In This Review

Red Fortress: History and Illusion in the Kremlin
Red Fortress: History and Illusion in the Kremlin
By Catherine Merridale
Metropolitan Books, 2013, 528 pp

This book will enthrall anyone who has visited the Kremlin or gazed at pictures of it, presenting as it does a wonderfully detailed story of the fortress’ many incarnations over the centuries. Merridale, however, does more than write an architectural history. She also embeds each phase of the citadel’s transformation, from its origins in the twelfth century to today’s era of Vladimir Putin, in the drama surrounding each of its autocratic overlords -- the machinations swirling within the toxic circle of aristocrats, court servants, and church officials who made up life within the Kremlin. The result is a full-bodied history of the often macabre reigns of the tsars who made the Kremlin the seat and symbol of their power, until Peter the Great substituted his creation, St. Petersburg. Merridale then explores what happened to the Kremlin during the long interlude before Vladimir Lenin moved everything back to Moscow in 1918. The book is not a broad history of Russia but makes a large chunk of that story enjoyable and accessible.