Russia's People of Empire

Article excerpt

Life Stories from Eurasia,

1500 to the Present

Stephen M. Norris and Willard Sunderland, eds. (Indiana University Press, $35)

Should you find yourself so unlucky to be in the company of someone arguing for a "Russia for Russians" or similar nationalistic nonsense, you would do well to have this book in your arsenal. Not for flinging at the fool, of course, but for citation and reasoned argument. As if that gets one very far these days ...

In any event, as this book makes patently clear in its 31 biographical essays, Russia is a complex, multiethnic state founded, shaped and expanded by rulers, leaders, thinkers and artists who came from a wide variety of nations, confessions and traditions. Yes, we all know about Catherine the Great (German) and Stalin (Georgian), but there have been a broad variety of souls, from Lomonosov, Gogol and Borodin, to Bagration, Shamil and Mannerheim, who have influenced all aspects of Russian culture, science and politics by injecting influences from other cultures and traditions.

The objective of this collection is to use the personal, microhistoric approach allowed by biography to "open up a view on the long-running effects of what it meant to live in a densely multicultural neighborhood." That the volume begins with biographies of Ermak Timofeyevich--the Cossack who opened up Siberia, and Simeon Bekbulatovich--the Tatar prince that Ivan IV installed on the Kremlin throne for a year, and ends with the writer Boris Akunin and the Kremlin puppeteer Vladislav Surkov, gives a sense of the breadth of its coverage. …

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