In Werth’s view, 1837 was a pivotal year in Russian history, witnessing major developments in technology, art, and intellectual life that then unfolded over time and marked Russia’s entry into the modern age. The year began with a symbolic and literal bang: in January, the great poet Aleksandr Pushkin was fatally wounded in a duel. After his death, Pushkin became a symbol of Russian national identity, still commonly referred to as “our everything” in both official and popular parlance. Elsewhere, Russia’s first railroad opened. Tsar Nicholas I issued a decree allowing the publication of provincial newspapers, which played an important role in the subsequent growth and consolidation of the intelligentsia across the vast empire. The philosopher Pyotr Chaadayev wrote Apology of a Madman, which, along with his earlier, highly controversial work, set the terms of an essential (and ongoing) debate about whether Russia should strive to emulate Europe or follow its own path. Werth combines solid historical research with a lively and occasionally playful style that makes his book an entertaining read.