It's hard to imagine how a one-volume history of Russia could be any better than this. U. of Vermont historian Daniels (The Conscience of the Revolution, Red October) starts out with a geographic and demographic sketch that is thorough and informative and keyed to comparisons with the US. (The subarctic climate is more akin to Canada than the US. The Russian ethnic mosaic parallels the forced absorption of Native Americans and the Spanish-speaking Southwest, and the annexation of Puerto Rico, rather than the melting-pot image of European immigration.) The Soviet Union's collection of minorities is sorted out both linguistically and historically. (The Ukraine, Daniels says, shared the Russian historical experience until the expulsion of the Mongols--when the Ukraine was liberated by Catholic, and western, Lithuania in the mid-15th century while a Russian national state was unified around Moscow: there is no truth to the notion that the earlier Kievan culture was a Ukrainian rather than a Russian one.) Daniels handles the history of the tsars deftly, recounting the autocratic developments that marked Russia off from Europe and that have left their stamp on Soviet political culture. He interprets the Soviet regime as a continuation of its Russian predecessor (hence he uses the two terms interchangeably after 1917), with the difference that it is wrapped in a revolutionary ideology. That ideology, together with the vast difference in experience, partly accounts for the mutual impenetrability of the two superpowers. It is not the Bolshevik revolution that formed the present regime, says Daniels, but Russian history and the post-revolutionary disruptions of civil war and Stalinism. Similarly, it was autocratic practices, and not Marxism, that underlay the methods employed in forced collectivization of agriculture and rapid industrialization at the expense of consumption. Following in the steps of George F. Kennan, Daniels cautions that the Soviets harbor a serious inferiority complex regarding the west and a deep-seated desire for safe borders. The Kremlin is open to bargaining, but not at the expense of its East European stability or in the face of US threats. Noting President Reagan's remark that communism was destined for the ash heap of history, Daniels responds that as an ideology communism landed on that heap a long time ago, and adds: ""What is not on the ash heap of history, or likely to end up there short of a holocaust, is Russia as a great nation and a major power with aspirations to worldwide influence. No conceivable Russian government will willingly play second fiddle to the United States."" The substantiation for that claim is all here.