History is Not Boring discussion

Suggestions for Books Concerning Russia?

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message 1: by [deleted user] (new)

I have only recently been bitten with a strong interest in Russia. I got started because I read Anna Karenina and am in the middle of War and Peace (which I am loving). Basically, I want to understand how Russia developed, how it came to be, who the people have been and who they are... Right now, I don't want to get into the more modern stuff, such as Stalin or the Cold War. I am interested in biographies of notable Russians, as well as general histories. I would be thrilled if you could suggest a good book from the time of the Tzars or before.

Part of the problem is that all the general histories (such as Longworth's Russia: The Once and Future Empire and Geoffry Hosking's Russia and the Russians) have gotten, over all, rather poor reviews on this site...but no one is really telling me where to go instead. I'd really appriecate any suggestions! Thank you so much!

message 2: by Tom (new)

Tom Foolery (tomfoolery) | 89 comments Nothing immediately comes to mind, but i'll go dig through my books and see if anything stands out. I know there are a number of decent biographies of Catherine the Great out there(that thing about the horse was a slander, by the way). As far as biographies, you'll also want something on Peter the Great and Ivan the Terrble but i've got nothing i can suggest at the moment.

message 3: by Manuel (new)

Manuel | 1439 comments Its a country with a long long rich history.

PETER THE GREAT by Robert Massie.

NICHOLAS AND ALEXANDRA also by Robert Massie.
Be warned, this is a monster book that will break your heart.
Two very nice people who had no business running a country. You will almost feel like grabbing them by the collar and shaking some sense into them.

message 4: by Tom (new)

Tom Foolery (tomfoolery) | 89 comments I went and looked at my Russian history books, and the only one i've got from the period you're interested in is Catherine the Great : Life and Legend. This was one of the required books for the Russian History class i took close to 20 years ago (most of the rest of the books from that class were post-Revolution). The professor didn't use a general textbook, which i suspect means that there weren't any really good general Russian History books available at the time. If that guess is correct, it could explain why you're having trouble finding one now.

message 5: by Matt (new)

Matt | 6 comments I read Stalin: The Court of the Red Tsar a few years ago. It is a long read, but a fascinating look at Stalin and his inner circle. Considering how long Stalin ruled (Russia) and how long his shadow was after his death, a history on Stalin should be considered "essential reading" for Russian history, in my opinion.

I find a lot of the great fiction (Tolstoy, Dostoyevsky, others) even though they were writing fiction, gave excellent insight into the period when they wrote. Tolstoy's description of the disintegration of Napoleon's army after he crossed the Dnieper (sp?), later entered Moscow, and then retreated is a master historical account.

Solzhenitsyn is one of those writers... well I'm humbled by his writing and his life.

message 6: by [deleted user] (new)

Wow, thanks guys. I really appriecate the advice; when I first got online to find books, I wasn't expecting it to be as challenging as it is...this is very helpful.

Tom and Manuel, I will be picking up the biographies you suggested. I had already decided I wanted at least one or two about Catherine the Great. Massie seems to be popular; I will get Nicholas and Alexandra, Manuel, it's a sign of a great writer when he can make you feel so strongly about his subjects. As for the book on Stalin, Matt, you are probably right, to leave him out of my studies will make them incomplete, and this book has certainly had an impression on you!

I am beginning to fear that Tom is right and that there aren't any decent single volume histories of Russia. I will keep looking (I'm stubborn) but at least there seems to be some good biographies!

Thanks again guys! You are my heros.

message 7: by Midnightrider (new)

Midnightrider | 2 comments Hello Bethany
I hope this suggestion is not imprudent - as I am not as far down the track with my reading re Russia - as yourself or your other well read advisors.
I have just been nibbling at the edges and have found that Book Depository UK appears to have a lot of information on this and other historical subjects. I am not qualified or experienced in the field as to say - whether the offerings are good or bad. this is just a suggestion for another path - to meander along. I am considering the second link for my starting point.
Cheers from "Down Under"



message 8: by [deleted user] (new)

I am really not that far down the track of Russia reading, I've just been scrambling around looking for titles and recognized some of the ones suggested (and will now be reading). Thank you for your suggestion...I will be looking into it!

message 9: by [deleted user] (last edited Feb 22, 2011 09:38AM) (new)

I quite enjoyed Longworth's book. I thought people were expecting a lot from a one volume text on all Russian history. It is an overview and the author has to select what he thought the most important events were. I thought it was quite balanced although I think some Americans would be inclined not to agree. I've read a book or two on history before 1917 but mostly more recent history. Have read the autobiography of Kruschev and two biographies.

I read a great deal of Canadian history and find books like the Penguin History of Canada wanting as the author emphasizes some topics and omits others. He has to to get the entire history in one volume. I respected the authors (I have read more than one edition to see what they have to say). but they have a central Canada perspective and I'm from the west.

