An abridged (by about 15%) and quite marvelous one-volume reappearance of the 1839 three-volume French original, with a forward by Pulizer Prize-winning historian Daniel Boorstin and an introduction by Russian expert George Kennan. De Custine, an aristocratic 18th-century novelist and travel writer—who was somewhat of a pariah as one of Paris' most notorious homosexuals—spent the summer of 1839 traveling through Russia. A firm believer in aristocracy, he objected to the French Revolution and was determined to show by Russia's example that autocratic rule was essential. But his experiences in Russia reversed his judgment, and he returned home a firm believer in representative government. From his first day, when he became repulsed by red tape at the border ("What is your object in Russia?" the border guard asked, to which de Custine reponded, "To see the country"; the guard then objected, "That is not here a motive for traveling!"), to his irritation at the sullen police spy assigned to him as a servant, to his revulsion at the lack of a true aristocracy (all classes, he found, were equally enslaved to the Czar, and even courtiers were nothing but fawning sycophants), to the rough carriage rides, to his visit to the grim prison of Schlusselburg—all convinced de Custine of the necessity of written constitutions. A fascinating travelogue, and a gentle reminder that the more dispiriting elements of the Soviet Union—autocracy, bureaucracy, centralism, secrecy, and contempt for personal rights—may only be manifestations of traditional Russian society going back a millenium. As de Custine concludes, "Whoever has well-examined that country will be content to live anywhere else."
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