Secrets of the Kremlin

Secrets of the Kremlin

A building bearing testimony to the power of eternal Russia; a timeless symbol of the Russian state; a monument to Russian sovereignty. To the modern eye, the Kremlin fortress seems as if it had always been there, as if it had never changed and never will. All of which is utter nonsense, as Catherine Merridale’s …

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Charles Moore’s biography of Margaret Thatcher

Charles Moore’s biography of Margaret Thatcher

In her first meeting with the press after defeating Edward Heath in February 1975, the new leader of the opposition modestly paid homage to her predecessors: “To me it is like a dream that the next in line after Harold Macmillan, Sir Alec Douglas-Home, Edward Heath is … Margaret Thatcher.” Accidentally, she had voiced what …

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Poland in the Darkness of World War II

Poland in the Darkness of World War II

ONCE, THE Allied history of the Second World War—the Anglo-American history of the Second World War, the Victors’ history of the Second World War—was the only one we thought mattered. In school, in movies, and in political speeches we learned of a war between Britain, France, and America on the one hand, and Nazi Germany …

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Just Send Me Word

Just Send Me Word

Anyone who has ever written a history book will feel a twinge of envy on reading the preface to Just Send Me Word: We opened up the largest of the trunks. I had never seen anything like it: several thousand letters tightly stacked in bundles tied with string and rubber bands, notebooks, diaries, documents and …

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Vladimir’s Tale

Vladimir’s Tale

On November 20, 1998, Galina Starovoitova, a member of the Russian parliament, was murdered in the stairwell of her St. Petersburg apartment building. In the weeks that followed, obituaries, articles, and tributes to her life poured forth from all over the world. Starovoitova, almost everyone agreed, was different from the Russian politicians of the past …

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Thus do empires end

Thus do empires end

‘This book is a chronicle of one day in the history of one city.’ As first sentences go, that one is hard to beat — particularly given that the ‘one day’ is the last day of the Soviet Union, the city is Moscow and the author, an Irish journalist, was there and knew most of …

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A Far-Fetched War

A Far-Fetched War

First, a disclaimer: this review will not touch upon some recent, odd behaviour of this book’s author, Orlando Figes, because I can’t see that it’s relevant. The history of the Crimean war is far removed in time and in space from contemporary literary politics, and I think we should keep it that way.

The Worst of the Madness

The Worst of the Madness

Once, in an attempt to explain the history of his country to outsiders, the Polish poet Czesław Miłosz described the impact of war, occupation, and the Holocaust on ordinary morality. Mass violence, he explained, could shatter a man’s sense of natural justice. In normal times, had he stumbled upon a corpse on the street, he …

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Proscribed reading

Proscribed reading

In 1948, Poland’s new communist government was badly in need of legitimacy and desperate for international recognition. So they did what any self-respecting left-wing government would do, back in those days, in order to win a bit of respect; they held a cultural Congress.

Angel Factories

Angel Factories

Several years ago, a friend who helped me to find my way around the Russian State Archives in Moscow asked if I would like to meet another woman who was also working there. She was not doing research for a book, and she was not a scholar. Instead, she was indulging her curiosity and her nostalgia. …

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