The Soviet Union crumbles and Russia rises from the rubble, once again the great nation--a perfect scenario, but for one point: Russia was never a nation. And this, says the eminent historian Geoffrey Hosking, is at the heart of the Russians' dilemma today, as they grapple with the rudiments of nationhood. His book is about the Russia that never was, a three-hundred-year history of empire building at the expense of national identity.
Russia begins in the sixteenth century, with the inception of one of the most extensive and diverse empires in history. Hosking shows how this undertaking, the effort of conquering, defending, and administering such a huge mixture of territories and peoples, exhausted the productive powers of the common people and enfeebled their civic institutions. Neither church nor state was able to project an image of "Russian-ness" that could unite elites and masses in a consciousness of belonging to the same nation. Hosking depicts two Russias, that of the gentry and of the peasantry, and reveals how the gap between them, widened by the Tsarist state's repudiation of the Orthodox messianic myth, continued to grow throughout the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. Here we see how this myth, on which the empire was originally based, returned centuries later in the form of the revolutionary movement, which eventually swept away the Tsarist Empire but replaced it with an even more universalist one. Hosking concludes his story in 1917, but shows how the conflict he describes continues to affect Russia right up to the present day.
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Geoffrey Hosking is Emeritus Professor of Russian History at University College London.Review:
The loss of empire has left many Russians bewildered because their view of themselves as a nation had been intimately connected with their self-image as a great imperial power. It has revealed how weakly developed is the Russians' sense of national identity. Mr. Hosking attributes that weakness to imperialism overwhelming nationhood in Russia's history...The problem Mr. Hosking raises is not new, but he is the first to explore it in depth. (Richard Pipes New York Times Book Review)
Russia: People and Empire is the most interesting and authoritative account of Russian imperial history in English. It is a masterful synthesis, intelligent and lucid, passionately argumentative but always fair, which everyone should read who wants to understand the origins of Russia's predicament today. (Orlando Figes Times)
The publication of this book... invites us to do nothing less than rethink Russian history. In a sweeping yet meticulously argued reinterpretation of the past five centuries, Hosking shows the ways in which the Russian state's policy of empire-building has impeded the creation of a Russian nation, leaving today's Russians uncertain about what being Russian actually means. It thus goes a significant step beyond the commonplace according to which Russia's current troubles stem from the lack of a democratic tradition: democracy requires a sense of self, Hosking maintains, and Russia cannot fully embrace democracy without developing a viable ethnic and civil identity. (Washington Post Book World)
Hosking's book is a >tour de force of historical argument vividly written, courageously argumentative, unafraid to take a stand on the 'accursed question' of Russian identity and destiny. (Michael Ignatieff Observer (Manchester, England))
[An] impressive book...There are more resonances for today's Russia in these pages than in all the archive-spilling that has characterized so much post-Soviet publishing...It is unlikely that a clearer, more stimulating account of the Russians' extraordinary period of imperial history will be written. (Philip Marsden The Spectator)
[A] brilliant dual study of Russia's people and empire under the Tsars...an elegantly written, humane and rigorous work of empirical history, with considerable relevance to the problems of what, in light of the author's arguments, we should optimistically call another emergent nation. (Michael Burleigh Independent on Sunday)
I counsel everyone to read the latest work of Prof. Geoffrey Hosking, the man who has done the most to explain Russia to the general reader...He has produced a fascinating analysis. (Boris Johnson Daily Telegraph)
Hosking has a fascinating thesis, arguing persuasively that there are two Russias-->Rus' for the people and >Rossia for the empire--and that the empire has always swallowed up the people, with terrible consequences today as Russia tries to establish itself as a nation. But this book can also be read simply as a lucid and absorbing history of a great country, scrupulously presented by a scholar whose breadth of knowledge astonishes. (Best Books of 1997, Library Journal)
[A] tour de force from a foremost practitioner of Russian history...Hosking offers an innovative reinterpretation of Russian imperial history. (Publishers Weekly)
The well-regarded Hosking...has applied his nearly encyclopedic knowledge of Russia's past to the question of how and why the Russians never developed a sense of nation. He argues that the Russian monarchy and aristocracy were always more interested in building an expansive empire than in promoting the belief in nationhood...Hosking has brought a powerful intellect and great erudition to this work, which is a sophisticated blend of narrative and analysis. (Library Journal)
A valuable reinterpretation of Russian history in the light of the dissolution of the Soviet empire...[Hosking's] theme is that the building of the empire obstructed the flowering of the nation and is more fundamental in explaining what happened than either autocracy or the backwardness of the country...[A] thoughtful, often penetrating review of a complex and important perspective. (Kirkus Reviews)
Geoffrey Hosking has written a wonderfully suggestive and innovative Russian history that deserves to be widely read. He masterfully interweaves the latest scholarship in social history with an imaginative rereading of intellectual, institutional, and political history. (Mark von Hagen, author of Soldiers of the Proletariat Dictatorship)
A sweeping overview of Russian history written by a master of the subject. It is rich in details, sources, and ideas about Russian political, historical, and cultural development. It is an impressive work that will be useful to students of Russian history, culture, religion, as well as politics. (Nicolai N. Petro, author of The Rebirth of Russian Democracy)
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