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Natasha's Dance: A Cultural History of Russia

4.17  ·  Rating details ·  2,456 Ratings  ·  205 Reviews
History on a grand scale-an enchanting masterpiece that explores the making of one of the world's most vibrant civilizations

A People's Tragedy, wrote Eric Hobsbawm, did "more to help us understand the Russian Revolution than any other book I know." Now, in Natasha's Dance, internationally renowned historian Orlando Figes does the same for Russian culture, summoning the myr
Paperback, 729 pages
Published October 17th 2003 by Picador (first published 2002)
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Dec 19, 2007 rated it it was ok
Figes has gathered a lot of cultural information and organized it into one book, which is very helpful if you want to get a general review of Russia's culture without referring to multiple sources. Some threads that go through the entire book and tie the narrative together, such as the history of the Fountain House in St. Petersburg, almost give you an impression that you are reading fiction. However, some of the information that Figes offers is incorrect. For example, when talking about Dostoev ...more
Chiara Pagliochini
« L’odore della terra russa è diverso, e queste sono cose che non si possono dimenticare… Un uomo ha un solo luogo di nascita, una sola patria, un solo paese – può avere un solo paese – e il luogo di nascita è il fattore più importante della sua vita. […] Non ho lasciato la Russia di mia volontà, anche se c’era molto che non mi piaceva nella mia Russia e nella Russia in genere. Ma il diritto di criticare la Russia è mio, perché la Russia è mia e perché io l’amo, e non concedo questo diritto a ne ...more

Opening: On a misty spring morning in 1703 a dozen Russian horsemen rode across the bleak and barren marshlands where the Neva river runs into the Baltic Sea. They were looking for a site to build a fort against the Swedes, then at war with Russia, and the owners of these long abandoned swamps.

Even though the author is a sock puppet*, I still need to read this book.


2015 Reboot as I didn't bookmark where I was up to the last time this was picked up.

Oct 25, 2008 rated it it was amazing
I'm tempted to say that this is a great book because like Russian art it has a soul, but that sounds presumptuous since I've not an expert on any Russian art and I've never been to Russia. But I've been a fan of Russian literature--especially the great novels of the 19th century, and of Russian music and particularly of the Russian ballet and its offshoots in the West.

The book starts with an episode from War and Peace in which Natasha and her brother visit an retired army officer (their uncle) w
Dec 04, 2012 rated it it was amazing
I've been reading this book on and off for years, often re-reading the same passages since if you study just about anything related to Russia, you can use this book in a paper. It's an awesome book, and it should be obligatory reading in any Russian class. I love the way in which it is written, which shows immense skill and planning on behalf of Figes. Authors or composers are not just presented in the manner birth-life-death, but interwoven in a specific time frame. Each chapter jumps back and ...more
Mar 16, 2013 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: history
Nataşa’nın dansı ismini Tolstoy’un "Savaş ve Barış" isimli eserindeki Nataşa karakterinin bir soylu olmasına rağmen bir köy müziği eşliğindeki dansından alıyor. Yazar burada karakterin farklı öğretilerle büyütülmüş olmasına rağmen içindeki Rus ruhunu her daim korumasından etkilenerek bu tarih kitabına bu ismi vermiş.

Kitap 8 ana bölümden oluşan bir kültürel tarih incelemesi. Salt bilgi içerikli olduğu için bir kurgu romandan beklenilen akıcılık bu eserden beklenmemeli ancak muadillerine göre kol
Sep 08, 2012 rated it liked it
Shelves: history
As a schoolboy I wrote to Orlando Figes as part of the project to write my graduation paper. It was 1998 and the questions I asked did not make much sense, but ask I did before getting on with writing my piece. I had read the recently published 'A People's Tragedy' and Figes could do no wrong in my eyes.

Orlando Figes is an interesting writer, and one who should take a lot of credit for his part in steering mass-published Russian history away from the cover-all texts of a decade ago (including th
Jan 24, 2013 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: russia
I found this a great, wide net for Russian culture--I read it before a trip to Russia, and despite Figes continuing to be controversial figure in Russian scholarship, no one ever questioned his thoroughness. A great great introduction to Russian history and culture.

