Book Reviews

The bigger the worse

At the beginning of Russia’s Empires, Philip Longworth announces that his intention is to “examine the phoenix-like nature of Russian imperialism and to expand our understanding of it”. He points out that over the centuries, no less than four empires have risen and subsequently fallen on Russian soil, beginning with Kievan Rus in the Middle

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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.

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