Lucidly written with a lack of political bent and a handful of wry humour, this revised and updated history of Russia is a useful general reference on Soviet past with the main focus on the period of communist government.Drawing from vast earlier works, interpretations and opened archives, Service emphasises the co-existence of cracks in the USSR”s monolithic one-party dictatorship and hypercentralism, that despite the exceptional degree of regulation, illicit non-compliance, apathy and disobedience existed and even strengthened under communism to a degree greater than most liberal-democratic countries, not as an “aberrations” but as essential dualistic elements of totalitarianism.
Other issues that glue the tottering regime such as unclear national identity, conscious knee-jerk anti-capitalism and its discontent, campaigns for increased literacy and numeracy (books were cheaper than bread), and provisions are also discussed in a balanced and very readable way.
Service devotes particular attention to authorities “idiosyncrasies and how they’ve left their indelible marks on history. More meticulous analysis are deservingly dedicated to Lenin and Stalin (whose biographies Service has also written for—I am waiting for the one on Trotsky), although I find his minor but glaring inaccuracy on Putin’s judo (mistaken as karate) expertise baffling if not amusing. Unless all those books/articles on Putin I’ve ever read are conspiratorially wrong and Service is right…
A History of Modern Russia: From Nicholas II to Putin
by Robert Service
Penguin Books, 2003
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