Russia's 20th Century: A Journey in 100 Histories
by Michael Khodarkovsky
A podcast for The New Books Network
Parsing the Soviet Century
Dissecting and digesting the history of the Soviet “experiment” can be a frustrating exercise for academics and a Sisyphean task for laymen; the endeavor demands scrutiny of the facts — and they are legion — but we must also grapple with the dystopian atmosphere and cruel indifference to human life, which characterizes the period. These challenges make the triumph of Professor Michael Khodarkovsky’s new book: “Russia’s 20th Century: A Journey in 100 Histories,” all the more impressive.
Khodarkovsky has taken a novel approach to charting the century by crafting one hundred vignettes, one for each year of the century. Each vignette plunges us into a moment of history, art, politics, science, or international relations, and in each, we add a building block to the tower of interpretation Khodarkovsky constructs in this slim but incredibly impactful book. Even seasoned historians will find “Russia’s 20th Century” a compelling lens through which to consider the entire arc of the Soviet century with entirely fresh eyes.
Several themes emerge as the narrative moves through each decade. The horrific cost of the Soviet experiment emerges early and is a recurring leitmotif throughout the narrative in heartrending incidents that transport us to the horror of the Gulags, the tragedy Siege of Leningrad, and a drier, but no less thought-provoking examination of the 1959 Census. Khodarkovsky shows us a Soviet state that is out of step with the needs of its citizens and profoundly tone-deaf to its concerns.
Khodarkovsky’s distinguished academic career includes decades of work on the history of ethnic minorities at the edges of both the Russian Empire and the Soviet Union. The plight of minorities seeps in throughout “Russia’s 20th Century” in ways that bring us right to current events, including a strong narrative of Ukraine’s continuing struggle to achieve autonomy and Russia’s dogged refusal to allow it.
As the episodes draw us further and further towards the end of both the century and the Soviet Union itself, a pithy pastiche of Boris Yeltsin invites us to consider that titanic but conflicted character in a new light. Professor Khodarkovsky ends his narrative with the chilling coda that is the emergence of Vladimir Putin in Russian national politics. “Russia’s 20th Century” ends with this rather bleak assessment: “Russia was entering the twenty-first century in the same basic set of principles and values it had maintained throughout the twentieth century.” But for those who cherish the hope that Russia can break out of its pernicious cycle in the twenty-first century, Khodarkovsky’s book is a must-read.
Enjoy my conversation with Professor Khodarkovsky:
About Professor Michael Khodarkovsky
Professor Michael Khodarkovsky is a professor of history at Loyola University, specializing in Early Modern and Imperial Russia, Imperial Borderlands, the Caucasus, Central Asia, Non-Russian peoples of Russia, Eurasia, Ottoman empire, Comparative Empires and Colonialisms, Orientalism. He received his MA and Ph.D. at the University of Chicago. Professor Khodarkovsky is a frequent commentator and contributor to The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, NPR, and Ekho Moskvy.
Recommended Related Reading
Thank you for stopping by!
Let’s stay connected!
Thank you for stopping by for this podcast! If you’d like to learn more about The New Books Network, visit their website and subscribe to any of the 87 channels, covering almost every academic discipline. I contribute to the Food, Russia & Eurasia Studies, European Studies, Eastern European Studies, and Historical Fiction channels.
Below, you’ll find more information on the kind of subjects I write about — it’s an eclectic list! I’ve also included links to previous posts about travel, cuisine, history, and lifestyle topics. I hope you’ll enjoy browsing around.
This post does contain affiliate links. Any purchases you choose to make via these links will net me a small commission from the retailer. I use these funds to support the maintenance and development of this website.
Exploring food markets, developing recipes, and just eating was once my hobby, but now it is a full-time job. I write about food markets around the world, develop recipes, and study culinary history and emerging trends. I have a particular interest in Russian and Eastern European cuisine and culinary history.
I believe that great books are part of a life well lived and this extends to audio entertainment. Under the Lifestyle umbrella, I review books, podcasts, and audiobooks, I discuss writing and reading and am constantly on the lookout for new ways to be productive and clear all manner of clutter from my life.
Enjoy more discussions and reviews like this one