They were both rulers and victims, says Hosking. The Russians were the "state-bearers of the Soviet Union": its managers and its tyrants. But they were also "rendered anonymous by it," torn from their historical, albeit conflicted, identity, conferred an empire but denied a country of their own. Hosking, the author of elaborate histories of Russia and the Russians, in this volume wrestles more directly than before with what the long Soviet interlude did to Russian identity, already unanchored by the "desacralization" of the monarchy in the final phases of the ancien régime. In compact, succinct slices, he looks at how the Soviet "experiment" crushed and remolded the Russians' church, villages, families, culture, and collective memory. A large last part of the book explores the nostalgic, awkward, often reactionary stirrings of Russian nationalism in the Soviet Union's fading years. Hosking believes in Russia and its people, but he sees them as a long way from knowing what it is and who they are.