Recommended books on pre-Revolution Russia?

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  • #16743
    Micahjbr
    Member

    Hi, Dr. Jewell —

    I really enjoyed both parts of your Western Civ course, listening in the car and while doing chores. I think I’m ready to go back through it again, there is so much there to glean. 🙂

    My family is asking me about recommended books to get a good sense of what life was like in the old pre-Revolution Russia, maybe including the Revolution itself, but especially the years and decades (centuries?) prior. Do you have any trusted sources of information I could find for them (and myself) in this regard? Apologies if you already mentioned this somewhere in one of the lecture’s resource listings.

    Thanks,

    Micah

    #16744
    Jason Jewell
    Participant

    Russia is not normally considered part of Western Civilization, and I’m not as familiar with the bibliography in this area. However, I’ll do some digging and see what I can come up with.

    #16745
    Micahjbr
    Member

    Thanks… I wasn’t sure, since you had the one lecture on the Russian Revolution. Some of Russian culture seems so Western…Tchaikovsky, Tolstoy, etc., at least the old European portion of it; so I think that may be where I was wanting to mix it in. 🙂

    I wasn’t sure who else to ask, since all of the other courses seem even further removed from the topic of Russian history.

    #16746

    I wonder why Russia isn’t considered part of Western Civilization. It is traditionally Christian, and the Orthodox Church has some connection to Greek (I read that at the seminar where Stalin studied to become an Orthodox priest, the students were required to read Plato). So Russian culture seems to be partially derived from both the Greeks and the Hebrews. Does Orthodox Christianity not count as part of Western Civilization? Is this because “Western” refers to the Western part of the Roman Empire?

    #16747
    Jason Jewell
    Participant

    If you look at works like Samuel Huntington’s “Clash of Civilizations,” you see that Russian and/or Orthodox civilization is usually not considered Western. I think this has something to do with the East/West split in the Christian church (including the divergence in views on rationalism and mysticism) as well as the Latin/Greek division in scholarship for so many centuries. I’m grossly generalizing here, but I think those things are at the root of the split in some form.

    #16748
    Jason Jewell
    Participant

    There’s also the issue of Russia’s development for several centuries without much interaction with the peoples of Western and Central Europe. Russia was viewed as exotic by Westerners even after Peter the Great tried to “Westernize” it.

    #16749
    gutzmank
    Member

    First, the best textbook on Russian history is Riasanovsky’s A HISTORY OF RUSSIA. I don’t know the current edition, which seems to have been revised by another historian, nor do I know the first five, but the previous two were both good.

    The question whether to Westernize has been central to Russian intellectual history since Peter I (“the Great”). Peter was a Westernizer, and he wrenched his kingdom’s elite westward, chiefly via an attack on the Orthodox Church. See Anisimov and Alexander’s THE REFORMS OF PETER THE GREAT, for starters. If you really love the topic, Massie’s PETER THE GREAT is excellent as well.

    The medieval period in Russian history is usually said to be everything between the Verangian settlements of the 9th century and the coronation of Peter I. There is a FABULOUS collection of the primary materials on medieval Russia: Zenkovsky’s MEDIEVAL RUSSIA’S EPICS, CHRONICLES, AND TALES. It has EVERYTHING: the Primary Chronicle, The Lay of Igor’s Campaign, The White Cowl, Vladimir Monomach (a really great Grand Prince), etc., and it’s CHEAP. If you read it attentively, you’ll understand both the history of Russia and the Orthodox Russians’ sense of their country’s place in God’s Providence. (“The first two Romes have fallen, ours is the third, and a fourth there shall never be.”) For a contemporary summation of that argument/worldview, I recommend a work by my favorite writer: Dostoyevsky’s DIARY OF A WRITER.

    If your tastes are more contemporary than medieval, a good collection is the one I was assigned as an undergraduate in Sidney Monas’s course “Russian Intellectual History: From Peter to Lenin”: Raeff’s RUSSIAN INTELLECTUAL HISTORY. This little book is particularly good regarding the fierce 19th-century dispute between Slavophiles and Westernizers (which is the subject 18-year-old Gutzman chose for his term paper). If you want to get the flavor of that debate from a literary source, read Turgenev’s little novel FATHERS AND SONS. If you’re like me, a little Dostoyevsky, a bit of Turgenev, Vladimir Monomach, etc., and you’ll never want to plod through Thoreau or Hemingway ever again. (Of course, Dostoyevsky’s THE POSSESSED is on a similar subject–and is unmatched. However, it’s a bit longer than Turgenev, and I’m trying to lure you into reading about Russia gently.)

    The reason that Russia isn’t considered “Western” in “Western Civ.” courses is that “Western Civ.” courses are typically histories of the Roman church and its provinces. They just assume the validity of the Catholic Church’s account of Charlemagne’s coronation in AD 800, the Papal Claims, etc. To mention Russia (not to mention Byzantium) would, shall we say, complicate the narrative.

    Russia was my Outside Field in graduate school, and Eastern Christianity was my Outside History Field. I served as a teaching assistant in a 20th-century Russian history course at UVA one semester. Besides that, I know all of the Orthodox services in Greek and in English, and I once published a journal article on a topic in Orthodox theology. If you desire more suggested readings, etc., just ask.

    #16750
    Micahjbr
    Member

    Thanks, Dr. Gutzman, for all those recommendations. Sorry, I had forgotten to check back on this thread and just discovered your reply last week. Much appreciated!

    #16751
    gutzmank
    Member

    You’re welcome.

    If you have any other questions, just ask.

    #16752
    chris.c.hewett
    Participant

    I have a related question, but wasn’t sure if I should start my own post for it. I am interested in an account of the economy of Soviet Russia in the 20th century. I wonder if there is a book similar to Gary Becker’s “Hungry Ghosts” (which chronicles Mao’s Great Leap Forward) so I can learn about what life was really like, and perhaps what led to the collapse. Also, I’d be interested in seeing examples of Mises calculation problem, if they presented themselves.

    #16753
    chris.c.hewett
    Participant

    I have a related question, but wasn’t sure if I should start my own post for it. I am interested in an account of the economy of Soviet Russia in the 20th century. I wonder if there is a book similar to Gary Becker’s “Hungry Ghosts” (which chronicles Mao’s Great Leap Forward) so I can learn about what life was really like, and perhaps what led to the collapse. Also, I’d be interested in seeing examples of Mises calculation problem, if they presented themselves.

    #16754
    Jason Jewell
    Participant

    This is my second attempt at answering this question; I lost the first answer because of a server glitch.

    The short answer is I don’t know of a book comparable to Jasper Becker’s Hungry Ghosts for the USSR. Paul Craig Roberts wrote a book about the Soviet economy in 1990 before the collapse; the title is Meltdown. There is a mainstream title by Phillip Hanson that takes a non=Austrian view of things–the USSR could grow but had trouble with technological change, etc.

    #16755
    chris.c.hewett
    Participant

    Thank you, I’ll look into both of these. Also thanks for righting the Jasper/Gary Becker mistake! I read the whole thing, but guess I skipped the cover.

    #16756
    gutzmank
    Member

    I could wish there were an Austrian account of Stolypin’s reforms, and indeed of Russian economic history from Napoleon’s retreat to the present. Alas, no such luck.

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