A History of 20th-Century Russia, Warts and All





A new two-volume history of Russia’s turbulent 20th century is being hailed inside and outside the country as a landmark contribution to the swirling debate over Russia’s past and national identity.

Written by 45 historians led by Andrei Zubov, a professor at the institute that serves as university to the Russian Foreign Ministry, the weighty history — almost 1,000 pages per volume — was published this year by AST Publishers and is already in its second printing of 10,000 copies.

Retailing at the rough equivalent of $20 a volume and titled “History of Russia. XX Century,” the books try to rise above ideologically charged clashes over Russia’s historical memory. They are critical both of czarist and Communist Russia, and incorporate the history of Russian emigration and the Russian Orthodox Church into the big picture of a chaotic, violent century. While written from a clearly Christian perspective — one author is a Russian Orthodox priest — the history avoids overt nationalism or anti-Semitism.

Eminent historians in the United States and Poland who often take a critical view of Russia’s passionate, partisan discussion of history lauded its balance.

“Nothing like it has ever been published in Russia,” Richard Pipes, the Harvard University Sovietologist, wrote in an e-mail message, noting that he was trying to raise money for a translation and publication in English. “It is a remarkable work: remarkable not only for Russia but also for Western readers. For one, it has gotten away from the nationalism so common in Russian history books, according to which the Russians were always the victims of aggression, never aggressors.”

Mr. Pipes noted that it made extensive use of Western sources — rare in Russia — and praised its attention to often overlooked questions of the role of morals and religious beliefs...

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