• A Short History of Russia

  • How the World's Largest Country Invented Itself, from the Pagans to Putin
  • By: Mark Galeotti
  • Narrated by: Mark Galeotti
  • Length: 4 hrs and 50 mins
  • 4.7 out of 5 stars (141 ratings)

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Publisher's Summary

A Library Journal 2020 Title to Watch

Russia’s epic and dramatic history told in an accessible, lively, and short form, from Ivan the Terrible to Vladimir Putin via Catherine the Great, the Russian Revolution and the fall of the USSR.

Russia is a country with no natural borders, no single ethnic group, no true central identity. At the crossroads of Europe and Asia, it has been subject to invasion by outsiders, from Vikings to Mongols, from Napoleon’s French to Hitler’s Germans. In order to forge an identity, it has mythologized its past to unite its people and to signal strength to outsiders. 

In A Short History of Russia, Mark Galeotti explores the history of this fascinating, glorious, desperate, and exasperating country through two intertwined issues: the way successive influences from beyond its borders have shaped Russia and the way Russians came to terms with this influence, writing and rewriting their past to understand their present and try to influence their future. In turn, this self-invented history has come to affect not just their constant nation-building project, but also their relations with the world.

©2020 Mark Galeotti (P)2020 HarperCollins Publishers
  • Unabridged Audiobook
  • Categories: History

What listeners say about A Short History of Russia

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Wonderful short history

This is an ideal example of what a short history can be, and I highly recommend it to anyone looking for an introduction to Russian history. There is a Very Short Introduction on the subject and a couple of Great Courses offerings along the same lines; and of course there’s Martin Sixsmith’s BBC series. But if I were you, I’d start here. Mark Galeotti the writer has the trick of presenting information with a pace, clarity, and informality that makes it very easy to absorb while still including a surprising amount of detail; and Mark Galeotti the narrator is very easy on the ears. I enjoyed it a lot — in fact, after a brief pause to let the info percolate, I plan to listen to it again.

7 people found this helpful

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standard tropes about russia

was hoping for some new perspective, but this did not go into details on how commonwealth, finns, mongols affected russia...didn't at all cover difference between kievan rus and russia...didn't go into details how it forked into 2 different countries. no notion of asian, jewish influences

5 people found this helpful

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Worth the Listen

I recently developed a desire to know more about Russian history given the country's frequent appearance in the news and, of course, the horrific invasion of Ukraine. I though this was a nice easy listen that provided a solid, basic foundation understanding and explanation of Russian history. I appreciated the author's quippy remarks throughout the read, and the fact that he makes sure the reader understands this is not an all inclusive history or even a detailed history. For me, it provided just enough information to educate me a bit further and move on to a more inclusive read. If you are on the fence about reading it, go for it.

1 person found this helpful

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Great Short History that Makes You Want More

Russia has been in the news and I have always been interested in Russia, its history, architecture (you just have to love that colorful St. Basil’s Church), its literature, and its music. And, there is such sadness in a country with so much potential, so many resources, a territory that spans (joins) Europe and Asia, the largest nation in the world (in terms of area), with so many advantages and yet seems to be foiled at each possible breakout point. There were the ruthless Czars who couldn’t break out of the feudalistic mold and tightened their grip at every hint of serious dissent or reform, by the world’s first communist revolution that almost immediately left its true Marxist roots for authoritarianism stifled its populace even further (and by not applying real Marxism allowed other revolutionary movements to imagine or at least posit the dream that the failure was Russian and not Marxism itself and that, if they could establish a Marxist state, things would be different), the German attack that, ironically, strengthened the Soviet state and ensured Stalin a seat at the table, the crumbling of the system leading to a short-lived hope of democracy and capitalism that turned into chaos and oligarchy only to be “rescued” by Putin who was, because of his success in bringing Russia back from the brink, making it a world power again, and building a much stronger (relatively speaking) economy, allowed more and more power, while removing more and more freedoms. And now he is destroying the nation again with his ruthless attack on Ukraine which has shocked the world. 

