In This Review

Russia: The Story of War
Russia: The Story of War
By Gregory Carleton
Harvard University Press, 2017, 304 pp.

It is common for histories of Russia to stress how much the state and society have been subordinated over the centuries to the military enterprise. Carleton does not contradict that judgment but turns it around, arguing that war is central to Russia’s historical identity: indeed, since the thirteenth century, Russia’s capital, Moscow, has been a battlefield in every century except one (the eighteenth). Deeply etched into the Russian mind is the aggrieved sense that the country’s fate has been to be civilization’s savior—aggrieved because others, rather than appreciating Russia’s noble role, have usually viewed the country as aggressive and barbarous. Carleton explores elements of Russian self-image as they appear not only in official narratives but also in literature and film: the endurance and bravery of the solitary soldier, a people rising to defend the Motherland, the ever-present threat of war and the unspeakable toll it takes. To understand Russia in the Putin era, Carleton argues in this spare, original book, one must recognize the mental and emotional outlook that near-constant war has produced.