At first glance, one might think this volume were merely a primer that takes the uninitiated through the key stages of Russia’s history. But that would be to sell short a shrewd, bountiful book. With a finely tuned sense of choice, Colton selects the historical and physical features that have made Russia Russia and then sets about exploring a wide range of issues: how the country grew so large, the imprint of empire on its character, the reasons it chose revolution over reform, the triumph of the Bolsheviks, and the ways in which Soviet leaders Joseph Stalin, Nikita Khrushchev, and Leonid Brezhnev defined their respective eras. His discussion becomes even more refined and comprehensive when he turns to contemporary Russia, touching on almost every significant aspect of the country’s foreign and domestic development during the Yeltsin and Putin periods. Colton avoids simple formulas and undergirds his analysis with carefully chosen data, delivered in a cool, evenhanded fashion. This is particularly true of his assessment of the Putin regime and its prospects. Russia has never, and will never, follow foreign models, Colton argues: “What Russia can and must become is a better edition of itself.”


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