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Red Fortress: The Secret Heart of Russia's History

3.88  ·  Rating Details ·  268 Ratings  ·  45 Reviews
A magisterial, richly detailed history of the Kremlin, and of the centuries of Russian elites who have shaped it—and been shaped by it in turn

The Kremlin is the heart of the Russian state, a fortress whose blood-red walls have witnessed more than eight hundred years of political drama and extraordinary violence. It has been the seat of a priestly monarchy and a worldly chu
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Hardcover, 576 pages
Published November 12th 2013 by Metropolitan Books (first published January 1st 2013)
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Dimitri
Sometimes we gaze out over the red brick walls at pivotal moments taking shape across the vast Russian landscape; sometimes we look down upon the Moskva but most of the time we're on the inside, watching buildings rise and crumble as Byzantine robes give way to red banners.

Neither fish nor fowl, it's easier to say what this book is not. It's not a history of Russia nor a history of Moscow. It's not completely a history of the Kremlin, either. That would entail an in-depth look at the architectur
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Mary
Dec 07, 2013 Mary rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition

Reading the Red Fortress is like reading a mini-history of the various rulers of Russia. I was hoping for interesting architectural details and a full disclosure of all the tricks they use to keep Lenin looking fresh but no such luck.

Merridale does start from the beginning with invading hordes and eventually moving on to strong leaders consolidating power. She also spends time on Russia's religious past and the churches that have been built and torn down inside the Kremlin.

She details how the
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Emily
Jul 25, 2014 Emily rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: book-list-2014
3.5 stars. This was a book that I'm glad I read but really felt like a slog. So much detail that it was overwhelming. I'm impressed at the research that went into this, but for a general audience book it felt too academic for me. Also, it could really use some timelines and maybe a brief cast of characters. I think that would've increased my understanding and ability to keep track of who was who and when significantly.
Mandy
Sep 03, 2013 Mandy rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
“The Kremlin is one of the most famous landmarks in the world”. With this sentence Catherine Merridale opens her fascinating and in-depth study of this symbolic and instantly recognisable complex of ancient and modern buildings, which in so many ways is the very incarnation of the Russian state. There is no reliable record of the Kremlin’s beginnings, although there is a mention of a prince's residence in 1147, and traces of a 12th century wall. The word Kremlin first appears in the 1300s, and s ...more
Rui
Aug 06, 2014 Rui rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
A História do Kremlin e a História da Rússia.
É um livro excelente para conhecer a história do Kremlin e as suas alterações ao longo dos 900 anos da Rússia e de Moscovo. Os incêncios, as purgas, os rituais e principalmente uma caracterização de um povo e dos seus lideres que voluntária ou involuntária nos provoca questões relacionadas com a personalidade dos povos. Será que alguns povos se desenvolvem melhor sob um regime autoritário e outros apenas sob formas de democracia?

O livro é enérgico, i
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Enrique
Apr 12, 2015 Enrique rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I always thought of the Kremlin as an elegant and stately government building in the French Imperial style with Byzantine and Russian motifs surrounded by an imposing red wall in front of the enormous Red Square forever flanked by St. Basil’s Cathedral which, in my humble opinion, is like an Arabian fairy tale nightmare induced by really bad “shrooms.”

In political terms, I believed said building simply housed the office and staff of Russian potentates, a sort of White House in steroids, since R
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Antenna
Aug 04, 2015 Antenna rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
For enthusiasm and research, Catherine Merridale deserves five stars, but despite having visited Moscow both before and after the collapse of Communism, and been inside the Kremlin, I found this history hard going.