When it comes to Longsworth's book , I cannot tell you the accuracy of the text but I do know he was a history professor at one the best universities in our country for twent years. Comments like it reads like a "student research paper" I would take with a grain of salt.

I recently read a concise history of France of 400 plus pages by Alistair Horne who has written many history books on France and it got some bad reviews. I enjoyed the book even though he has his biases and he had to leave some subjects out. If you want a book like "The Slave TRade" by Hugh Thomas which contains tons of information, with little or no interpretation, and is very dry, that is fine but most find that kind of history difficult. Longworth's book is somewhere in between these two books in the level of interpretation.

If you want a history/travelogue I would recommend "Russia- A Journey to the Heart of a Land and its People." by Jonathan Dimbleby. He has a western perspective of events but at least admits his bias. But he also talks quite a bit about Tolstoy. He is a big fan. He talks about his books as well. You learn something about Siberia that most history texts hardly mention except for sending prisoners there. He also points out that Kruschev is better thought of than most of the USSR leaders. He was very much like Richard Nixon in the sense that he was very difficult to understand and had made some very good and very bad decisions in his political career. In many ways, they are more interesting people as they create strong emotions in many people.

I usually take my friends opinions under more consideration than the Good Read population in general. I think you would be better to read a history overview before taking on a specific subject. You would enjoy the other book as well as he covers more than just history.

message 10: by Brant (last edited Feb 22, 2011 11:46AM) (new)

Brant | 3 comments Bethany,

If you're still looking for a more general history covering Russia pre-Revolution, you might take a look at Russia Under the Old Regime by Richard Pipes. The first edition was published in the 70s, but Penguin put out a second edition in the late 1990s.

Russia under the Old Regime Second Edition (Penguin History) by Richard Pipes Richard Pipes

message 11: by [deleted user] (last edited Feb 22, 2011 02:19PM) (new)

Glen, thank you so much for your suggestions. Since I am fairly isolated, and none of the few 'book' people I am close to are into Russian history (or, indeed, any history), I have to rely on instinct, trial and error, and internet advice. I realize that putting too much faith in the opinions on the internet isn't the best idea. Therefore, I really appriecate your information on Longworth's book. It's not availible through my library systemn, so I think I will get it. Also, thank you for suggesting "Russia- A Journey to the Heart of a Land and its People." That sounds like what I was hoping for. As long as authors' are realistic about their own baises, I can usually understand them. Again, thank you for taking the time. I am really very grateful.

Brant, I have actually just gotten that book from the library--I'm glad you liked it! I haven't started it yet, but I am glad someone suggested it. Thanks so much!

message 12: by Tom (new)

Tom Foolery (tomfoolery) | 89 comments Glen said: I think you would be better to read a history overview before taking on a specific subject.

I'd like to second this. When i took my Russian history class, i had a very hard time keeping the chronology straight without a general textbook as a reference.

Also, Russian History reads better when you're listening to Glinka, Rimsky-Korsakov, Tchaikovsky, or Mussorgsky. Just sayin'.

message 13: by [deleted user] (last edited Feb 23, 2011 05:56PM) (new)

Of course! You can't love Russian land without knowing and appriecating it's music!

message 14: by Donna (new)

Donna (ljldml) I think "Peter the Great" by Robert Massie is an incredible book!

message 15: by Richard (new)

Richard Foy | 2 comments I've enjoyed reading 'The 44th Child' because it takes you in to the old world mindset of Russia during Stalin. Where trust and loyalty are nearly non-existant. It's likely a bit overstated, but it does bring you around something like their heritage.

message 16: by Lianne (new)

Lianne (eclecticreading) Yay for Russian history! =) I actually enjoyed Geoffrey Hosking's books on Russian history; I found it pretty accessible but it does take a particular approach to Russian history (in terms of Russian identity). If you want a general Russian history book, Nicholas Riasanovsky wrote a pretty good survey book called A History of Russia which I used for my survey course and still use for reference. He's also written a lot on 19th century Russian history on a myriad of topics so he's worth checking out at the library.

I also find Orlando Figes a great read and he's focused on a lot of interesting topics on Russian history. Natasha's Dance: A Cultural History of Russia is fantastic if you want to read on Russia's cultural history while The Whisperers: Private Life in Stalin's Russia focused on life in the private sphere during the Great Terror of the late 1930s.

If you're into medieval history, Medieval Russia's Epics, Chronicles, and Tales is a very good book to read up on the like.

And that's all I can comment at the moment from what I can see on my shelf; a lot of my books are actually on the war lol (as it's my research field) but it would be great to read a bit more on Imperial Russia again.

message 17: by Susanna - Censored by GoodReads, Crazy Cat Lady (new)

Susanna - Censored by GoodReads (susannag) | 1011 comments Mod
Seconding the recommendations of the Massie bios (I hear he's got one of Catherine the Great coming out this year, too) and of Pipes' Russia Under the Old Regime.

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