Saturday, June 10, 2017

If You're Tired of Hearing About Russians...

History of Russia in 100 Minutes by Tanel Vahisalu

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Russians are an unfortunate melding of Vikings, Mongols, and Slavs. Their history is dominated by one recurrent theme—failed ideology. Repeatedly, one ruler takes control with the intention of instituting reforms, and the subsequent ruler reverses them. Ivan the Great broke the yoke of Mongol domination and expanded Russian influence. Ivan the Terrible succeeded him, subjugated the people, and nearly lost Russia to Sweden and Poland. Under the reign of Catherine the Great, the people enjoyed “freedom of speech, political stability, and great victories.” Along came Alexander I who reverted to “autocratic governing.” Nikita Khrushchev ended Stalin’s reign of terror and promoted agrarian reform. During Brezhnev’s “Era of Stagnation” the Soviet Union “became politically, economically, and socially backward.”

This student of history is unaware of any society that has exterminated as large a percentage of its own population as the Russians. Famines, pogroms, wars, and purges have decimated vast segments of the populous at numerous times throughout the history of the place we generally call Russia. Famine during the “Time of Trouble,” following the rule of Ivan the Terrible, decimated one third of the inhabitants. During World War I, Russia may have lost 1.7 million, during the Russian Civil War, after the Bolshevik Rebellion, total casualties have been estimated at 9.5 million. Then came Stalin. Stalin was surely the most murderous in terms of sheer numbers and probably also in percentage of the population. Mr. Vahisalu cites at least fifteen million dead. Other sources have dared to claim twenty-nine million.

Tanel Vahisalu is from Estonia, long part of the Soviet Union and liberated after the collapse of that body. He now resides in Finland. The reader can tell that he has written this delightful history from a front row seat. History of Russia in 100 Minutes covers every momentous event in clear, concise prose, giving the reader the essential facts of who, when, and what happened. The text is linear and chronological. It is followed by chronological lists of events, the rulers, historical figures and even a glossary, making this reader friendly history an excellent reference book for future study. Too many people avoid history. They don’t like it, and to their peril, they are responsible for its endless repetition. According to Mr. Vahisalu, Catherine the Great’s attempted reforms went nowhere. People of the twenty-first century need to look at their own situation in the context of history. History of Russia in 100 Minutes is a great place to start.

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