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The Agony of the Russian Idea Hardcover – July 8, 1996

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Editorial Reviews


"Readers seeking to understand Russia's identity crisis and how it relates to the underlying consequences of Yeltsin's efforts to change the country have in this book a succinct, elegant, historically sensitive guide."--Robert Legvold, Foreign Affairs

"McDaniel's insights do give the reader a deep understanding of the mentality born of the Russian idea and its overlooked role in Russians' struggle to trust democracy and adapt to the market. His authoritative analysis is an essential resource for understanding the old and new Russia."--Rachel P. Roberts, Current History

"Here is a genuinely intriguing essay. It is, at its best, an extraordinarily stimulating interpretation of the Soviet experience subordinated to a single relatively coherent theme."--Hugh Ragsdale, Russian Review

"A serious, original and provocative work that deserves to be read widely."--Mark R. Beissinger, American Journal of Sociology

"McDaniel examines the agony afflicting the Russian state and people, as both attempt to move toward Western-style capitalism. He suggests that, by failing to take into account unique Russian institutions..., the internal and external "reformers" have created the disruptions and misery of today's Russia....McDaniel's book provides important insight into Russia today and should be read by all interested in and concerned for what is unfolding in a one-time superpower."--Choice

From the Publisher

Boris Yeltsin's attempts at democratic reform have plunged a long troubled Russia even further into turmoil. This dramatic break with the Soviet past has left Russia politically fragmented and riddled with corruption, its people with little hope for the future. In a fascinating account for anyone interested in Russia's current political struggles, Tim McDaniel explores the inability of all its leaders over the last two centuriestsars and Communist rulers aliketo create the foundations of a viable modern society. The problem then and now, he argues, is rooted in a cultural trap endemic to Russian society and linked to a unique sense of destiny embodied by the "Russian idea."

In its most basic sense, the Russian idea is the belief that Russia can forge a path in the modern world that sets itself apart from the West through adherence to shared beliefs, community, and equality. These cultural values, according to McDaniel, have mainly reversed the values of Western society rather than having provided a real alternative to them. By relying on the Russian idea in their programs of change, dictatorial governments almost unavoidably precipitated social breakdown.

When the Yeltsin government declared war on the Communist past, it broke with deeply held Russian values and traditions. McDaniel shows that in cutting people off from their pasts and promoting the West as the sole model of modernity, the reformers have simultaneously undermined the foundations of Russian morality and the people's sense of a future. Unwittingly, the Yeltsin government has thereby annihilated its own authority.

McDaniel lived in Russia for three years during both the Communist and postCommunist periods. Basing his analysis on broad historical research, extensive travels, countless interviews and conversations, and friendships with Russians from all walks of life, McDaniel emphasizes the perils of assuming that Russians understand the world in the same way that we do, and so can and should become like us. Challenging and provocative in its claims, this book is intended for anyone seeking to understand Russia's attempts to create a new society.

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 210 pages
  • Publisher: Princeton University Press; First Ed edition (July 8, 1996)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0691027862
  • ISBN-13: 978-0691027869
  • Product Dimensions: 9.6 x 6.4 x 0.9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.1 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (3 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #2,085,841 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

3 of 3 people found the following review helpful By Mark Clarence Walker on July 8, 2006
Format: Paperback
This book is required reading for anyone who wants to understand Russia. It highlights elements of Russian political culture that have been present for decades--before, during, and after the Soviet period--and that are still relevant today. Although political culture as an explanatory framework has flaws in general, its power in explaining the Russian political context cannot be disputed.
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4 of 5 people found the following review helpful By Katherine Lahti on May 22, 2005
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
I'm a scholar in Russian Studies and recently read the first chapter of this book. I couldn't believe my eyes! Here, finally, I was seeing in print the understanding of Russian culture that I had come to after over 25 years of studying this place (I'm in Russia now). People in the past have tried to make generalizations about Russia and print them, but they always miss the mark, often by a mile. Tim McDaniel hits a bull's eye!

Of course I'm going to buy the book (from Amazon!) the minute I get back to the states, so I can finish it. I know I'm going to assign it to my students who are going to Russia on study-abroad, and that's just the beginning of what I know will be my long, long relationship with this book.

I recommend this book highly to all Russia specialists, to anyone planning on studying, working, or traveling in Russia, and to all people who want to understand this mysterious country.
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3 of 7 people found the following review helpful By Jimmy Porter on August 14, 2001
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
I found this book to be exceptional. It gave me an additional view of Russian history albeit based upon the author. My only complaint was of the writer, who seemed to need to impress me with his use of big words that completely and constantly interupted my thought processes during the absorbton of the information that enlightened me greatly. Towards the end of the book I was getting angry at the author for ruining such a good read. I recommend buying the book anyway. Excellent.
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