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Sunlight At Midnight St. Petersburg And The Rise Of Modern Russia Paperback – June 4, 2002

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Published posthumously, this history is based on the old adage that St. Petersburg is Russia's "window to the West," that it represents a "psychological force, an intellectual vision, and a way of life against which everything else in Russia has been measured." Lincoln (Conquest of a Continent, one of PW's Best Books for 1994), a top Russian scholar and professor at Northern Illinois University for 31 years, offers a highly accessible and gripping account. ("Dancing was her favorite pastime, and fashion one of her chief concerns," Lincoln writes of Catherine the Great. "Pages at her court strutted in bottle-green uniforms trimmed with gold lace and faced in red as they served guests in the European fashion.") Lincoln focuses on major events like the city's construction, the October Revolution and the Great Blockade; Russian history buffs will find little new here. However, Lincoln's meticulous, colorful detail enlivens these well-trod stories. The work would have benefited from more current material Lincoln barely grazes post-WWII St. Petersburg and the city's window-to-the-West status rings more romantic than true today. Lincoln's homage to St. Petersburg doesn't address the city's present or future. He concludes with a platitude: "the people of St. Petersburg have always striven to reach beyond the limits of normal human experience. No doubt they will do so again, but only time can reveal what form their efforts will take." It's unfortunate that this fine, passionate work, too, didn't strive a bit more. 75 photos.

Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information, Inc.

--This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Library Journal

Over the past 25 years, Lincoln has published a dozen books on Russia, most recently Between Heaven and Hell: 1000 Years of Artistic Life in Russia. Their cumulative effect establishes him at the forefront of Western historians of 19th- and 20th-century Russia. In this new work, Lincoln offers a survey of Russia's glittering (and sordid) former imperial capital, later the second city of the Soviet Union and post-Soviet Russia. He traces the story of its beginnings as the product of one man's titanic will, then lovingly depicts the glorious buildings of 18th-century empresses, followed by the rise of industrial slums, disaffection, violence, intellectual ferment, and revolution. The agonies and heroism of the city's 900 days under siege in World War II still provoke awe. One may doubt that the "rise of modern Russia" can be told in terms of one city, but Lincoln's concern to depict the pulls of the West and Russian history in terms of St Petersburg's life comes out clearly and convincingly. For public and academic libraries. Robert H. Johnston, McMaster Univ., Hamilton, Ont.
Copyright 2001 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
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Product Details

  • Paperback: 432 pages
  • Publisher: Basic Books (June 6, 2002)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0465083242
  • ISBN-13: 978-0465083244
  • Product Dimensions: 6 x 1.2 x 9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.6 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (12 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #283,681 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

19 of 20 people found the following review helpful By gwc on July 2, 2003
Format: Paperback
Lincoln's "Sunlight at Midnight" has some excellent moments, but is frequently superficial and a little dull. The book is primarily a cultural history of St Petersburg, featuring the usual cast of writers (Pushkin, Gogol, Belyi), poets (Blok, Akhmatova, Brodsky), and composers (Tchaikovsky, Shostakovich). The Romanov rulers and their tastes in architecture are discussed extensively, as are the Soviets and their tastes in censorship.
The first three chapters are primarily a cultural history of imperial Russia following Peter the Great's reign. They deal mostly in court affairs and architects, neither of which are particularly interesting. Next come descriptions of Petersburg's literary and musical history, which are spotty and do not compare well with the detail of Solomon Volkov's "St Petersburg".
The tone changes abruptly when we reach the late nineteenth century, and the reliance on artistic sources gives way to a more popular account of the revolutionary period. Events are well presented but the story is told too quickly. The months between abdication and Bolshevik takeover, for example, pass in a single paragraph. I would have gladly exchanged twenty early pages on the styles of palace facades for some details of the provisional government's failure and the October coup.
The chapter on the Leningrad siege is a masterpiece of narrative history, but the book unfortunately returns to cultural matters and Soviet repression of artists in the postwar period. This is interesting stuff, but not remotely as gripping as the events of the previous decades and written in a cursory style more suited to a review for a knowledgeable reader.
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23 of 25 people found the following review helpful By Frank J. Konopka VINE VOICE on July 30, 2001
Format: Hardcover
It was with great sadness that I learned of the death of W. Bruce Lincoln, one of my favorite writers of history. His works on Russia have given me, time and again, new insight into that country, its people and history. This last work is another excellent example of his writing, marred only by what I think is some poor editing. I don't know at what stage of this work Mr. Lincoln died, but it appears that, if he had survived through the final editing stage this book would have been in a different form. There are more than a few redundancies, which should have been picked up by an alert editor, and I'm sure would have been by the author if he had been around to do so. That criticism aside, I thoroughly enjoyed this work, once again learning many new things about the Russian psyche, as brought forth through the history of St. Petersburg. There may be a bit too much about architecture in this work, but I consider it a "work in progress" that will now, unfortunately, never get into the final shape its author intended. It's a loss for all of us.
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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful By doc peterson VINE VOICE on September 18, 2009
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
In _Sunlight at Midnight_, historian Bruce Lincoln tells the story of Russia through the city of St. Petersburg. This works well, and in many places (like the city itself) it is both beautiful and brilliant. Unfortunately, his history is uneven. The usual cast of characters connected to this place are here: Peter and Catherine the Great, Rastrelli, Quarenghi in the 18th century; Pushkin, Gogol, Faberge, Dostoevsky in the 19th; Blok, Akhmatova, Brodsky and Lermonotov in the 20th. The association of these great minds and personalities with the city breathe life in the cultural telling of the history of Russia through the story of this marvelous city.

However, as a previous reviewer has noted, the emphasis Lincoln puts on the events of the city are a bit skewed. The tremendous expense Catherine and Elizabeth invested in object d'art is interesting, as are the details of the construction of the Winter Palace and (numerous) other royal dwellings in and around the city. But to spend such an inordinate amount of time discussing this while only briefly addressing the two decades between the wars seems out of balance. Similarly, the post-war history of the city was addressed in really a cursory manner compared to the amount of detail given during its growth in the early and mid-19th century.

These criticisms aside, the history of St. Petersburg makes for a fascinating narrative of broader events in Russian history, from the failed Decembrist revolt in 1825, to the revolutions of 1905 and 1917. This is a book I would certainly recommend for those traveling to St. Petersburg, given the detail and connections between landmarks and larger events in Russia (and the Soviet Union.) I do wish Lincoln had addressed the unique - odd may be a better word - place St.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful By Patricia S. Snowden on August 23, 2014
Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
I started reading this in preparation for a trip to St. Petersburg. Having read Peter Massie's books on Peter and Catherine, I thought I had a pretty good grounding in the city's history. Did I ever have a lot to learn! Sunlight at Midnight not only digs into the details of both the building of the city and the monarchs who ordered its construction and various transformations, but it discusses the architects who designed it and what shaped their visions. More than that, Lincoln tells the story of the intellectual and artistic culture that flourished there over the centuries of the Romanov rule and afterwards and of the masses of poor working people who made the city operate. A large section of the book deals with the Communist Revolution, why it was successfully launched in St. Petersburg, how the city became the laboratory for the Communist economic and social experiment, and how it so miserable failed the population that had so fervently embraced it. There is a significant section devoted to WWII and the ghastly siege of what was then Leningrad and its aftermath. Sunlight at Midnight is a scholarly work but worth every minute it takes to read!
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