In This Review

Russia and the Russians: A History
Russia and the Russians: A History
By Geoffrey Hosking
Harvard University Press, 2001, 696 pp.

For the general reader, this book is the King James version of Russian history. Hosking has taken all of Russia's past since Kievan Rus in the tenth century and translated it into accessible portions, compartments, and ideas. He avoids a single, all-encompassing theme but stresses a number of historical features that clarify and structure an otherwise unwieldy story. These features include the long-lived primacy of patron-client relations over civic institutions at the core of the political system, the sacrifice of Russian nationhood to imperial vocation, and the country's capacity to sink into -- and then survive -- great disunity and collapse. Above all, Hosking leans on an insight borrowed from the Soviet semiotician Yuri Lotman: "In Russia the most radical changes, despite appearances, actually reinforce the traditions of the society they are meant to change." With remarkable balance, he covers Russia's millennial political and economic evolution, key developments within society, the role of the Orthodox Church, and layer on layer of territorial expansion, war, and revolution.