Siberia accounts for more than three-quarters of modern Russia’s territory and spans eight of the country’s 11 time zones but is home to just 30 million people. Images of Arctic winters, the Soviet gulag, and infinite wilderness tend to shape popular conceptions of Siberia. But in reality, the region is vastly more rich and varied, and its history, as related in this sweeping but compact account, features a wild diversity of settings, events, and inhabitants. Hartley’s book is a work of social, not political, history, and her primary focus is people: Cossacks, peasants in flight, indigenous groups pushed aside, political exiles, convicts, hunters, trappers, and oil men. Her stories unfold in villages and towns, in the military garrisons that secured this vast space, and in the prison camps where so many perished. Hartley cares most about the dramatic juxtapositions that characterize Siberia: free and unfree people, settlers and natives, indigenous beliefs and imported religions. In her book, Siberia emerges as an intricate, colorful mosaic, not a barren black-and-white photo.
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