An elegantly expostulatory narrative about the Russian century between the failed Decembrist conspiracy against the Tsardom in 1825 and the WW I collapse. Crankshaw, author of Khrushchev (1966) and Tolstoy (1974), focuses on the monarchy itself, the ""sad fatuity"" of its earlier attempts to ablish serfdom, and the ministers who perpetuated ""the sheer frivolity of the system,"" a waste of talent ""more damaging than its brutalities."" The book concludes, first, that the Tsars were a pretty foolish lot, and second, that Russian reformers tended either to rely on the central autocracy to implement their hopes, or to form a bloc with the revolutionary left. Crankshaw considers the latter course, as embodied by the turn-of-the-century constitutionalist Milyukov, to have been disastrous, while the former approach had possibilities--if only Stolypin's combination of repression and agricultural restructuring had had time to bear fruit, for example. The key to 19th-century Russia was the interplay between autocracy and intelligentsia, writes Crankshaw; yet he gives the merest of glosses on key intellectuals from Belinsky to Chernyshevsky. A more serious resource in this area is Tibor Szamuely's The Russian Tradition (1975), while Richard Pipes' Russia Under the Old Regime (1975) offers fuller treatment of social and economic developments. This volume makes not a scholarly contribution, but a pleasantly readable overview based on the premise that ""the drift to revolution"" was a surpassing misfortune.