An excellent introduction, painstaking and enjoyable, to the gigantic backwater of Russia up to the 1880's. Pipes has a general framework based on a theory that ""patriarchal"" forms have continuously determined the country's development, after 1917 as before, and he gives many examples of pre-Soviet informers, forced labor, punishment exacted in a criminal's family, and so forth. But this is an insignificant aspect of the book, compared with Pipes' elaboration of the eternal difficulties of Russian agriculture and the ironies of an all-powerful state bureaucracy which, nevertheless, owing to population diffusion and lack of government funds, remained a thinly spread pack of petty thieves during this period. Of special interest is the book's rather caustic discussion of ""feudalism"" and the anomaly that Russian serfdom -- in various complicated forms which Pipes manages to make sense of -- rose in the 16th and 17th centuries as its West European counterparts were being abolished. On the psychology of the Russian peasant himself, Pipes is usually penetrating, not only because he underlines the muzhik's fear and mistrust of the outside world, but because, quite unlike most scholars, he repeatedly stresses the urge of the peasant to leave the land, if not prevented, and the pervasive tradition of commercial activity dating from the Scandinavian-founded Kievan Rus. The latter part of the book, which deals with the Church, the intelligentsia, and the general abortion of Russian liberalism, is less original and less particularized. The volume remains a highly recommended source for researchers and amateurs of history.