I feel a little strange writing a review of this book, as I got it as a present and feel that holiday pleasure-reads should not require academic work. However, the other reviews are so glowingly positive that a contrary view needs to be presented, to point out the book's many flaws. I actually came to the review section to laugh along at the other critical reviews of this book that I was sure would exist.
I found the arguments in this book to be lazy, poorly substantiated, and inconsistent. He makes flippant statements about 700 years of history, explains how his two points (geography of Russian territory and autocratic nature of Russian state) explain how history unfolded, and say that the result is a unique victory for the Russian tradition over European Imperialism. He points out that if Russia were really a part of Europe, it would look a lot more like Sweden. But it doesn't, so this is proof that Russia has a historical developent outside of the European tradition. Meanwhile, autocracy is behind the success of Russia, because it has remained independent since the 1600's, and other countries were not able to withstand the challenge posed by European imperialism - autocracy must have been the reason for that. He neglects to mention that Russia is the largest country in Europe and had a population much greater than any of the other empires there, and that its military sucesses relied on adopting European technology and administrative methods, and that it's military defeats throughout the last 70 years of its existence were probably avoidable. He never also explains how other nations that had roots outside of the European tradition (which I think means the Roman era, but I can't be sure because he doens't state it very clearly) managed to become succesful. All those Vikings he talks about early in the book...how did they end up as Scandinavian kingdoms, and a member of the Russian community? As with so many things in this book, he brings up elements of history only to discard them when they don't fit into his chosen narrative.
Another example of Poe's confusing reasoning is that the Bolshevik revolution is really a continuation of the Russian "moment in history," yet the revolution caused by the end of the Cold War signals an end to it. Why these revolutions had such conflicting impacts on Russia's role in the world is not explained - we're supposed to just accept these truths to be self-evident. The role of ideology is ignored, and his explanation for popular support of communist government changes from an understanding that autocracy was obsolete, to a belief that property rightfully belonged to all people, to the fact that there wasn't popular support for communism (pg. 75-79) His argument is so simplistic and poorly articulated that I found it really surprising to find it in print.
As for the provocative nature of the book alluded to by other reviewers...Poe's comments reach for bombasticism in their comment about the errors and "mystical politico-religious beliefs" of essentially every other author to write about Russia's relationship with Europe, but his venom is weakly substantiated - again, we're so simply go along with the story he's spinning, without support from such minor details such as critical analysis of facts.
I wish I'd made notes as I read through this, I could have made a note every page or two if I'd bothered to collect every nitwit comment, confusing statement or self-righteous blather in this book. My opposition to this book is not based on my disagreement over certain parts of his argument - I don't disagree with everything he says, and the themes of autocracy and Russian involvement in European affairs are definitely important topics in this subject. It's really the quality of the writing and of the reasoning that irks me. At 140 pages it's a fast read, but not a worthwhile one. I'm fairly confident most people would agree with my analysis of the shabbiness of this work; if you like, read it for yourself and find out. But I'd prefer it if you just didn't ever bother in the first place, because it's a waste of time and money.
First off, the quick and shallow overview of Russian history skips over many facts and developments. The only part of this condensed history that I found decent was the early ethnography of the Slavs, which is also the era of history I'm least familiar with. Perhaps it's as filled with lazy