The opening chapters seem padded out, since there is little to say about the rural backwater of Moscow and the wooden fortification of the initial Kremlin when Kiev was the centre of activity for the region. In the later Middle Ages, the political rulers on one hand and religious patri
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Brad Rousse
Dec 22, 2014 Brad Rousse rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
The history of the Kremlin is the history of Moscow; and the history of Moscow is the history of Russia. This is essentially the argument of Catherine Merridale's engaging and intriguing history of one of the most foreboding and aloof buildings in the world. Starting with Moscow's far off origins in the Rus, Merridale takes her readers on a step by step, intimate view of the citadel as goes from earthen fort to the heart of a superpower. Ivan the Terrible, Peter the Great, Lenin, Stalin, Putin; ...more
Ed
Aug 08, 2015 Ed rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: History buffs, aesthetes, history of architecture fans, Russian history beginners
A fantastic introduction to the broad sweep of Russian history, through the lens of the pretty ill-treated Kremlin complex. Ms Merridale's depth of research is accompanied by a great turn of phrase and the ability to keep the reader interested through a sometimes dizzying whirl of dynastic change. I particularly enjoyed the coverage of the grim days of the Stalin purges, and the role of the Kremlin in attempts to legitimise the post-communist 'democratic' settlement. Ms Merridale's attempts to d ...more
Jennifer
I read this one as research for the current novel in progress, and found its coverage of the subject both broad and deep. The timeline stretches from the earliest foundations of Moscow through recent events. With every generation, there's so much lost in terms of historical buildings and artifacts that it's rather heartbreaking to consider. Perhaps more than any other building on Earth, the Kremlin has come to symbolize the power of its associated government, and Merridale's account makes clear ...more
Lauren Albert
Nov 24, 2013 Lauren Albert rated it liked it
Shelves: history-european
This dragged for me and I can't put my finger on the reason. It wasn't quite about the Kremlin. But it wasn't quite about Moscow or Russia either.
Nicole DiStasio
Jan 19, 2017 Nicole DiStasio rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I enjoyed this book. But I have to wonder if I could have enjoyed it if I hadn't been to the Kremlin, were I not able to visualize all of those places, buildings, and structures she mentions. I also do not recommend this as a first, second, or even third book on Russian history! You'll need more context to enjoy this.
Vikas Datta
Dec 18, 2016 Vikas Datta rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
History-writing at its most brilliant and inspiring..
Christopher
Mar 12, 2017 Christopher rated it liked it
Shelves: history
This book definitely filled-in several gaps in my knowledge. My Russian history tends to come in clumps as Russian impacts other areas of the world.

With my light knowledge I wish this volume were heavier on pictures and maps. There were many times when I wished I had been at home to do some quick GoogleMaps and Wikipedia searching for context instead of (inevitably) being on the subway.

There was also a switch from more of a historical focus to more architectural and meta-historical (history of h
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Dagne567
Oeh, raske oli (juuli lõpust märtsini), aga hakkama sain.
Kokkuvõttes hariv, aga igavavõitu.
Cameron McLachlan
Feb 28, 2017 Cameron McLachlan rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I finished Red Fortress: History and Myth in the Kremlin by Katherine Merridale. She uses the "micro" history of the Kremlin fortress complex from Kievan Rus to Vladimir Putin to examine "macro" issues around the development of the Russian state. According to Merridale the development of the Kremlin shows that the development of the Russian state is contingent and subject to revision on the part of consciously acting leaders and other historical agents. Merridale also uses this thesis to argue a ...more
David Bisset
Mar 09, 2017 David Bisset rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
A splendid essay in architectural, political and cultural history. I learned much concerning the evolution of the Kremlin, Moscow and Russia itself.
Gaylord Dold
Merridale, Catherine. Red Fortress: History and Illusion in the Kremlin, Henry Holt and Company, New York, 2013 (506pp. $35)

Once the Slavic Rus tribe emerged as a force in Europe’s northeastern forest, they build a citadel for their warlord, one that would protect the tribe from assault by other princes,
especially the one who ruled the city of Tver, a headman who was much stronger than the Russian prince, and richer too. More than 800 years later, the Kremlin is one of the most famous structures
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Peter
Feb 15, 2017 Peter rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Excellent overview of the Kremlin

This is a well-written overview of the history of the Moscow Kremlin. Highly recommended for anyone interested in Russian history, it features extensive notes for anyone wanting to delve deeper.
Chris
Jun 12, 2016 Chris rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This was an extremely different kind of history book. Aside from something like McCullough's "The Great Bridge", it's a bit unusual to find a history centered around one small bit of land.

Merridale traces the history of Russia in terms of the Kremlin, dating from the earliest settlements on the Moskva river until the end of the Cold War, and beyond. This is not merely an architectural, or artistic history. It reflects Russian (and Soviet) politics, culture, military, and everything in between.
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Phoenix Grey
This book tells the history of the Kremlin in Moscow, Russia. It spans from the inception of the Russian people from nomads and tribes to current the presidency of Vladimir Putin. It is written in an accessible style, so you don't have to be a history academic or scholar to understand it. This is a problem I have had with some history books in the past.

