Book Review: Russia: A 1000-Year Chronicle of the Wild East

Russia: A 1000-Year Chronicle of the Wild East
(Martin Sixsmith, London, Random House Group, 2011)

Russian history is a long story of struggle, violence, revolution and conflict.
Martin Sixsmith’s “Russia, a 1000-year chronicle of the wild east” makes for a long yet fascinating read. Beginning in the late 9th and early 10th centuries with Rurik and the Kievan Rus’, Sixsmith uses the best traditions of narration to illuminate the often bloody but intriguing history of the Russian people right up until the present.

In reading Russia it is clear that the author not only has a clear understanding of the details and intricacies of the Russian history, but also the Russian language and culture. This knowledge allows for a more vibrant explanation of why the events in the past still influence Russia today. Reader beware however as this tome is no light and airy read. Some might find the wade through over 500 pages a tiresome endeavor.

I greatly enjoyed Sixsmith’s work. He is able to simply and clearly portray and connect the key events of Russian history in a captivating manner. This is not some dry archive or catalog of events. He also incorporates the significance of the arts, literature and music in the saga of Russia. Sixsmith worked as the BBC’s correspondent in Moscow during the unexpectedly turbulent late 1980s and early 90s. As an eyewitness, he interlaces his own experiences from his time spent in Russia with the history and in doing so underlining the significance of Russia’s most defining moments.

One of the aspects I found most valuable in this book was how Sixsmith presented an epic history in a truly objective matter looking at how the influences of Asia and Europe tug and tear at Russia. The effects of those influences created a dichotomy that was present throughout the narrative. He often highlights the instances where this conflict of identity, values and culture comes to a head. Instances where Russia could have undergone change towards a more liberal, European culture and society, but instead leans towards the more autocratic, Asian influence.

Russia truly hits the mark in presenting the history of that country. I feel that this book is absolutely a must read for anyone who wants to understand how and why Russia is the way it is today. Sixsmith’s work should be considered the cornerstone of any approach to Russian history or politics.

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