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Catastrophic Playground

Stephen Kotkin: Chechnya, 18 October 2001

A Dirty War: A Russian Reporter in Chechnya 
by Anna Politkovskaya, translated by John Crowfoot.
Harvill, 336 pp., £12, June 2001, 1 86046 897 7
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Small Nations and Great Powers: A Study of Ethnopolitical Conflict in the Caucasus 
by Svante Cornell.
Curzon, 480 pp., £57.88, January 2001, 0 7007 1162 7
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... Afghanistan emerged as an independent kingdom in the 18th century, though its frontiers would change many times and it would always be more a confederation of tribes and lesser khanates than a centralised state. In the 19th and early 20th centuries, determined to halt Russia’s Inner Asian advance and ‘secure’ its own North Indian frontier, Britain fought three wars with the Afghans ...

Just like that

Sheila Fitzpatrick: Second-Guessing Stalin, 5 April 2018

Stalin, Vol. II: Waiting for Hitler, 1928-41 
by Stephen Kotkin.
Allen Lane, 1154 pp., £35, October 2017, 978 0 7139 9945 7
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... Stephen Kotkin​ ’s Stalin is all paradox. He is pockmarked and physically unimpressive, yet charismatic; a gambler, but cautious; undeterred by the prospect of mass bloodshed, but with no interest in personal participation. Cynical about everyone else’s motives, he himself ‘lived and breathed ideals ...

They’re just not ready

Neal Ascherson: Gorbachev Betrayed, 7 January 2010

Uncivil Society: 1989 and the Implosion of the Communist Establishment 
by Stephen Kotkin, with Jan Gross.
Modern Library, 240 pp., $24, October 2009, 978 0 679 64276 3
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Revolution 1989: The Fall of the Soviet Empire 
by Victor Sebestyen.
Weidenfeld, 451 pp., £25, July 2009, 978 0 297 85223 0
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There Is No Freedom without Bread: 1989 and the Civil War that Brought Down Communism 
by Constantine Pleshakov.
Farrar, Straus, 289 pp., $26, November 2009, 978 0 374 28902 7
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1989: The Struggle to Create Post-Cold War Europe 
by Mary Elise Sarotte.
Princeton, 321 pp., £20.95, November 2009, 978 0 691 14306 4
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... but is there a better way to synthesise the taste of sudden freedom than bashing down a barrier? Stephen Kotkin, the co-author of Uncivil Society, observes rather biliously that ‘the books on Communism’s demise in Eastern Europe in 1989 could probably be piled longer and higher than the old Berlin Wall.’ But then he cheers himself up. ‘What more ...


John Connelly: Stalin’s Infantry, 22 June 2006

Ivan’s War: The Red Army 1939-45 
by Catherine Merridale.
Faber, 396 pp., £20, October 2005, 0 571 21808 3
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A Writer at War: Vasily Grossman with the Red Army 1941-45 
edited and translated by Antony Beevor and Luba Vinogradova.
Harvill, 378 pp., £20, September 2005, 9781843430551
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... and crude peasant jokes’. But what did they really think, deep down, about their regime? Like Stephen Kotkin, she argues that they supported it because they knew no other: ‘The language and priorities of Soviet Communism provided the war generation with the only mental world they knew, not least because alternatives were excluded.’ But she also ...

Deaths at Two O’Clock

Sheila Fitzpatrick: Suicide in the USSR, 17 February 2011

Lost to the Collective: Suicide and the Promise of Soviet Socialism, 1921-29 
by Kenneth Pinnow.
Cornell, 276 pp., £32.95, March 2011, 978 0 8014 4766 2
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... cohort of young historians of the Soviet Union trained at Columbia in the 1990s who, influenced by Stephen Kotkin, first brought Foucault to Soviet history. Psychologists, specialists in forensic medicine and statisticians – all those in Russia who studied the phenomenon of suicide in the first decade of the 20th century – complained of the lack of ...

Palaces on Monday

J. Arch Getty: Soviet Russia, 2 March 2000

Everyday Stalinism. Ordinary Life in Extraordinary Times: Soviet Russia in the 1930s 
by Sheila Fitzpatrick.
Oxford, 280 pp., £25, January 1999, 0 19 505000 2
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... Rossman that peasants and workers did not sit quietly and take whatever the regime dished out. Stephen Kotkin, on the other hand, was struck by how little resistance there was, and shows that Soviet citizens (like most people in most countries) simply accepted and accommodated to the prevailing system. Influenced by Foucault, he describes the Soviet ...

The Rise and Fall of the Baggy-Trousered Barbarians

Sheila Fitzpatrick: Soviet historiography, 19 August 2004

Vixi: Memoirs of a Non-Belonger 
by Richard Pipes.
Yale, 264 pp., £19.95, January 2004, 0 300 10165 1
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Adventures in Russian Historical Research: Reminiscences of American Scholars from the Cold War to the Present 
edited by Samuel Baron and Cathy Frierson.
Sharpe, 272 pp., £18.50, June 2003, 9780765611970
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... and opting out. On the contrary, they argued, Stalinism – ‘Stalinist civilisation’, in Stephen Kotkin’s phrase – was the creation of Soviet citizens, not an alien value system forced on them by the regime: it was the worldview they grew up with, the only one they knew. In effect, this was a culturalist equivalent of the broadest possible ...

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