Professor of History, Princeton University, a former Rhodes Scholar, guest lecturer on Russian history at the University of Leningrad and exchange research professor at the University of Moscow, the author has undertaken an interpretative history of the Russian culture, designed to open up rather than codify information, designated ""as an episode in the common and continuing quest for inner understanding of a disturbed but creative nation."" Professor Billington has based his text in the main on a fresh reading of primary materials and on detailed Russian monographs. He arrays his information and insights chronologically, following the last six hundred years during which Russia has emerged as a powerful, distinctive, creative civilization. Behind his study is the awareness of three elements in the Russian experience-- the natural surroundings, the Christian heritage, contacts with the West. The icon and the axe, illustrating the combination of material strength and spiritual exaltation in Old Russia and ultimately at work in the new, offers a frame for a comprehensive consciousness of dynamic forces within the culture. Rather than in military movements or the play of politics, Professor Billington appraises the life of the spirit and of the arts for their influence on and reflection of the culture. He has sought proniknevenie, penetration of the culture as of a blotter by ink, and it is Just this permeating, absorptive effect he has achieved in a giant, amorphous landmass of a book. The seriousness of his intent is attested to by seventy-five galleys of notes at the close of this impressive volume which stands alone.