MixedNew York Times Book ReviewOrlando Figes provides valuable lessons about the importance of mythologizing the country’s past in his sweeping new survey of Russian history ... Figes aims in this primer to explain how central narratives used to justify the current leadership have been shaped and exploited over centuries ... Figes makes a key point about how the challenges of geography and climate have reinforced a long-held perception about the need for collective responsibility and strong autocratic leadership ... It is testament to the pervasiveness of Russian myths that Figes perpetuates some of them ... developments from the mid-19th century on are treated increasingly superficially, presented as all but inevitable consequences of earlier history. In fact, the Bolshevik Revolution in 1917 was the result of not only bungling by the reactionary Czar Nicholas II but also dumb luck and German support — the ensuing civil war could have gone either way. Even more nuance is missing from later Soviet history, including the paradoxical figure of the reformer Nikita Khrushchev ... There are some mischaracterizations here ... But the author’s glossing over the Westernizing 1990s is perhaps most disappointing. They are characterized as essentially doomed to failure ... But if and when Putinism collapses, we would do well to learn from the past and not treat the country simply as a blank canvas on which to project Western-style democracy. Read Figes.
MixedThe New York Times Book ReviewWell-written, with new details from archival research used for vivid descriptions of key events, The Russian Revolution comes nearly three decades after Richard Pipes’s masterpiece of the same name...McMeekin’s history follows the main events and players, though without much of Pipes’s sweeping context and analysis of Russian and European history ... McMeekin depends on a surprisingly narrow focus to make his overarching argument, eschewing analysis of the deeper social and political forces required for any comprehensive study of the revolution and its lessons for us today — when radical political groups are again relying on subterfuge and populism to force a fundamental change of the world order ... McMeekin points to what he calls a resurgence of Marxist-style philosophy, warning readers to be wary of 'openly avowed socialists' like Bernie Sanders — as if right-wing ideologies played no part in the 20th century’s convulsions. This is an especially bizarre conclusion when mounting nationalism and a global shift to the right are threatening the postwar liberal order today.