Mark Galeotti has given us that basic history in a very condensed book. It was published in 2020, so it doesn’t include this latest invasion but does include all of the buildup toward it in the Donbas and the annexation of Crimea. And it is short. It condenses 1,200 years into 4-7 hours, depending on how fast you read. That means that a lot of people will criticize it for leaving out this or that or not going into depth, but it’s not fair when the title makes it clear that it’s meant to be a “Short” history. And, it’s never boring, sometimes humorous, and always understandable. What’s really cool is that at the beginning of each chapter is a basic outline of the main events and, in the end, is suggested additional reading so you can follow up on anything that really piques your interest. 

Russia’s multicultural character left it with an uncertain identity. Was it Asian or European? Different leaders pulled it in different directions and this was often not helped by the fact that Asians saw it as European while Europeans saw it as Asian. The ancient Russ came from Scandinavia but were among those conquered by the Mongols who ended up ruling and then influencing Russia far longer than the rest of Europe. Galeotti describes Russian history in terms of a palimpsest. In ancient times, it was common to use an animal skin over and over, washing away the original and writing over it. But, if you go back and look at an old palimpsest, you can often still faintly make out an earlier writing and often times many layers, particularly with modern technology. Galeotti notes that every culture sometimes rewrites or erases its history but that it has been especially familiar to Russians. Old photos in Stalin’s era were commonly changing as someone fell out of favor and was airbrushed out of photos, so much that a common humorous phrase was, "The future is certain; it is only the past that is unpredictable." Galeotti writes, "Russians responded by generating a series of national myths to deny or celebrate [its crossbred identity]. ... New myths are superimposed over old ones in the creation of the palimpsest identity, as the peoples of this land sought to come to terms with their lack of strength and common identity by creating shared mythologies that saw fate and frailty translated into pride and purpose."

And that myth was not limited to the Soviet era. The Mongol invasion was brutal just as it was in other places, but afterwards had left their subjects pretty much alone as long as they recognized the Mongol rule and paid their  tribute. Russians tried to blame the Mongol’s for the fact that the Renaissance bypassed them but it wasn’t that at all. Galeotti notes that Putin is still trying to rewrite history as a pretext for his actions in Crimea and the Donbas region. The problem is that modernization of a nation is not just a matter of industry or military. It also involves a modernization in thinking, and that means allowing for some freedom of thought and dissent. 

And that may be the biggest takeaway from the book. Every time there was some opening of society, it was followed by a nervous backlash from leaders who feared the outcome that might arise from open thought and  dissent. It is repeated over and over and the current climate is just another example. 

This book is going to leave you a bit dissatisfied, but it’s not the fault of the author. In fact, it is an example of the strength of the book. Galeotti has done an excellent job of condensing a very complicated history but not in a way that most abridgments do. When you read a good  abridged book without reading the full version, you can feel satisfied. You know the story. You think it is complete because you don’t know what you’re missing. Galeotti has left his reader with a new understanding but with a desire to go deeper and find out more. 

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Don’t know much about history

I don’t know much about Russian history, but Galeotti’s short, articulate, well-organized history of Russia is a great place to start. The further readings section at the end of each chapter is a real gem.

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Easily ingestible, albeity basic intoduction

Pretty good introduction to Russian history, although for someone already acquainted with the subject it may prove to be too basic. For beginners its great though - good selection of topics, easy to listen to and with useful suggestions for further reading after each chapter. In terms of narrator's performance its also generally quite good - easy to follow, although the prounounciation of some Russian names and words could have been better.

TL:DR - Would highly recommend to someone who knows little or nothing about Russian history and want's to catch up without having to read thousands of pages.

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A lifeline for the Russia-curious

I don't know a lot about Russian history but I would like to know more. Is this book going to cure my ignorance? Well, no. But it's a start.

While this brief book is sometimes all too brief, it includes a lot of other book recommendations to carry you through various points in Russian history. It was worth it for that alone (although I wish we got a pdf with the audiobook to list the recommendations in one place).

A special bonus is that the narration is quite good. There are some books where I think "why on earth did they let the author read his/her own work?!" But Galeotti does an excellent job with the basic narration and a few sly asides.