November 7, 2009

Take Me Russia (Nonfiction Edition)

Take Me Away Saturday

As a lover of books that take place in different cultures and are about different cultures, Take Me Away is a way to share this love with you, my readers and friends!

Each week I feature a different country or culture (ex. Cherokee, Jewish, etc. that do not have a specific country per se) and list some books that can transport you there. (Note: ex. not necessarily books by a German or an Australian, but books set in Germany or Australia.)

I am keeping a map of the countries we visit and a list of the specific cultures, which you can see at the bottom of this post. Here is a list of where we've been so far:
New Zealand
Peru Vietnam
Triple Threat
Inuit Culture Egypt
Australian Aborigines
Brazil India
Sierra Leone
Sioux Nation
Spain Japan
Haiti Kenya
Norway Taiwan
Turkey Chile

This week we are visiting the country of Russia. Here is an easy to see map of Russia:
For more information on this country, click here.

This week the focus is on Nonfiction books. Click here to see last week's post featuring Russia: Fiction. Click on the titles of the books below to read reviews and/or purchase the book.

Russia: The Once and Future Empire Pre-History to Putin by Philip Longworth

Territorial expansion and contraction are a salient theme in Russian history, and experienced historian Longworth initiates matters with a description of Russia's climatic extremities and the vagueness of its geographical limits, which have affected empires and peoples in the Russian lands. He hits his narrative stride with Kievan Rus, the first Russian state and cultural vessel of Orthodox Christianity. In terminal decline when extinguished by Mongolian hordes in the 1200s, Kiev was replaced by Mongol-ruled Russian satraps, one of which, the principality of Moscow, acquired preeminence and reclaimed independence. Why is one of the more interesting problems in all Russian history. Longworth readably recounts the role canny and aggressive rulers had in Moscow's rise. And after tracking the dynastic turmoil from which the Romanovs emerged in 1613, Longworth proceeds through Russia's subsequent enlargement with an eye on nationalities enveloped by the process. Their reconciliation or resistance to membership in an empire, punctuated by collapses in 1917 and 1991, informs the balance of Longworth's survey. A highly qualified candidate for the library's national-history shelf. Publisher: St. Martin’s Press Genre: History

Natasha’s Dance: A Cultural History of Russia by Orlando Figes

Beginning in the eighteenth century with the building of St. Petersburg and culminating with the Soviet regime, Figes examines how writers, artists, and musicians grappled with the idea of Russia itself--its character, spiritual essence, and destiny. Skillfully interweaving the great works--by Dostoevsky, Stravinsky, and Chagall--with folk embroidery, peasant songs, religious icons, and all the customs of daily life, Figes reveals the spirit of "Russianness" as rich and uplifting, complex and contradictory--and more lasting than any Russian ruler or state. Publisher: Picador Genre: History, Civilization & Culture

Comrade J: The Untold Secrets of Russia’s Master Spy in America After the End of the Cold War by Pete Earley

Spymaster, defector, double agent-the remarkable true story of the man who ran Russia's post-Cold War spy program in America. In 1991, the Soviet Union collapsed, the Cold War ended, and a new world order began. We thought everything had changed. But one thing never changed: the spies. From 1997 to 2000, a man known as "Comrade J" was the highest-ranking operative in the SVR-the successor agency to the KGB-in the United States. He directed all Russian spy action in New York City, and personally oversaw every covert operation against the United States and its allies in the United Nations. He recruited spies, planted agents, penetrated security, manipulated intelligence, and influenced American policy, all under the direct leadership of Boris Yeltsin and then Vladimir Putin. He was a legend in the SVR, the man who kept the secrets. Then in 2000, he defected-and it turned out he had one more secret. For the previous two years, he had also been a double agent for the FBI: "By far the most important Russian spy that our side has had in decades." He has never granted a public interview. The FBI and CIA have refused to answer all media questions about him. He has remained in hiding. He has never revealed his secrets . . .
Until now.
Comrade J, written by the bestselling author of Family of Spies and The Hot House, is his story, a direct account of what he did in the U.S. after we all assumed the spying was over, and of what Putin and Russia continue to do today. The revelations are stunning. It is also the story of growing up in a family of agents dating back to the revolution; of how Russia molded him into one of its most high-flying operatives; of the day-to-day perils of living a double, then triple, life; and finally of how his growing disquiet with the corruption and ambitions of the "new Russia" led him to take the most perilous step of all.
Publisher: Putnam Adult Genre: True Crime, Espionage

