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Format: Audio CD|Vine Customer Review of Free Product( What's this? )
These 25 x 15 minute episodes present a history of Russia from the revolution of 1917 up to the collapse of the communist state in 1991, an anniversary currently being celebrated. It then covers Putin's rise to power and reflections on the direction Russia might take in the future in balancing autocratic and democratic impulses. This set is the second part of a larger work, the first part being "Russia: The Wild East 'From Rulers to Revolutions' ".

The five cds comprise: 1 The Rise of the Bolsheviks; 2 Stalin's Iron Fist; 3 War and (uncertain) Peace; 4 Cold War; 5 Collapse.

Sixsmith, an experienced correspondent and 'Russia watcher' for the BBC in the 80's and 90's, as well as a civil servant Director of Communications for Downing Street in the early 2000s, has written and presented a fascinating, if inevitably highly abbreviated account of this complex subject. (He was reputedly 'gagged' by the government following the Jo Moore/Steven Byers debacle in 2001 and unable to present his version of events in book form. Clearly he knows something of the machinations and manipulations in the corridors of power!) He has written extensively on the Soviet Union and Russia. He has a good voice for radio, writes well for that medium, and has his account interspersed with archive recordings, personal testimony and readings by actors from authors relevant to the various segments. This range of material and voices together with Russian musical extracts further add variety so that this is never a tedious listen.

I am not an expert on Russia: I do not doubt that there will be many who might challenge Sixsmith's interpretations of some of the political events and personalities on which he comments. However, I found it a superb introductory account, one which was pretty compulsive when first aired on Radio 4. I was delighted to get hold of this cd copy to enable me to listen again.

I am also delighted to see that AudioGo/BBC have NOT repeated their catastrophic error of neglecting to provide printed cd and episode listings: that has been a cripplingly serious flaw on some recent issues (the King James Bible Readings and Documentaries, for example). These cds have full listings, and episodes are also subdivided into shorter (unlisted) tracks, for ease of listening. Highly recommended.
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VINE VOICEon 21 November 2011
Format: Audio CD|Vine Customer Review of Free Product( What's this? )
As a lover and long-term student of Russian and Soviet history, I came to this with some skepticism but I was pleasantly surprised.

Firstly Sixsmith has a very easy manner and is both easy to listen to and knowledgable on the subject - two key elements in making this work. He maintains an interest in what he says and allows the reader to become involved as well which is key to this as he covers a tremendous amount of Russian/Soviet history in a relatively short amount of time and does it with an ease rivalled only by the best audio-books I've listened to (Stephen Fry's Harry Potter and Rob Inglis' Lord of the Rings).

The collection comprises of 5 CDs:
1 - Rise of the Bolsheviks
2 - Stalin's Iron Fist
3 - War and Peace
4 - Cold War
5 - Collapse

These cover a huge amount of histoy in a relatively short period and in doing so provide a decent overview of the events and touches on many of the key points during these periods, however, due to the need to cover so much in so short a time, he often misses the intericate nuances which are fundamental to really understanding this period of Russian/Soviet history.
In addition to the superficial nature of the history, it is also skewed quite considerably by the interpretations of Sixsmith who, having been present in the Soviet Union during its collapse, struggles to go beyond his own perceptions at times. Whilst this may make for suitable radio, I felt it was too influential in the portayal of events and whilst historians cannot be totally objective, it strayed too often into wholly subjective analyse. This was especially so of the Stalin period in which Sixsmith far too often merely continues the 'western' liberal philosophy in relation to Stalin and fails to dig under the surface to explore both the man and his time as the leader of the Soviet Union.
Whilst this is less of an issue for the last couple of discs in which Sixsmith deals with the more recent developments in the collapse of the USSR, it is still present and left me slightly uneasy about the conclusions he was drawing for these events given the nature of his work on the earlier events of the creation of the Soviet state.

That is not to say that this is not a good series, however, and for those who have little background in Soviet history, this would be a good introduction. Personally though, I felt it lacked sufficient depth and far too often strayed into subjective 'western' liberal ideology for those looking for a thorough and deep study of Russian/Soviet history.
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Format: Audio CD|Vine Customer Review of Free Product( What's this? )
This 5-CD set is a summing up of Soviet history from 1917 through to 1991 and beyond, as researched, written and narrated by Martin Sixsmith for BBC Radio 4. It is the second part of the series, but you won't need to have heard the first part to pick up the story. It condenses a huge amount of history into a few hours, but makes gripping and at times horrifying listening.

