If half a millennium of Russian history is to be distilled into a hundred pages of text, one has to have a strong thesis. Poe does: once the Muscovite state collected itself in the sixteenth century, he says, Russia embarked on an alternative path to modernity. Unlike Europe, Russia combined autocracy, "control of the public sphere," state-controlled economy, and "state-sponsored militarism." This mix, moreover, made Russia the only "sustainable society capable of resisting the challenge of Europe." With the collapse of the Soviet Union, the 400-year "Russian moment" ended -- that is, the Russian path to modernity expired, and something else now awaits the country. Much of Poe's general description will not be contested, except by those who consider Russia to be historically a part of Europe. His analysis -- that Russia had no other choice, given its location, lack of resources, and weak society -- will be. If those who disagree can offer a counterargument as compact, vigorous, and accessible as Poe's, the rest of us will greatly benefit.
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