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Arctic Mirrors: Russia and the Small Peoples of the North (Cornell Paperbacks) Paperback – October 31, 1996

ISBN-13: 978-0801481789 ISBN-10: 0801481783

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Product Details

  • Series: Cornell Paperbacks
  • Paperback: 448 pages
  • Publisher: Cornell University Press (October 31, 1996)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0801481783
  • ISBN-13: 978-0801481789
  • Product Dimensions: 9.2 x 6.3 x 1.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.8 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (6 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,196,137 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

From Library Journal

The "small peoples" are the 26 indigenous ethnic groups of the Arctic tundra and subarctic taiga whose traditions lie in hunting, trapping, fishing, and reindeer herding. Historian Slezkine studies the relationships between these groups and the Russians, who entered their land in the 11th century, colonized it, and transformed it over the centuries thereafter. By examining these circumpolar peoples through Russian historical documents and literary accounts, Slezkine brings out images that become reflections of the Russians themselves. He is interested in both the political and intellectual nature of the encounter and seeks to reveal the importance of the complexities of this relationship through history. The study is thoroughly researched and well written for the scholar in the field or the informed reader. For larger libraries and regional collections.
Rena Fowler, Humboldt State Univ., Arcata, Cal.
Copyright 1994 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Booklist

Since the groundbreaking 1922 silent documentary Nanook of the North, not much has changed in the everyday life of the Alaskan Eskimos. Nor has much changed for the Arctic people of Russia, despite the incursions of many armies, both military and missionary. Despite their obvious primitiveness, the small Russian tribes of the North saw perhaps lesser levels of brutality by the Stalin regime and beyond, and the most obvious reason for this is the weather. Slezkine spends some time on the northerners' ability to cope with the climate, but mostly concentrates on the changing face of the Soviet Union in the microcosm of the northern people: from "savage Indians" to the slow evolution from icebound hunters and trappers to industrialized laborers. The book is an intellectual treatise, and occasionally Slezkine's clinical language can be as dry as a Siberian plain, but his descriptions of the trials of the northern Russians help make this book an invaluable look at the people the totalitarian Soviets forgot. Joe Collins --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

15 of 15 people found the following review helpful By Alexander D. King on April 9, 2004
Format: Hardcover
This is a great book. Slezkine has provided us with a comprehensive history of the encounter between the Russians and the indigenous peoples of the Arctic and northwestern Pacific. Based on original archival sources whenever possible, the narrative is thick in detail and rich in analysis. I enjoyed his writing style, but his arguments can be difficult to follow for non-academics. He focuses on the “numerically small” peoples of Siberia, who are often subordinated in accounts which privilege ethnic Russians, Komi and Sakha (Yakut) peoples in the east. Believing that ideas matter, Slezkine grounds the events and policies of his history in the intellectual fashions current at the time. Thus, we get a cultural and intellectual history of conquest and administration structuring the narrative which tacks between the Russian and native Siberian points of view.
Cossacks did not establish any “New Russia” because they did not understand Siberia as a discovery. The Princes of Rus long knew about “Ostiaks” to the east, and sixteenth century empire-building consisted of conquering foreign peoples throughout the continuous Eurasian landmass. There were no breakthroughs across great divides like the Atlantic. At the same time, the conquerors knew they were among foreign peoples, and it was imperative to get the “real” names from the locals. Foreigners were expected to remain foreign; they had only to pay their tribute and express appropriate obsequies to the Tsar, who discouraged the church from converting foreign tribute-payers to Orthodox Russians. Not that Russian conquest was less brutal than Spanish or English conquests elsewhere, but early Russian conquerors’ open-ended world-view did not force new people and territories into closed, Old World categories.
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3 of 4 people found the following review helpful By Seth J. Frantzman HALL OF FAME on March 29, 2005
Format: Paperback
This must read opens the door on the many 'small' peoples of Russias North, who live in Siberia and have for thousands of years, comparable to the native Americans, they were crushed and moved around in soviet times, wiht many different methods applied to make them 'russian' 'christian' or good 'socialists'. This is an excellent account and a great eye opener to the vastness and diversity of the Russian landscape, a tragedy unto itself but the people will be preserved through accounts such as this.

Seth J. Frantzman
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Format: Paperback
You are either a member of the majority or of the minority, and there is no way to equalize the two. This is the gist of this treatise by Yuri Slezkine. If you want to save a lot of time just read the eight page conclusion at the back of the book. If you like a lot of data and discussion of a subject 'ad finitum and ad nauseum' read the book. That's not to say that the book isn't worthwhile, it's just that most people don't need to read all the back-up to the conclusions.

From the time of the Tsars, there was always someone who was either trying to turn the people of the Russian North East (on the Tundra and the Taiga) into productive 'modern' workers or protect them from the influence of modernity. Rich Saudis may still where the same robes (though of much better quality) that their nomad ancestors wore just 150 years ago, but how many of them have the survival skills to live in the desert.

You cannot be a 'noble savage' and be socially mainstream. The two cancel each other out. You can keep the language and the culture of your 'people', but if you live in a city you lose your ability to survive in the wild. Once your used to going to the supermarket to get food, you lose the 'imperative' of living a 'primative' existence. This doesn't mean you can't play Thoreau, but in the back of your mind you'll always know you can walk out of the forest and go back to a modern life.

Zeb Kantrowitz
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