This affectionate look at the beauty and the beast that is Leningrad is an often muddled mixture of contemporary anecdote, history, and travel guide. But who cares? It is fitting that the reader should occasionally get lost in a city of 60 canals and 600 bridges, of romantic white nights and sinister intrigue; a city that as St. Petersburg was capital of the czars, as Petrograd the scene of revolutionary upheaval, and as Leningrad is Russia's sophisticated answer to stodgy Moscow. Czar Peter built St. Petersburg in the middle of a marshland not as a ""window on the west"" but as a fortress against the Swedes; the ""modernizer"" of Russia, he tortured and axed to death his own son, an apparently popular practice among the Romanovs Wechsberg unfolds the rising tide of revolution, culminating in Lenin's April 1917 arrival at the Finland Station and the October Revolution that brought the Bolsheviks to power. The 880-day seige of Leningrad during WW II is a story of starvation and cannibalism and the heroic evacuation of art treasures and animals-- but not people. Separate chapters explore the Hermitage, the palaces of the czars, and Leningrad's long roster of writers and artists. A confused conclusion mixes the city's postwar restoration with a visit to a church and a synagogue and some reflections on the climate and Moscow/Leningrad rivalry. As murky--and spellbinding--as its subject.