The book was assigned reading for an alumni trip to Russia I took in 2006, and I was SO glad I'd tackled it--though it's a monster, to be sure. Easy reading, and divided thematically rather than chronologically, which prevents it fro
Anya Nielsen
Feb 01, 2015 rated it it was ok
Orlando Figes is a Professor of History at Birkbeck College, University of London and has written 8 books about Russia. Natasha's Dance is a seminal work of over 700 pages with maps and notes and further reading.
History is a statement of facts, that is those that have not been suppressed in the archives. Writing history is uncomplicated but writing about the culture of Russia without being Russian is infinitely more difficult. Figes facts are impressive but I felt a certain underlying antipathy
It has been a tour de force getting through this book, but so wonderful and rewarding. Figes covers everything and everyone; at times my lack of real knowledge of Russian history let me down, but as Natasha's Dance renders clearly, Russian culture is so rich and fascinating that there really was no time to get into the whys and wherefores of the Russian revolution and whatnot. (I think I picked up a fair bit of history peripherally from this book anyway). The book is chronological, starting from ...more
May 30, 2012 rated it liked it
Debating between a three and four star rating for this. It wasn't necessarily 'bad' in most regards but it didn't stand out as being exceptional either. There were a couple factual errors but others have pointed those out so I will concede to them. Mostly, I was aggravated with its structure. There were many interesting avenues it mentioned but never really explored. I understand this is just supposed to be an overview of Russian culture and I did learn quite a bit from it but I think I would ha ...more
Mar 10, 2018 rated it really liked it
Wonderful survey. I had never contemplated the major point about Russian culture being so influenced by Russia's Asianness, especially as cleaved to by its peasantry over many centuries. I guess Peter the Great wasn't so great after all. With all of his looking to the West, the peasantry won in the end.
Czarny Pies
Aug 01, 2016 rated it really liked it
Recommends it for: Those with a good dilettante's knowledge of Russian culture.
This book is much better than the sum of its parts. For the period from roughly 1760 to 1960 it contains histories of Russian literature, painting, ballet and classical music. There are weaknesses in all four areas but together they make a compelling narrative. According to Figes Russia indeed has a soul at least from the perspective of high art . The great tragedy of the communist political experiment was that it destroyed the cultural traditions in these areas drove the artists into ignominiou ...more
John Carter McKnight
Mar 02, 2014 rated it it was amazing
A cultural history of Russia that's immensely readable and absolutely exhaustively referenced: it's a goldmine of primary sources. The structure is thematic, ratcheting forward and back across topics in a way that actually reinforces nicely the broad structure of Russian history by returning to key places and times from different perspectives.

Natasha's Dance is hefty, at some 580 pages, but some of the most fluid and engaging nonfiction I've read. Figes' style is conversational but never shallo
Nov 24, 2010 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
tentativo di spiegazione dell'anima/cultura russa- attraverso la storia, la letteratura, la religione, la musica, il cinema. orlando figes scrive in modo chiaro e accattivante, magari senza dire nulla di davvero nuovo o illuminante- ma in ogni caso ho molto amato questo libro (per l'argomento che tratta, perché in fondo non fa male sentirsi ripetere certe cose, per un ripasso generale sulla cultura)
Aug 23, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Hoewel hier en daar wel wat historische foutjes te vinden zijn, geeft het boek een goed overzicht van de culturele evolutie, of beter gezegd de culturele rode draad van Rusland. Er is aandacht voor het Europese Sint-Petersburg versus het Euraziatische Moskou, de rol van orthodoxie en de oud-gelovigen in het Russische denken, de strijd tussen het classicistische versus aandacht voor het lokale boerenleven, de impact van Napoleon en Sovjet-Unie op de Russische cultuur. Hoe divers de culturele uiti ...more
Feb 07, 2018 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Una maravilla. Todo lo que diga es poco.
Aug 01, 2017 rated it really liked it
Shelves: russia

'Natasha's Dance' has provided me a greater understanding of the Russian arts and culture that was previously lacking. I am not so naive as to think that reading a single book provides a perfect insight into what it is to be Russian. Moreover, this book adds depth to the otherwise one-dimensional events that are depicted in history books. I think that this quote (at the end of the book) from the Russian composer Stravinsky says a great deal:

‘The smell of the Russian earth is different, and such
Diskor Toomingas
Mar 17, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Good book, superbly written and contains a lot of exquisitely sexy historical information.
Would have rated this five stars, but when I read this line: "[...] and his brilliant comic novel The Heart of a Dog (where a Pavlov-like experimental scientist transplants the brain and sexual organs of a dog into a human being)", it made me wonder what other 'mistakes' are in the book regarding works/historical events I'm not familiar with yet. As well as that it'd be nice to know how culture progressed from 1960s to the 90s and beyond.

