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Red Fortress: The Secret Heart of Russia's History [Kindle Edition]

Catherine Merridale
4.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (19 customer reviews)

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Book Description


The extraordinary story of the Kremlin - from prize-winning author and historian Catherine Merridale

Both beautiful and profoundly menacing, the Kremlin has dominated Moscow for many centuries. Behind its great red walls and towers many of the most startling events in Russia's history have been acted out. It is both a real place and an imaginative idea; a shorthand for a certain kind of secretive power, but also the heart of a specific Russian authenticity. Catherine Merridale's exceptional book revels in both the drama of the Kremlin and its sheer unexpectedness: an impregnable fortress which has repeatedly been devastated, a symbol of all that is Russian substantially created by Italians. The many inhabitants of the Kremlin have continually reshaped it to accord with shifting ideological needs, with buildings conjured up or demolished to conform with the current ruler's social, spiritual, military or regal priorities. In the process, all have claimed to be the heirs of Russia's great historic destiny.

Product Description


Magnificent ... [a] a superbly written book ... Merridale's idea was to use the Kremlin like a backdrop to an opera - a screen on which to project scenes from Russia's violent and dramatic history. That way she tells the fortress's story without lapsing into architectural didacticism or guidebook prose, and it works wonderfully (George Walden Telegraph)

This simply superb chronicle of the Kremlin is really a brilliant and unputdownable history of Russia itself from the early Tsars via Lenin and Stalin to Putin; anyone who wants to understand Russia today will not only learn a lot but will enjoy every page ... wonderful (Simon Sebag Montefiore Telegraph)

[Merridale] combines impeccable scholarship with a deep feeling for the humanity of the people she writes about. Her style is accurate, spare, direct and warm-hearted, about as far from the academy as you can get ... [Red Fortress] is a brilliant meditation on Russian history and the myths with which the Russians have sought to console themselves (Rodric Braithwaite Guardian)

Addictively clever history ... Merridale whisks us through a series of terrific melodramas (Dominic Sandbrook Sunday Times BOOKS OF THE YEAR)

A zingy, razor-keen history of the Kremlin (Ian Thomson Spectator BOOKS OF THE YEAR)

Merridale captures very well the suffocating atmosphere of those overheated corridors, where every room was bugged and mere proximity to power was often a death sentence ... she writes superbly. She has a gift for the tart insight ... and an eye for the telling anecdote (Tony Brenton The Times)

Exhilarating ... Both in its modernist sense of "time in flux" and in its style, Red Fortress is at the furthest possible remove from Soviet schoolroom sermons about "the period of feudal atomization" and the rise of the centralizing state ... This is a book of detail and imagination ... a neohistorical account of the Russian past ... Red Fortress made me remember the open-mouthed delight I took when, hardly old enough to know where Russia was, I studied the émigré artist Boris Artsybashev's elegant, aetiolated portraits of medieval Russian princes (Catriona Kelly Guardian)

Red Fortress is a tour de force, as readable as it is extensively researched ... It never flags through nearly 10 centuries of Russian, Soviet and post-Soviet history ... [Merridale] is both mythbuster and pilgrim, captivated by her subject even while turning an eye of scholarly detachment to it (Virginia Rounding Financial Times)

One of the best popular histories of Russia in any language (Times Literary Supplement)

Immensely readable ... Merridale recounts [the Kremlin's] eventful history with great skill and tremendous narrative verve (Ian Critchley Sunday Times)

Merridale is a historian by training, but she has a detective's nose and a novelist's way with words (Economist)

As with many important books, the reader will wonder why nothing like Catherine Merridale's work ... has been written before ... Merridale has succeeded in stripping off the veneer... She has the skills to get guardians of secret places talking and to negotiate access with Russian archivists, and thus penetrate the inner workings of the Kremlin. At the same time, she has a feeling for the site that brings dry archaeological and architectural facts to life: few writers can write the biography of a city or a citadel ... The Kremlin's history is likely to be frozen for decades to come. This unique and stunningly well-illustrated book is going to be a definitive study for just as long (Donald Rayfield Literary Review)

Catherine Merridale's sparkling new book shows that it is people who dominate architecture (BBC History Magazine)

As usual, [Merridale's] engaging writing style combines a keen eye for detail with a human touch (Times Higher Education)

[A] superb history of the Kremlin ... pages of lucid prose (Irish Times)

About the Author

Catherine Merridale is the author of Moscow Politics and the Rise of Stalin, Night of Stone: Death and Memory in Russia, which won the Heinemann Prize for Literature and was shortlisted for the Samuel Johnson Prize, and Ivan's War: The Red Army, 1939-45. She is Professor of Contemporary History at Queen Mary, University of London.

Product details

  • Format: Kindle Edition
  • File Size: 21863 KB
  • Print Length: 490 pages
  • Page Numbers Source ISBN: 0141032359
  • Publisher: Penguin (3 Oct. 2013)
  • Sold by: Amazon Media EU S.à r.l.
  • Language: English
  • ASIN: B00CBO0BI4
  • Text-to-Speech: Enabled
  • X-Ray:
  • Word Wise: Enabled
  • Average Customer Review: 4.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (19 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: #54,308 Paid in Kindle Store (See Top 100 Paid in Kindle Store)
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Customer Reviews

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
20 of 20 people found the following review helpful
By Roman Clodia TOP 100 REVIEWER
Though Merridale is a history professor at the University of London, this is a popular, very accessible book rather than one for professional historians. By taking the Kremlin as her focus, she gives us a sweeping history of Russia from the first settlements of the Vikings known as the Rus, to Putin's Russia today.

