A slim, accessible account of the megacountry.



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...


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 sweet-and-sour set of pieces on loss, absurdity, and places they intersect.


Sedaris remains stubbornly irreverent even in the face of pandemic lockdowns and social upheaval.

In his previous collection of original essays, Calypso (2018), the author was unusually downbeat, fixated on aging and the deaths of his mother and sister. There’s bad news in this book, too—most notably, the death of his problematic and seemingly indestructible father at 96—but Sedaris generally carries himself more lightly. On a trip to a gun range, he’s puzzled by boxer shorts with a holster feature, which he wishes were called “gunderpants.” He plays along with nursing-home staffers who, hearing a funnyman named David is on the premises, think he’s Dave Chappelle. He’s bemused by his sister Amy’s landing a new apartment to escape her territorial pet rabbit. On tour, he collects sheaves of off-color jokes and tales of sexual self-gratification gone wrong. His relationship with his partner, Hugh, remains contentious, but it’s mellowing. (“After thirty years, sleeping is the new having sex.”) Even more serious stuff rolls off him. Of Covid-19, he writes that “more than eight hundred thousand people have died to date, and I didn’t get to choose a one of them.” The author’s support of Black Lives Matter is tempered by his interest in the earnest conscientiousness of organizers ensuring everyone is fed and hydrated. (He refers to one such person as a “snacktivist.”) Such impolitic material, though, puts serious essays in sharper, more powerful relief. He recalls fending off the flirtations of a 12-year-old boy in France, frustrated by the language barrier and other factors that kept him from supporting a young gay man. His father’s death unlocks a crushing piece about dad’s inappropriate, sexualizing treatment of his children. For years—chronicled in many books—Sedaris labored to elude his father’s criticism. Even in death, though, it proves hard to escape or laugh off.

A sweet-and-sour set of pieces on loss, absurdity, and places they intersect.

Pub Date: May 31, 2022

ISBN: 978-0-316-39245-7

Page Count: 272

Publisher: Little, Brown

Review Posted Online: March 11, 2022

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 1, 2022

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