A slim, accessible account of the megacountry.

A SHORT HISTORY OF RUSSIA

HOW THE WORLD'S LARGEST COUNTRY INVENTED ITSELF, FROM THE PAGANS TO PUTIN

A fine introduction to a nation that “has responded to its lack of clear frontiers by a steady process of expansion, bringing new ethnic, cultural and religious identities into the mix.”

“Russia is a country with no natural borders, no single tribe or people, no true central identity,” writes Galeotti, an expert on Russian history and culture. The country’s written history only begins in the ninth century, when the Vikings took notice. Readers aware that Norse raiders sailed west as far as America may be surprised to learn that they also traveled eastward as far as the Black Sea to trade and plunder. Called Rus’ by the Slavs, by 900 they had settled in Kiev, adopted Christianity, and established a nation that neighboring Byzantium took seriously. The Mongols conquered Russia around 1240. While conventional histories describe “two centuries of Asiatic despotism,” Mongol rule was fairly benign. By 1500, Moscow was the leading city, and four centuries of spectacular conquests began. Peter the Great (reign: 1682-1725) introduced European culture and technology. Under Catherine the Great (1762-1796), Russia became a European power. Although American and French revolutionary ideals penetrated Russia, Napoleon’s traumatic 1812 invasion convinced the czars that democracy was “a product of dangerous, foreign-inspired freethinking.” As a result, in the 19th century, the country sunk into despotism. As a visiting French aristocrat noted, “this empire, vast as it is, is only a prison to which the emperor holds the key.” Galeotti reaches the 20th century only 50 pages before the end but delivers a fine, abbreviated chronicle. Lenin’s Bolsheviks won Russia’s revolution after a brutal struggle, but his early death meant that the Soviet Union was largely the creation of his heir, Stalin, whose epic cruelty disguises the fact that economic decline and misgovernment, not despotism, doomed his empire. The author blames the Soviet collapse on corrupt, unresponsive leaders, but, as Russia under Putin demonstrates, a corrupt kleptocracy remains popular as long as it provides stability, national pride, and jobs.

A slim, accessible account of the megacountry.

Pub Date: July 7, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-335-14570-3

Page Count: 224

Publisher: Hanover Square Press

Review Posted Online: April 30, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 15, 2020

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The author's youthfulness helps to assure the inevitable comparison with the Anne Frank diary although over and above the...

NIGHT

Elie Wiesel spent his early years in a small Transylvanian town as one of four children. 

He was the only one of the family to survive what Francois Maurois, in his introduction, calls the "human holocaust" of the persecution of the Jews, which began with the restrictions, the singularization of the yellow star, the enclosure within the ghetto, and went on to the mass deportations to the ovens of Auschwitz and Buchenwald. There are unforgettable and horrifying scenes here in this spare and sombre memoir of this experience of the hanging of a child, of his first farewell with his father who leaves him an inheritance of a knife and a spoon, and of his last goodbye at Buchenwald his father's corpse is already cold let alone the long months of survival under unconscionable conditions. 

The author's youthfulness helps to assure the inevitable comparison with the Anne Frank diary although over and above the sphere of suffering shared, and in this case extended to the death march itself, there is no spiritual or emotional legacy here to offset any reader reluctance.

Pub Date: Jan. 16, 2006

ISBN: 0374500010

Page Count: 120

Publisher: Hill & Wang

Review Posted Online: Oct. 7, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 2006

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A handful of pearls amid a pile of empty oyster shells.

THE COMFORT BOOK

Bestselling author Haig offers a book’s worth of apothegms to serve as guides to issues ranging from disquietude to self-acceptance.

Like many collections of this sort—terse snippets of advice, from the everyday to the cosmic—some parts will hit home with surprising insight, some will feel like old hat, and others will come across as disposable or incomprehensible. Years ago, Haig experienced an extended period of suicidal depression, so he comes at many of these topics—pain, hope, self-worth, contentment—from a hard-won perspective. This makes some of the material worthy of a second look, even when it feels runic or contrary to experience. The author’s words are instigations, hopeful first steps toward illumination. Most chapters are only a few sentences long, the longest running for three pages. Much is left unsaid and left up to readers to dissect. On being lost, Haig recounts an episode with his father when they got turned around in a forest in France. His father said to him, “If we keep going in a straight line we’ll get out of here.” He was correct, a bit of wisdom Haig turned to during his depression when he focused on moving forward: “It is important to remember the bottom of the valley never has the clearest view. And that sometimes all you need to do in order to rise up again is to keep moving forward.” Many aphorisms sound right, if hardly groundbreaking—e.g., a quick route to happiness is making someone else happy; “No is a good word. It keeps you sane. In an age of overload, no is really yes. It is yes to having space you need to live”; “External events are neutral. They only gain positive or negative value the moment they enter our mind.” Haig’s fans may enjoy this one, but others should take a pass.

A handful of pearls amid a pile of empty oyster shells.

Pub Date: July 6, 2021

ISBN: 978-0-14-313666-8

Page Count: 272

Publisher: Penguin Life

Review Posted Online: May 19, 2021

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 1, 2021

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