I enjoyed it, and learned a lot about Russian history. The text centres on the Kremlin, almost like the author is telling Russia's story from it
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Sean
Nov 10, 2013 Sean rated it really liked it
Shelves: history, russia
Merridale does sterling work digging through historical evidence to tell the story of the Kremlin from its earliest days and from there, indirectly that of Moscow and Russia as well. The early history is exceptionally fascinating as Moscow burns, suffers from plagues, war and riots yet keeps soldiering on as the center of Russia. The book is weakest, but still interesting, in the section since the fall of the Soviet Union, a period barely old enough to be called history.

While the book is complet
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Hans Westra
Oct 30, 2014 Hans Westra rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: Anyone with an interest in Russia
Recommended to Hans by: Michel Krielaards (Reviewer NRC Handelsblad)
Great reading, profound insight.
Pictures are far too small, more and better detailed maps are badly needed. Fortunately, they can be found on the Internet, but then - this is a book I read in the train.

The author has a fancy for Harry-Potter-style weights and measures like feet and ounces. This book will appeal to an international audience, not just Britishers. Old school transcription, e.g. Dostoevsky, Allilueva.
One would like to see a similar treatment of the Tower of London, (and what about H
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Adrian
I learned that the Kremlin's roots go back to the 13th century when Russia was still under control of the Mongol empire, most of the early building was done by Italians, Ivan the Terrible had a group of ruffians called oprichniki who sound like an early form of secret police, Moscow and the Kremlin have burned innumerable times most famously after Napoleon's attack and it was Peter the Great who began to limit church power. But by page 244 I was worn down by the author's fascination with archite ...more
Daniel Kukwa
Jan 31, 2016 Daniel Kukwa rated it really liked it
Shelves: non-fiction
Just like Russian history, this is a book that feels dense, intricate, relentless, fascinating, and exhausting. As the reader is bombarded by the massive amounts of information & the endless tragic cycle of the story of life in the on/off/on-again Russian capital, the Kremlin -- its buildings, churches, squares, and ever changing population -- successfully stays the primary focus that holds this work together.
Riet
Feb 25, 2014 Riet rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Misschien een beetje voor de liefhebber, maar dit is een boeiend geschreven boek over de geschiedenis van het Kremlin en daarmee natuurlijk over de geschiedenis van Rusland.
Het begint bij de Vikingen (Rus), die hun nederzettingen langs de rivieren stichtten en gaat door tot Poetin in de 21ste eeuw. In tussentijd is er enorm veel gebouwd en ook weer vernield in het Kremlin en ongeveer net zoveel gemoord. Het zijn niet altijd vrolijke verhalen,maar wel fascinerend.
Natalie
Jul 12, 2014 Natalie rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: português, história
Excelente livro, que de forma resumida explica a história de Rússia, vista através do seu mais emblemático representante: o Krenlim. Lamentavelmente a edição portuguesa de temas e debates apresenta vários erros de edição, letras trocadas, datas trocadas, preposições omissas ou erradas. Para quem gostou deste livro recomendo o livro de Júlia Lovell sobre a história de China vista desde a Grande Muralha, que vai no mesmo estilo.
Caroline
Dec 26, 2013 Caroline rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Frightening that things don't really change much. The current situation in Crimea/Ukraine is another round of the same! Very enjoyable book creating lots to think about. Showed so much of the history of the Kremlin, the secrecy surrounding the Russians must have made it difficult to find the information. Following my visit to Moscow in 2012 this was most interesting and a good read.
Jeff
Jul 28, 2014 Jeff rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This was a very interesting history of Russia, told with a "Kremlin-centric" view point (as in the buildings and architecture) including the repeated rise and falls of Russia as a power, the frequent destruction within the walls of the Kremlin. The only drawback was the lack of pictures in the Kindle version.
Nichole
Oct 04, 2013 Nichole rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: first-reads
Red Fortress details the history of the Kremlin from is foundation as a single work to todays icon. While reading about the construction of its many walls and buildings you also learn the basic happanings of Moscow's history. This book is a must read for anyone interested in the citadel and its history.
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“Assisted by Samuel Collins, the tsar embarked on a series of scientific and alchemical experiments, to conduct which he imported a range of new devices – phials, metals, lenses and measuring instruments – from the German lands. These were exotica in their own right, and since they had no native Russian names, many were called by their original German ones, beginning a long tradition of importing German scientific terms into the Russian language.” 0 likes
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