This is a fascinating story and well told though the pace it perhaps a little uneven. Early Russia to the sixteenth-century is particularly well done, but after Ivan the Terrible the narrative starts to become a little panoramic. The reigns of Peter the Great, Catherine the Great, the invasion of Napoleon, and the move through the nineteenth-century via the Revolution and into the regimes of Stalin and his successors to the break-up of the Soviet Union feels swift and far less detailed than the earlier periods.

Through it all, the Kremlin stands - burnt down, bombed, disguised to fool German air attacks during WW2, but always surviving. Merridale rightly reads the Kremlin as not just a fortress or a series of buildings but as `a theatre and a text' and my favourite parts of the book are where she keeps her focus tightly on the Kremlin itself and what it is, and has been, made to mean. Her explorations through some of the unseen `back rooms' is especially fascinating and more of this material would have been welcome.

So there are a few points where this books feels like it's not quite sure whether it's a history of Russia or the Kremlin itself - but overall this is an enjoyable, absorbing read: recommended.

(This review is from an ARC courtesy of the publisher)
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Readable and an extraordinary book 4 Jun. 2014
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
In one extraordinary volume Catherine Merridale covers the history of Russia with the importance of the Kremlin at its heart - and makes some sense out of this secretive yet spectacular country.
From its rural and brutal emergence with, it seems, various factions wanting to extend their empire and take Russia as their own Merridale portrays an emerging identity for a new and powerful country and from its establishment as a seat of power, the Kremlin becomes a symbol of its power-base for all the Russian people.
The two paradoxes of Russian history though is the apparent lack of respect for their own history until after the event. It seems that not until Peter the Great and Catherine did the Russian people grasp that they were in need of a cultural tradition as they had seen in Britain, France and Italy in particular. They import various designers who create magnificent buildings including the development of the Kremlin and for some while they become a magnificence to be the envy of the world.
However, where the successive invasions by Napoleon and Hitler seem to almost destroy Moscow it is the Bolsheviks who all but eradicate the cultural history as seen in the Cathedrals and Palaces of their own history.
The greatest tragedy is that over two or three centuries of rule and misrule the Russians appear to be both the architect and victim of their own destruction of an untold magnificence of historic buildings, art and culture. From Lenin, Stalin and to Putin, the Kremlin changes from being the heart of a nation to a sinister place of recreated magnificence but with a dark, cruel secret history .A bit like Alton Towers with the cruelest of torture chambers in the centre.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A highly informative, yet readily-digestible read 1 April 2014
The Moscow Kremlin has for many centuries provided a backdrop calculated to enhance the apparent legitimacy of Russia's leaders and their actions. The area enclosed by its walls is 27.5 hectares (68 acres). Within are four cathedrals and five palaces, highly secure presidential accommodation and administrative facilities, and much else, including generous amounts of green space.

By virtue of the timing of her research, persistence, and no doubt persuasiveness and charm, Catherine Merridale has seen more than most people of the less-public areas within the Kremlin walls. She reports that much renovation is still required; that there are spaces both below ground and high above where scarcely anyone ever goes; and that there are extensive crypts and cellars of buildings of the past that have yet to be explored and placed on the archaeological record. She also observes that 'In the Kremlin, a visitor will see what she is meant to see. Locked doors are waiting for even the most persistent guest.'

She has found no reliable record of the Kremlin's beginnings. There is documentary evidence of a princes' residence in Moscow in 1147 and again in 1156, and archaeological evidence confirms a 12th Century foundation for a massive earth and timber rampart on the Kremlin site. However, finds of bones of pigs, cattle, game and fur bearing animals, horses and dogs indicate human habitation centuries earlier. It may be that the first settlers were hunters from Finland.

The history of the Kremlin could never be entirely separated from that of Moscow, or indeed of Russia as a whole. For the most part, Red Fortress reads as a series of essays on the history of Russia, as seen from - and as it affected, and was affected by - the Kremlin.
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
5.0 out of 5 stars Five Stars
Important reading for those studying russian history and civilisation.
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Published 6 months ago by Ursula Kent
5.0 out of 5 stars fascinating full of incredible historical anecdotes. Painting vivid...
fascinating full of incredible historical anecdotes .Painting vivid picture of the place which through history was the centre of russias way of doing politic power and... Read more
Published 8 months ago by Marek Obrebski
5.0 out of 5 stars Notable
Superb read throughout and at the end a powerful indictment of the current Russian government. Stands with Court of The Red Tsar and It Was a Long Time Ago and Probably Never... Read more
Published 8 months ago by PBale
4.0 out of 5 stars Great gift.
A birthday gift for a student of Russia, its history an language: very well-received.
Published 9 months ago by lyssa
5.0 out of 5 stars As formidable as the Kremlin walls themselves
Excellent potted history of the most iconic building in Moscow and a great jumping-off point for those interested in delving more deeply into parts of the country's history that... Read more
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Good informative nook
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