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The Icon and the Axe: An Interpretive History of Russian Culture
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The Icon and the Axe: An Interpretive History of Russian Culture

4.1  ·  Rating Details ·  230 Ratings  ·  21 Reviews
"A rich and readable introduction to the whole sweep of Russian cultural and intellectual history from Kievan times to the post-Khruschev era." --Library Journal.

Complete with Illustrations, references and 32 pages of index, this is an exhaustive history of Russia and its peoples.
Paperback, V-620, 804 pages
Published December 12th 1970 by Vintage Books/Random House (NY) (first published 1966)
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This volume is almost half a century old and remains an insightful look at the cultural history of Russia from the early years of the Kievan Rus' to the state of the Soviet Union at the time of publication (1966).

The title refers to Billington's interpretation of both spiritual/psychological conditions (the icon) and materialist/economic views (the axe). He avoids the linear 'modernizing' perspective as seen in his contemporary W. W. Rostow, but places both of these techniques within broader er
Erik Graff
Sep 15, 2013 Erik Graff rated it really liked it
Recommends it for: Russia fans
Recommended to Erik by: Gregory Guroff
Shelves: history
I entered Grinnell College with the intention of becoming a professor of history like one of those fine individuals, two of whom had gone to the same college, who taught the subject at my high school. During the sophomore year I took Greg Guroff's year-long, eight-semester-hour credit Russian History course.

Guroff was Russian himself, a collector of icons and, strange for Grinnell at the time, a political conservative. Unsurprisingly, he went on later to work for the State Department. At the tim
Paul Jellinek
Oct 24, 2010 Paul Jellinek rated it it was amazing
A dense but richly rewarding cultural history of Russia. What is especially impressive is that in this book, which was published in 1966--25 years before the collapse of the Soviet Union--Billington makes a persuasive case that the Communists will eventually lose their grip and fall from power because of deep-seated internal historical and cultural forces that have characterized Russia's development from its earliest days. While this book will give you a whole new appreciation for the complexity ...more
Jacob Aitken
This book had a "horrifying beauty." Two tools symbolize Russia: The Icon and the Axe. The icon is the heart of Russia, the concrete vehicle of spiritual truth. The icon illustrates Russian theology: theology is beauty and is best communicated in terms of the beautiful. Russian churches, for example, are bell and onion-shaped. The dome in a very real sense symbolizes heaven, or rather heaven on earth.

The icon was more than just a picture. It was the lives of the saints. The saints were living i
Jan 08, 2012 Casey72 rated it it was amazing
Read it every four years. Contains the great spirit of the Russian people.
Mark Feltskog
Aug 29, 2009 Mark Feltskog rated it it was amazing
Remains, I imagine, the final word on the subject.
Mar 24, 2012 Suzanne rated it liked it
This book is incredibly dense, filled with detailed discussions of particular books, for example, as well as thorough (apparently) discussions of where historical events and culture fit in the history of philosophy or thought. I plowed through determined but this book was way over my head. Not only did I need to know more about Russian history, I especially needed to know more about intellectual history. I have learned a lot but much I just did not understand. Some sentences were comic I their d ...more
Aug 19, 2014 Zack rated it liked it
Heavy going. Fun insights. Would love some scholar to undertake an update. I think it requires more knowledge of intellectual history than it should.
Oct 20, 2014 Caleb rated it really liked it
The slow first 200 pages (mostly orthodoxy history) is made up for when the romantic/modern/pre/revolutionary culture gets going.
Jul 16, 2014 Zach rated it it was amazing
You want to understand Russia you read this book you understand Russia.
Geoffrey Rose
Jul 27, 2012 Geoffrey Rose rated it it was amazing
Exhaustive (in every sense) and occasionally slow going but The Icon and Axe richly deserves (40+ years after original publication) its distinction as a seminal work in the field of Russian history. Billington weaves together themes in Russian cultural and intellectual history in a brilliantly developed synthesis. My understanding of Russia's history and culture has been highly enriched by this work. Highly recommended.
There is a lot of impressive stuff in here, and it is exceptionally well-written, but I have two main issues with it. The book doesn't really pick up for me until around the mid-19th century, which is about halfway into the book. And 2nd, because it is from the 60s, most of the Stalin-era info has been improved upon with newly released archives.
Nov 12, 2008 Elizabeth rated it liked it
Well, what can I really say; it was informative. I enjoy histories and this one is quite readable. I came away from this book with a better handle on Russia. The book itself is pretty and has a pleasant weight in one's hand. Annoyingly, it has endnotes instead of footnotes. Still, it's a 597 page history of Russia.
Jun 18, 2012 Mimi rated it really liked it
Shelves: read-2012
This book makes the assumption that you are familiar with Russian History, and fills in the gaps in what was going on culturally during the different historical periods.

While there were dry parts, the not-so-dry parts were so amazing, on the whole it is a must read and one to keep.
Aug 15, 2007 Sam rated it it was ok
Recommends it for: Russian History people
You will love this book if you are interested in Russia. Well done, and an immense feeling of history, dating back to the Kivan days. If you dont want to learn anything about Russia, for you have a distaste for learning about it for some reason, dont even read the back cover of the book.
Lauren Albert
Aug 29, 2015 Lauren Albert rated it liked it
Shelves: history-european
People really like to generalize about Russia and Russians. It can't be so, well, easy. It's a big place. I found the book very dense and I sometimes got irritated with the generalizations.
Feb 18, 2009 Christian rated it really liked it
Shelves: history
I am ashamed to admit that I have only read this book in part, but since Russia has a history that is endlessly fascinating to me, this book is high on my "to read" list.
Apr 10, 2009 Aaron rated it really liked it
Shelves: history
First learned about how Orthodox Christianity had always been beholden to the state.
Christina Beck
EXTREMELY THOROUGH history of Russian culture. EXTREMELY.
Sep 08, 2016 Heather is currently reading it
Been working through this for some time now.
Sep 27, 2011 Hannah rated it did not like it
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“Nicholas Turgenev in his Russia and the Russians in 1847 eloquently restated the classical enlightened arguments for constitutional monarchy; but this was the voice of an old man writing in Paris.” 0 likes
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