Last Days of the Romanovs: Tragedy at Ekaterinburg by Helen Rappaport

On the sweltering summer night of July 16, 1918, in the Siberian city of Ekaterinburg, a group of assassins led an unsuspecting Tsar Nicholas II of Russia, his wife, the Tsarina Alexandra, the desperately ill Tsarevich, and their four beautiful daughters, Olga, Tatiana, Maria, and Anastasia, into a basement room where they were shot and then bayoneted to death. This is the story of those murders, which ended three hundred years of Romanov rule and set their stamp on an era of state-orchestrated terror and brutal repression. The Last Days of the Romanovs counts down to the last, tense hours of the family’s lives, stripping away the over-romanticized versions of previous accounts. The story focuses on the family inside the Ipatiev House, capturing the oppressive atmosphere and the dynamics of a group—the Romanovs, their servants, and guards—thrown together by extraordinary events. Marshaling overlooked evidence from key witnesses such as the British consul to Ekaterinburg, Sir Thomas Preston, American and British travelers in Siberia, and the now-forgotten American journalist Herman Bernstein, Helen Rappaport gives a brilliant account of the political forces swirling through the remote Urals town. She conveys the tension of the watching world: the Kaiser of Germany and George V, King of England—both, like Alexandra, grandchildren of Queen Victoria—their nations locked in combat as the First World War drew to its bitter end. And she draws on recent releases from the Russian archives to challenge the view that the deaths were a unilateral act by a maverick group of the Ekaterinburg Bolsheviks, identifying a chain of command that stretches directly, she believes, to Moscow—and to Lenin himself. Telling the story in a compellingly new and dramatic way, The Last Days of the Romanovs brings those final tragic days vividly alive against the backdrop of Russia in turmoil, on the brink of a devastating civil war. Publisher: St. Martin’s Press Genre: True Crime, History

Eyewitness: Russia by Kathleen Berton Murrell

Discover Russia--a rich and varied nation that has long held sway over our imaginations. This multifaceted introduction looks at Russia's vast landscape and changing boundaries, her fabled cities of Moscow and St. Petersburg, and her tumultuous history, from the age of the Czars through the rise and fall of Communism. It explores her rich trove of art, literature, music, and traditions; the growth of industry and technology; and life in Russia today. This beautiful and informative volume will be welcomed by students and armchair travelers alike. Ages 9-12. Publisher: DK Children Genre: Children’s Books, Travel

The Long Walk: The True Story of a Trek to Freedom by Slavomir Rawicz

The harrowing true tale of escaped Soviet prisoners' desperate march out of Siberia, through China, the Gobi Desert, Tibet, and over the Himalayas to British India. Publisher: Lyons Press Genre: History

Russia: Beyond Utopia by Andrew Moore

Even after the fall of the Iron Curtain, Russia remains a nation shrouded in mystery. The country's modern aesthetic includes vestiges of its past that combine and collide with its present, reflected in such unusual imagery as an ornate palace which now houses a hip-hop rehearsal studio, and the stained-glass windows of a church that immortalize the icons of the proletariat. Photographer Andrew Moore explores Russia's majestic beauty and paralyzing decay with striking honesty, often finding them in the same frame. Russia: Beyond Utopia is an intricate hybrid of modern Russia'sunresolved past and uncertain present, revealing a country on the cusp of a new era. Publisher: Chronicle Books Genre: Art & Photography, Travel

This is by no means an exhaustive list. There are tons of others out there. Do you want to share nonfiction recommendations that feature Russia? Or do you want to share other thoughts? Please leave a note in the comments!

Be sure to check back for another trip in books! Here is what is coming up next:

November 14: The Central American country of Guatemala
November 21: The African country of Zimbabwe

The Take Me Away Map of Countries Visited:

Cultures Visited:
Sioux Culture
Australian Aborigines
Inuit Culture


  1. These are some very interesting sounding books. I'm going to have to pick up a couple them to break up my fiction reads.

  2. I do enjoy books about the Romanoffs. I've read the one you listed here, and another one that was written by a Russian and translated into English... that one was pretty boring.


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