Sixsmith moves quickly through revolution, Bolshevism, Stalinism, world war, and eventually to Gorbachev and Putin. It is a history punctuated by ambition, power and death on a huge scale, which Sixsmith tells with passion, often aided by actors who read translations of notable speeches and declarations. It is further enhanced by interspersed sound effects and archive recordings that help to conjure up the mood of the time.

Sixsmith tries to be impartial in his narration, but the history he recounts is often so dark and terrible that his voice tends to come down upon events in pithy style, painting the villains as they deserve, and telling of heroics on all sides with equal engagement. At times the whole thing is so intense and tragic that it is hard to listen to. He spares us little in the telling as he covers each regime, with their high ideals and monstrous outcomes, their policies, purges, fanatical loyalties and impossible expectations, show trials, lost causes and executions. Sixsmith changes up a gear when he reaches the period that he reported upon personally. From the Gorbachev and Yeltsin years onward, he reflects upon the times and the men in question with greater fluidity, especially during the final CD of the set. He met many of these figures, of course, and had a better understanding of their views and the societies and people on which they tried their policies. After the gore and terror of the earlier episodes, this more relaxed Sixsmith rounds off the series nicely.

One amusing faux pas is in track 6 of CD5, in which an actor speaks Yeltsin's words during the military coup. For some reason the actor does a wonderful impression of Winston Churchill. I'm sure they didn't intend it, but it was fun to hear it during Yeltsin's "finest hour".

As ever with history, and perhaps especially soviet history, the view given by Sixsmith is not beyond contention, though his is certainly an authoritative voice on the subject. As someone whose father was raised in the Ukraine during Stalin's "Five Year Plan" of collectivization and suffered its terrible consequences, and as someone who had relatives suffer in its infamous prisons, I found Sixsmith's retelling of that period particularly compelling. I have read quite a bit about soviet history, which I suppose is to be expected with a name like mine, but I found this audio book was a handy skim through the past. While a series like this can only really touch the surface of the story, it does an excellent job of furnishing the listener with the basics, or in my case providing some useful revision. It is fascinating listening, though probably not for the faint-hearted. It covers a lot of ground, but it does so with creative flare and genuine feel for the subject, and I have no hesitation in recommending it.
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VINE VOICEon 21 February 2012
Format: Audio CD|Vine Customer Review of Free Product( What's this? )
Just to make sure you're looking at the right collection (this Part Two!), this collection of 5 CDs comprises of:
1 - Rise of the Bolsheviks. 2 - Stalin's Iron Fist. 3 - War and Peace.
4 - Cold War. 5 - Collapse.

I've been listening to this on my commute. It's well paced, well read and well presented. I've learnt some interesting details of Russian history (through a nice balance of factual and anecdotal information), although I'm not sure I'll ever get to travel there.

For anyone who loves travelling, history, culture, I would suggest giving both Volumes a listen.
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on 1 June 2017
Amazing tapestry of sound, not just an ordinary audiobook this one, fantastic music, film clips and compelling personal history from Sixsmith.
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on 8 September 2011
Format: Audio CD|Vine Customer Review of Free Product( What's this? )
Martin Sixsmith's history of Russia is an epic endeavour. Given the subject matter of course, it has to be. Told in 50 parts, the second 25 of which are included in this set, it comes from someone with intimate knowledge of the most recent timeframe of his subject, and extensive understanding of what came before. I'll readily admit I didn't know as much of the last century's Russian history as I should have done, and I was fascinated, shocked, informed and gradually built up an understanding that I never had before.

This is a radio series more than an audiobook - as evidenced by the frequent use of archive recordings and music - but it does have useful chapter points which means if you want to skip back a bit, you don't need to go back to the start of the episode. All 5 CDs fit into one double size jewel case that, nevertheless, has room for a booklet that gives a short summary of each episode's coverage.

