Magazine article Foreign Affairs

Recent Books: Eastern Europe and Former Soviet Republics: The Discovery of Chance: The Life and Thought of Alexander Herzen

Magazine article Foreign Affairs

Recent Books: Eastern Europe and Former Soviet Republics: The Discovery of Chance: The Life and Thought of Alexander Herzen

Article excerpt

Recent Books: Eastern Europe and Former Soviet Republics: The Discovery of Chance: The Life and Thought of Alexander Herzen BY AILEEN M. KELLY. Harvard University Press, 2016, 608 pp.

If you read only one book related to Russia this year, this should be it. Kelly's magisterial intellectual biography of Alexander Herzen not only creates a complete image of the remarkable nineteenth-century Russian philosopher and revolutionary but also reveals the roiling intellectual currents that engulfed Russia's intelligentsia during each stage of Herzen's life. In many ways, he was a man of our times as much as his own. The philosophical problems that he struggled with (the essence of freedom, the role of providence in human affairs), his dramatic intellectual evolution, and his final embrace of chance and contingency as the core of his political thought: all have resonance today, when power is often wielded by people who embrace teleological certainties. …

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