Russia and the Soviet Union: A Modern History

Russia and the Soviet Union: A Modern History

Russia and the Soviet Union: A Modern History

Russia and the Soviet Union: A Modern History

Excerpt

There are so many ways of looking at history that the writer of "a history" is under some obligation to forewarn the reader as to emphasis and bias. Here, very briefly--more as an enumeration of points than as a discussion of them--is how history looks to me.

History is a story about people; about the vast, undistinguished and indistinguishable majority, and about the famous or notorious few. It is a story based mainly upon imperfect and incomplete written records, supplemented when possible by other sources of information. No history book can be free from either error or bias because the books are written by imperfect men working with imperfect knowledge and data.

History is also an extension of human memory. No living man can recall from personal experience the reform of the Russian Orthodox Church made by Peter the Great, but no literate person who has free access to information needs to be ignorant of that event. History is an air liner of the mind, winging across time. At the take-off--that is, when reviewing the very recent past, the air liner is so close to the ground that very many details are visible, but the wide view is impossible. This is reversed as the air liner of the mind travels farther into the past. Details blur into masses until only the great outlines can be seen and men cannot be sure whether the far-distant shapes are clouds or mountain ranges. This brings up the always difficult problem of how best to tell the story.

Events happen in time sequence; or, if the events are literally simultaneous, human perception of them occurs in time sequence. We find it impossible to tell stories wholly in one tense because we must both recollect and anticipate. This pattern is applicable to the telling of a history. One begins by setting a time limit or chronological span, then one arranges material within that span by topics. The pattern cannot be rigid. The first four chapters of this book, for example, have a time span of several thousand years, whereas the last four cover only a single generation. A chapter which flies over centuries obviously cannot deal with . . .

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