In This Review

Moscow: Governing the Socialist Metropolis
Moscow: Governing the Socialist Metropolis
By Timothy J. Colton
Harvard University Press, 1995, 912 pp

Colton's history of Moscow is many things, the most important of which may not be instantly apparent. Truly it is a grand history of one of the world's ancient and great cities, and, for that, it is also a major modern contribution to the field of urban history. More significantly, however, by digging so deeply into the history of Moscow under the tsars, the communists, and the current rulers, Colton has created an important angle on modern Russian history. This is Russia's story from the bottom up, merging political with social history.

Colton claims that "the ultimate cause of the Russian Revolution was the autocracy's unresponsiveness to urbanization and sundry demands of modernization. The proximate cause was its blundering into World War I." He might have said the same of its collapse 74 years later, if only he had substituted perestroika for the war. Between these twin propositions, he traces both the social and physical transformation of the city and the convoluted and pressured politics within which its leadership tried to act. Not surprisingly the fate of Moscow, from the harsh but exuberant 1920s to the dilapidated and dispirited 1980s, paralleled that of the country, but seeing the homely, workaday detail of the evolution in this specific context makes the larger tale more compelling.