Martin Malia, Professor Emeritus of Russian History at the University of California at Berkeley, hopes to rescue Russia from its status as menacing Other and restore it to its rightful place as a member of Europe. In Russia Under Western Eyes
, Malia argues that there is no real polarity between Europe and Russia, but that "Russia has at different times been demonized or divinized by Western opinion less because of her real role in Europe than because of the fears and frustrations, or the hopes and aspirations, generated within European society by its own domestic problems." Following recent German historiography, Malia traces a continuum of development from West (most advanced) to East (somewhat laggard) and points out that there is as much difference between, say, Germany and France as between Russia and Europe. In the end, however, Russia remains a poor, weak sister--her growth stunted by bad choices, notably Communism.
Malia chronicles the West's varying assessments: Russia celebrated for its enlightened despotism; Russia despised for its Oriental despotism; Russia welcomed back as simply one distinct culture within Europe; and, after the 1917 Revolution, Russia (to quote Churchill) as a "riddle, wrapped in a mystery, inside an enigma." Nearly half the book focuses in on Soviet Russia, as both an "experiment" (1917 to 1945) and as an "empire" (1945 to 1991). Not one to sit on the fence, Malia is clear about his position: Soviet Communism is an experiment that failed because Communism itself is doomed to fail. Though many scholars agree, Malia's anti-Soviet ferocity (he has often been described as "an old-fashioned cold warrior") somewhat diminishes the scholarly value of this work. General readers, however, will appreciate the sweeping scope of this remarkable book.
From Publishers Weekly
Malia, an emeritus professor of history at UC-Berkeley, traces Western perceptions of Russia from Peter the Great to the disintegration of the Soviet Union, paying special attention to how the West's view of Russia has shifted not just as a reaction to changes in Russia but to changes within Europe as well. Europe has viewed Russia as either enlightened and progressive (during the reign of Catherine the Great and the early Soviet period) or as despotic and backward (under Nicholas I and Stalin). Malia persuasively argues how these changes in the West's perception of Russia have been due as much to shifts in European politics and thought, such as the revolutions of 1848 and the transformation from the Enlightenment to Romanticism, as to changes within Russia itself. Unfortunately, Malia can be long-winded (an analysis of Hegelian philosophy, for example, delves into much greater detail than necessary), and his writing, which is usually lively and evocative, occasionally lapses into literary pretentiousness. A prologue to the chapter on the Soviet period takes the form of a Greek drama with a cast of Soviet leaders and poets and ends with a twist on Alice in Wonderland: Russia is the Red Queen (or in Malia's words, "Red Khan"), which "really was a kitten, after all." Despite these weaknesses, Malia's comprehensive and accessible history of Russia will interest scholars and general readers alike.
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