A Truly Russian Icon

For far too long, the history of 20th century Russia has been understood almost exclusively through the prism of politics, as if it were about nothing more than Marxism and Leninism, revolution and totalitarianism, war and famine.

Defending the Marxist citadel

In the last several years, English-speaking readers have been treated to a plethora of Soviet history books unlike others before them. The opening of Soviet archives has given us everything from Antony Beevor’s Stalingrad to Simon Sebag-Montefiore’s book on Stalin’s court, to new biographies of Rasputin, Lenin and Trotsky. Now, however, we have The Soviet …

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The Aviator

To read the first page of this novel is to feel an odd and not altogether pleasant sensation of voyeurism. The scene is a house beside the railway tracks in central Russia, on the eve of the great battle of Stalingrad. A man and a woman are alone together, but they cannot quite shut out …

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Siberia and Sobranies

Perhaps because it is a lost civilisation, the Russian empire seems to exert an almost magnetic attraction on the children and grandchildren of the people who left. In recent years a notable number have traced their families back to Polish villages or Tsarist palaces, pieced together the histories of those places using family memoirs and …

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A sinister sort of science

In 1978 Bulgarian agents tried to murder Georgi Markov – a Bulgarian dissident then living in London – no fewer than three times. Once, they touched him “accidentally” with poisoned skin cream, designed to cause a heart attack within 48 hours. When that failed, they tried to slip chemicals into his drink. Finally, they came …

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Out in the Cold

Certain historical events become so covered in myth and significance, so overlaid with patriotism and emotion, that over time many people forget what really happened and why. Napoleon’s fatal 1812 march on Moscow is one such event.

Out in the Cold

Certain historical events become so covered in myth and significance, so overlaid with patriotism and emotion, that over time many people forget what really happened and why. Napoleon’s fatal 1812 march on Moscow is one such event.

Unimpeachably unreadable

It is rare, in a conventional book review, for the reviewer to begin by describing her purchase of the book in question, but in this case it really is part of the story. For I bought My Life, Bill Clinton’s memoir, in the very early hours of the morning at a Washington bookshop which had …

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Conjugal relations in Camelot

A week after her husband’s assassination in November, 1963, Jackie Kennedy gave an interview to the writer Theodore White. Passionately declaring that she didn’t want John F. Kennedy immortalised by “bitter” journalists who didn’t appreciate him, she told White that she had come up with her own metaphor for his presidency. She had chosen it, …

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