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Russia Under the Old Regime (Penguin History) [Paperback]

Richard Pipes
4.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (9 customer reviews)
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Book Description

31 Aug 1995 Penguin History
This study analyzes the evolution of the Russian state from the 9th century to the 1880s, and its unique role in managing Russian society. The development of Russia was different from that of the rest of Europe. The natural poverty of geographical conditions made it extremely difficult to construct an effective regime, and a "patrimonial" state arose in which the country was conceived as the personal property of the tsar. The book describes the evolution of this regime, and analyzes the political behaviour of the principal social groupings, peasantry, nobility, bourgeoisie and clergy, and accounts for their failure to stand up to the increasing absolutism of the tsar. Only the intelligentsia were able to make such a stand, and the book shows how in countering this challenge, Russia developed into a bureaucratic police state.

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Russia Under the Old Regime (Penguin History) + Russia: People and Empire: 1552-1917
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Product details

  • Paperback: 384 pages
  • Publisher: Penguin; 2Rev Ed edition (31 Aug 1995)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0140247688
  • ISBN-13: 978-0140247688
  • Product Dimensions: 19.8 x 12.9 x 2.4 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (9 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 31,017 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
  • See Complete Table of Contents

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Product Description

About the Author

Richard Pipes is a historian of Russia, and since 1990, has been Baird Emeritus Professor of History at Harvard University. His other books include The Russian Revolution and Russia under the Bolshevik Regime.

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Customer Reviews

4.6 out of 5 stars
4.6 out of 5 stars
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
7 of 9 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A good primer 8 Feb 2005
This book is probably the best primer on Pre-revolutionary Russian history I've come across. If you've read all the narrative histories and are still confused about what the actual dynamics of tsarist Russia were, and how the path of it's development differed from that of Western Europe then this is a good place to orient yourself. Although I didn't agree with all of his conclusions, the author has attempted to answer some of the main questions which other historians have neglected or only superficially dealt with, such as how, in spite of it's outward appearance, did the Russian nobility differ from that of it's European counterpart? Why did Russia fail to develop a bourgeoisie? What was the legal basis of property relations in Russia? In a strange way, the methodology of this book owes more to Marx than I think Pipes would care to admit.
I only gave it four stars because the author has an annoying way drawing too many tenuous historical analogies between pre-revolutionary and post-revolutionary events and individuals which have no bearing on the theme under discussion.
That said, it's well structured and relatively easy to read.
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7 of 11 people found the following review helpful
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
What is interesting about this book is that it offers explanations for how it was that by the time of the revolution (and for that matter since except for Yeltsin's experiments) Russia completely failed to develop any kind of democracy. Pipes argues that the main reasons were:
1) Geographical. Russia has limited good soil and most of this only became part of a Russian state after the middle ages. Russia also has a short growing season and no natural borders. All these factors led to a lot of migration and a difficulty for any government in maintaining authority and getting taxes.
2) The influence of the Mongols whose occupation of the steppes in the middle ages and their repressive approach to government and tax collection provided a harsh but effective model for future Russian governments.
3) The influence of the Orthodox church which never challenged the state in any way through ten centuries
4) The fact that until quite recently in Russia's history there was no such thing as private property, everything belonged to the state. As a method of controlling the population the government also forbade citizens to move around freely. All movement of persons, all use of land was under the aegis of the state and continually monitored. This was the system the state developed of maintaining its authority and by the time of the Revolution it still had not been dismantled.
Pipes' book is incredibly well researched and he continually compares Russian development to western states to highlight the peculiar features of Russian society.
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1 of 2 people found the following review helpful
The quote above was written by a 16th century German visitor to Russia observing the state of the relationship between the Tsar and the people. The word Tsar is actually taken from the Golden Horde of Genghis Khan (via Byzantium) who invaded Russia and whose depredations and power has had such a profound affect on Russian life and the structure of the state. Russian leaders were made to supplicate themselves before the Great Khan by crawling on their hands and knees. Richard Pipes states that, 'during these years , the population at large first learned what the state was; that it was arbitrary and violent, that it took what it could lay its hands on and gave nothing in return'.

Richard Pipes book is a single volume history of the political and financial development of the state up until the revolution of 1917. If anybody is surprised that Vladimir Putin is able to rule the country like a latter-day Tsar, they need only read this book. They would discover as the western advisors who leapt into Russia post Gorbachev failed to appreciate that this is country with little basis in law, little understanding of the concept of private property and little or no qualm about corruption and theft. If it is a dictatorial kleptocracy, it is one with a very long history.

Although the author covers the development of Kiev by Norman (Viking) traders and their links to Byzantium, some of the really satisfying parts of this book are the time he spends outlining the precariousness and backwardness of farming methods, yields were much higher in western Europe and how the farmers and peasents were eventually tied to the land by serfdom in the mid 16th century to prevent them leaving for richer pastures in the Kazakh regions and the Crimea.
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2 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Marvellous... but not for beginners 21 Oct 2010
Pipes has execelled himself by producing a well written and structured tome of immense interest, depth and scope.
The minutea of detail left me breathless at times and the knowledge and information imparted by the author is impressive..
This book will also serve as a future reference tool and can best be appreciated if the reader has more than an elementary understanding and insight into Kievan Rus, emerging Tsarist-state apparatus, the peasant condition and boyar history.
I'm not at all surprised that the AS level reviewer was unable to fully apreciate this book. It is quite demanding and requires more study and re reading than is perhaps the case for some other books on this subject. However, it is also very rewarding if you have the focus and prior grounding necessary to undertake a journey of this nature with Mr Pipes.
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