That aside, Figes gives an overview of Russian culture fr
Ann D
Feb 28, 2013 rated it really liked it
Shelves: non-fiction
I finally finished Natasha's Dance: A Cultural History of Russia by Orlando Figes. At 582 pages of text and another 143 pages of extensive footnotes, timelines, book recommendations and index, it is a serious book.

I studied Russian history when I was young and have read quite a few of the Russian classics, but this book covered a lot of unfamiliar ground for me. Parts, particularly those covering Russian music and art, were slow going for me because I didn't have the proper background to appreci
K.M. Weiland
Sep 22, 2013 rated it it was amazing
I've always been nominally interested in Russian history (the Romanovs mostly), but I've never really studied anything beyond the 1917 Revolution. This mammoth approach to Russia's cultural history provides a fascinating glimpse into the heart of a foreign nation - and, in so doing, an interesting, if perhaps unintended, perspective on my own national ideology.

I can't comment on Figes's historicity or accuracy, since much of what's here is new material to me. But I will say that I found it fasc
Does what it says on the tin.

Broken down into thematic sections, Figes offers analysis of the roles Europe and Asia played in the Russian imagination and world view, social and architectural differences between St. Petersburg and Moscow, peasant traditions and their influence on high culture, the love affair and dismal breakup between the avant garde and the Soviet state, and many more aspects of Russia's diverse cultural history, often following key players' biographical details to illustrate h
Feb 20, 2016 rated it it was amazing
There's a massive amount of absorb from Figes, from insights on broad cultural themes and movements in Russian literature, art, music, architecture and even cooking, but it's the little things in Natahsa's Dance -- anecdotes about the great figures of Russian culture -- that are really memorable. A shame that Figes doesn't tackle the fall of the Soviet Union, or even mention it, but an exceptional readable history nonetheless.
Nils Montan
Oct 27, 2009 rated it it was amazing
This is a fantastic cultural history of Russia from the time of Peter the Great almost up to the present. Brilliantly organized and written by Professor Orlando Figes, this book gives you the smell of the Russian soil and will explain many things about the country and the Empire that you didn't know before. All the cultural icons are here and many more. highly recommended.
Lauren Albert
Brilliant. Is Russia European? Is Russia Asia? What happens when either possibility is focused on, romanticized? What is the role of politics in Russian culture? The Church? Figes looks at all these things in a complex, multi-layered text.
Carey Combe
Aug 16, 2012 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: eye-opening
Apart from the stuff on music - which had my head spinning - I totally lived this book. Almost an anthropological as well as a cultural look at Russia. If you love Russian literature you'll love this.
Katia N
Jul 18, 2012 rated it it was amazing
Well written journey into the Russian cultural and social history. I liked the most the first part of the book. Of course it is a bit sketchy as the subject is huge, but there are a lot of interesting facts and you can see that the research has been done for the book.
Pak Sun Ng
Jan 24, 2016 rated it liked it
The best parts are the Moscow-St Petersburg dichotomy and Soviet Russia. An ambitious book with many unfamiliar yet important names and literary works, thus challenging to read. "Russia Abroad" reminds me of post-imperial China too.
Nov 25, 2012 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: russia
Someone called it a mixed bag and this is true. However, you have to admire the breadth and scope he attempts to cover. I enjoyed this as a jumping off point to many new avenues of investigation in Russian history, music and art and for that I am grateful.
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Mad about Royal H...: Natasha's Dance by Orlando Figes 1 3 Nov 03, 2015 04:55PM  
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Orlando Figes is a British historian of Russia, and a professor of history at Birkbeck, University of London.
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