redheads.
Favorite quote from this book: "[I]t might be a condition of life that the ideal must for ever be a dream to be striven for – that, indeed, the very triumph of an ideal must be its undoing." Another great quote: "The key to Alexander [II] is that he had a strong element of cynicism. He was one of those unusual creatures, a truly honest man who does not expect others to be honest."
Monica Perez
Some rather dry material written highly skillfully. What's noticeable and fun about the author is the occasional strong opinion or shocking statement made witht the confidence of a person who knows what he's talking about and doesn't care if you do or don't.
Sean Chick
I wanted to like this and the first 1/4 is very good because it is the most nuanced section. After that it is just a litany of Russian failures and from there it just gets repetitive. Too bad. It could have been a classic.
Chris Lira
Not a bad read, if a bit dry in spots. Like many history books, it needs to occasionally include the *year* some referenced event occurred, otherwise I'm thinking "OK, June 25th....when?".
To my mind the single most enlightening depiction of the events leading up to the Russion Revolution. An outstanding piece of History.
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Edward Crankshaw (3 January 1909 – 30 November 1984), was a British writer, translator and commentator on Soviet affairs.

Born in London, Crankshaw was educated in the Nonconformist public school, Bishop's Stortford College, Hertfordshire, England. He started working as a journalist for a few months at The Times. In the 1930s he lived in Vienna, Austria, teaching English and learning German. He wit
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“[Aftermath of the assassination of Tsar Alexander II in 1881]

What happened to the conspirators - Zhelyabov already in prison, Perovskaya, Kibalchich and the three surviving bombers - is that they were all hanged. This last public execution to be staged in Russia took place before a crowd of some 80,000. It was the youngest of the conspirators, eighteen-year-old Rysakov, who broke down in prison, confessed, begged for mercy, exposed as many of his comrades as he could. It did not save him from the scaffold. And on the scaffold the others coldly turned away from him, exchanging last words among themselves, leaving Rysakov to die quite alone. It was the execution of the Decembrists all over again, except that one of the hanged was a woman. There was no proper drop, only stools to be kicked away, and the stools were too low for a quick kill. Worst of all, Mikhailov's noose slipped, not once, but twice. He was heavier than the executioner, who was drunk, had bargained for. He had to be lifted up and rehanged. All took some minutes to die. Russia still had not learnt even how to hang.”
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