Russia: People and Empire

In This Review

Russia: People and Empire

By Geoffrey Hosking
Harvard University Press, 1997
368 pp. $27.95
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We look to history to enlarge our perspective on the issues of the day, but rarely does it cut so deeply into the essence of an urgent problem as in this book. If the Russians are having trouble as they struggle to find their way from the Soviet past to a modern future, as a result creating uncertainty, uneasiness, and confusion among those of us on the outside, the reasons, says Hosking, have long, thick roots in Russian history. At every point of choice, back to the "time of troubles" in the early seventeenth century, Russia sacrificed the construction of a Russian nation to the creation and maintenance of an empire, destroying the basis for a Russian national identity. Too often Hosking fails to explain why the "choice" at any given juncture always came out the same, but he is crystal clear about the consequences. Instead of a nation-state, the empire became cleaved -- between rulers and ruled, eventually between the autocracy and its privileged retainers, and even between agents of change and the people who were to be its beneficiaries. The Soviets took up where the czars left off, only to end as they did, opening for the Russians another, and this time their best, chance of achieving nationhood.