Wednesday 27 May 2020

Book Review: Russia - A 1,000-Year Chronicle of the Wild East by Martin Sixsmith (Non-Fiction/History)

Title: Russia: A 1,000-Year Chronicle of the Wild East
Author: Martin Sixsmith
BBC Books
Publication Date: 2012 (2011)
Xmas Gift


Russia is a country of contradictions: a nation of cultural refinement and artistic originality and yet also a country that rules by 'the iron fist'. In this riveting history, Martin Sixsmith shows how Russia's complex identity has been formed over a thousand years, and how it can help us understand its often baffling behaviour at home and abroad.

Combining in-depth research and interviews with his personal experiences as a former BBC Moscow correspondent, Sixsmith skilfully traces the conundrums of modern Russia to their roots in its troubled past, and explains the nation's seemingly split personality as the result of influences that have divided it for centuries. 

I would say that Russia: A 1,000-Year Chronicle of the Wild East in both its title and its blurb presents some false advertising, since Sixsmith dashes through 900 years in a mere 150 or so pages of this 600-page work, before concentrating on discussion of the Soviet Union period for the rest of the book. While a lack of sources and available information might account for this rush through the early years, surely more records are available for the Romanov period, and I would have liked to have read more about that era. I also struggled a little with Sixsmith's stance that Western = Good and Asian = Bad, which permeated the text. The style of writing is also very journalistic, with Sixsmith frequently inserting himself into the narrative. That's not necessarily a bad thing, but it will depend whether or not you appreciate that type of prose in historical non-fiction. Still, I did learn a few new things about Russian history from the text, so it was still a worthwhile read and is probably an okay introductory book. Now I would like to try to find some other works that highlight the older periods in more detail.

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