Service provides the most wide-ranging description yet of what has happened to Russia since it emerged from the rubble of the Soviet Union. Hardly an angle has been neglected, from the historical lineage of national identity and the residue of Soviet times to the excesses of popular culture and life in the village. The core of the book deals with politics: the character and failings of Russia's leaders, turning points in the struggle over reform, the manipulation of symbols and media, and relations between the center and outlying regions. The book is more ambitious verbal photo album than deep and sustained analysis. But it is a rich and variegated portrait of a wondrously complex society; a sympathetic, abused, at times brutish people; and a modern leadership given to squandering opportunity. Ultimately, though, Service stresses the successes amid the failure, ending with a balance sheet that inclines him to "cautious pessimism."
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