In This Review

A Short History of Russia: From the Pagans to Putin
A Short History of Russia: From the Pagans to Putin
By Mark Galeotti
Ebury Press, 2021, 208 pp

Galeotti skips through Russia’s centuries-long history in around two hundred pages by focusing on its successive rulers. He covers many early princes, along with every tsar and every Communist Party general secretary. The book traces feuds, wars, territorial expansions, and Russian leaders’ repeated attempts to modernize their country while keeping their subjects under tight control, but it does not have much to say about those subjects. Readers will also not find much about Russia’s social structure, ethnic composition, high and popular cultures, systems of education, or faiths. Galeotti intends his book for a broad audience, and his narrative is, indeed, lively and easy to follow. The chapter on Vladimir Putin is brilliant. But a number of unfortunate inaccuracies risk misleading a curious reader. For instance, the invention of the Cyrillic script used for the Russian language is wrongly ascribed to the Byzantine missionaries Cyril and Methodius—they invented Glagolitic, an earlier script quite different from Cyrillic. It is not true that “Byzantine Christianity did not require submission to a distant spiritual leader”: during its first 600 years, the Russian Orthodox Church had its head appointed by the patriarch of Constantinople. And not “most” surveyed Russians, but only one-third, agreed to identify themselves as “Europeans,” a number that dropped even lower in a poll this year.