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Why is Russia?
September 4, 2014 5:14 AM   Subscribe

I have time to read and I would like to learn about recent and current political and social events in Russia. So where is a good place to start learning about recent Russian history? Books, films, anything. (Influenced by this Meta post).
posted by smallvictories to Society & Culture (12 answers total) 9 users marked this as a favorite
 
Land of the Firebird: The Beauty of Old Russia, by Suzanne Massie, may be a good place to start. The book stops at 1917, but it'll give you a really good overview of Russian history and culture. And it's written in an engaging style.

Oops, just noticed that you're only interested in recent history, so ignore this suggestion. Sorry about that.
posted by alex1965 at 5:17 AM on September 4


Not sure how recent you mean, or if you're interested in a very roundabout history lesson, but I learned a lot about what it was like for someone to live in Russia by reading Mastering the Art of Soviet Cooking. It all ties into food and food scarcity, but the history is there. I learn better when I've got a cohesive story to follow, so that sort of thing works better for me. It spans 1910 to the early 21st century (Putin-era stuff).
posted by carrioncomfort at 5:31 AM on September 4


I read the Meta post you linked to yesterday and the subject matter reminded me of Merridale's 'Night of Stone', which we read for modern Russian history--it narrates in a very vivid way the role of death in the collective memory of the Russian people.

More from the book description:

Based on extensive research including rare imperial archives, Soviet propaganda, memoirs, letters, newspapers, literature, psychiatric studies, and texts, as well as interviews with doctors, priests, social workers, policemen, survivors, gravediggers, and funeral directors, Night of Stone seeks answers to the questions: What is the true impact of violence in the Soviet century? How successfully have the Russians psychologically rewritten their own histories? What rituals have survived the Soviet regime, and what do they tell us of the Russian mentality? Reminiscent of the highly successful The Hour of Our Death, Night of Stone is an emotionally wrenching, eloquent work that will appeal to all readers of Russian and European history as well as anyone interested in the processes of memory.
posted by wallawallasweet at 6:01 AM on September 4 [1 favorite]


Anything by David Remnick is worth reading, especially on Russia, where he was a Washington Post correspondent for 4 years beginning in 1988. His most recent (very) long article on Russia is "Watching the Eclipse." You can go back through the articles on the first linked page to find a number of shorter items and the occasional long one.
posted by Mr.Know-it-some at 6:27 AM on September 4 [2 favorites]


The Russian Momment In World History Is about 120 pages and is a fantastic primer on just what the hell Russia is.
posted by munchingzombie at 6:38 AM on September 4


Hedrick Smith's "The Russians" is also a good look at Soviet society in the 1970s and 80s. Given the current Russian nostalgia for that time, it would be a good way to see how that society actually was then.
posted by briank at 7:15 AM on September 4


Remnick was mentioned above, but I really enjoyed Lenin's Tomb, his book-length account of his years as a Moscow correspondent for the Post. It was in the late 80s/early 90s, so obviously a lot was going on at the time. It also goes into a lot about history, and ordinary life, in the Soviet Union, that I did not know about.
posted by breakin' the law at 7:52 AM on September 4


I'm a fan of the Russian Rulers History Podcast. It's short and to the point.
posted by chainsofreedom at 8:04 AM on September 4 [1 favorite]


Seconding Remnick; he's a journalist but very smart and observant and he knows Russia well (and speaks the language, which is vital). Suzanne Massie? Cookbooks? Get serious. Catherine Merridale is excellent on recent history (read Ivan's War if you have any interest in WWII) but shaky on earlier stuff she hasn't personally researched (she makes some dumb generalizations about the war with Napoleon in the lively history of the Kremlin I'm currently reading). I don't know how far back you take "recent Russian history" to include, so I'll start after WWII; here are books I can heartily recommend:

Elena Zubkova, Russia After the War: Hopes, Illusions, and Disappointments, 1945-1957
Vladislav Zubok, Zhivago's Children: The Last Russian Intelligentsia (my review)
Fred Coleman, The Decline and Fall of Soviet Empire: Forty Years That Shook The World, From Stalin to Yeltsin
Remnick, Lenin's Tomb: The Last Days of the Soviet Empire
David E. Hoffman, The Oligarchs: Wealth And Power In The New Russia
Stephen Kotkin, Armageddon Averted: The Soviet Collapse, 1970-2000
Andrew Meier, Black Earth: A Journey Through Russia After the Fall

Books I haven't yet read but that I'm pretty confident in recommending:

Anna Politkovskaya, Putin's Russia: Life in a Failing Democracy
Alena V. Ledeneva, How Russia Really Works: The Informal Practices That Shaped Post-Soviet Politics and Business

I got plenty more if you want 'em (particularly on cultural/literary stuff), but that should be enough to get started. Enjoy, and feel free to write me—I love talking about this stuff!
posted by languagehat at 9:40 AM on September 4 [4 favorites]


If you have Netflix, you can get the fabulous World at War British documentary series on WWII. It's on DVD not streaming unfortunately, but it's an amazing history of the war with lots of great footage, and whole episodes devoted to Russia. The siege of Stalingrad was particularly good. Has the added bonus of being narrated by Lawrence Olivier. If you binge watch it, it will only take 28 hours.

Nthing David Remnick's current New Yorker pieces to better understand the recent developments in Russia, and the mind of Putin. I believe the New Yorker web site has open access this month, so you can read lots of interesting things, all for free.
posted by PaulBGoode at 1:28 PM on September 4 [1 favorite]


Oh damn, languagehat, I had forgotten what a pleasurable read Armageddon Averted was. +1
posted by munchingzombie at 8:45 PM on September 4


Thanks everyone!
posted by smallvictories at 6:44 PM on September 5


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