I'll leave the assessment of how well Martin Sixsmith's take on Russian history manages to cover all appropriate points and periods to those on these review pages who possess a previous and more rounded understanding - but as a novice to this aspect of History, I certainly found this series well worth having.
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Format: Audio CD|Vine Customer Review of Free Product( What's this? )
This excellent set of 5 CDs is the second part of Martin Sixsmith's history of Russia. I first heard part of this series when it was broadcast on Radio 4 recently and I was instantly hooked with the way in which it was presented. The mix of narrative, song, and political speeches was really good and the tone was just right for non-historians/academics. There are 25 episodes in the set starting with the rise of the Bolsheviks after the revolution and ending with 'Return of the Fist' - Vladimir Putin's ascendancy to power and where Mr Sixsmith questions whether Russia will 'always return to the rule of autocracy'.

The narrative is interspersed with music by the Russian greats such as Stravinsky, testimonies of ordinary Russians (I found the tales of individual suffering and terror particularly poignant) and readings by historians and writers such as Grossman. To cover such a wide expanse of history in just 5 hours and 40 minutes of broadcast is some feat yet Mr Sixsmith manages to include all the major events surrounding Lenin, Stalin, Khrushchev, Brezhnev and Gorbachev in a relaxed yet informative style. I was very interested to learn about the politics surrounding the race between the USA and the USSR to put a man into space and the explanation of how Yuri Gagarin came to be selected to orbit the earth in Vostok 1 .

I learned quite a bit about Russian history and politics listening to this CD set and I would thoroughly recommend it to anyone who, like me, wanted to know more but didn't feel up to heavy academia.
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on 31 August 2011
Format: Audio CD|Vine Customer Review of Free Product( What's this? )
This is a whirlwind trip through the triumphs and tragedies of twentieth century Russian history. This is the second folio in the collection - the preceding 900 years are covered in the first part. Sixsmith is a level-headed and clear author who narrates this history beautifully. This 5-CD set has 5 episodes on each CD, with each episode split into four parts for ease of navigation. This makes listening to the series in the car a breeze.

Sixsmith describes Lenin's brutal suppression of the Russian people clearly, leaving no listener unaware as to the terror Lenin & Co subjugated the workers. Stalin's rule is analysed with Sixsmith's cutting insight. He is somewhat kinder to Khrushchev.

Sixsmith was on hand to see the changes in the late 80's and early 90's, and it is at the point that the use of his reports from that time brings the history alive.
For audiobook lovers, this 5-CD set is a must.
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VINE VOICEon 9 September 2012
Format: Audio CD|Vine Customer Review of Free Product( What's this? )
Upon receiving this I started to wonder just how interesting five CDs of Russian history would be; I knew my Soviet history well enough that I did not expect this Radio 4 series to tell me anything unexpected so it took me a while to face up to the though of over five hours of being told things I already knew. It turns out I was wrong and listening to `The Wild East' came as a mildly horrific but nonetheless welcome surprise; this is not a dry, monotonous, academic work neither is it a lecturing piece of political-propaganda, nor a lightweight documentary of the sort you find on the television. The Wild East is an artfully pieced together, multi-voiced, inspiring combination of Martin Sixsmith's understanding of the Soviet era with witness statements, readings from poetry, original recordings of speeches and music of the period. It is horrific precisely because the story is brought to life by all these fragments of eyewitness testimony: thoughts and words making up individual versions of events and bringing the great depth of suffering and depravity from the seemingly impossible to the real. Excerpts and testimony are fitting: as you hear about a writer murdered in Stalin's purges you hear the words that inspired murderous fear in the authorities, when Shostakovich varied support for the regiem is explained a selection is played from his music. Best of all are readings from the political leaders: Stalin, Lenin and Putin's words are heard both in the original Russian from recordings but also in menacingly well read English translations. There is a beautiful hint on the author's view of Putin from the voice chosen to read his wods in English. Pictures, maps and film could not make this any better than it already is. Buy it, listen to it and be pleased you don't live in the wild east.
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VINE VOICEon 14 October 2011
Format: Audio CD|Vine Customer Review of Free Product( What's this? )
This wonderful CD package consists of 25 short 15 minute episodes giving us a history of Russia from 1917 and the revolution right up until 1991and the fall of the communist state
The five CDs have full listings guides and the episodes have different titles as follows:
1 The Rise of the Bolsheviks
2 Stalin's Iron Fist
3 War and (uncertain) Peace
4 Cold War
5 Collapse

Each of these titles is then divided further into short tracks to make it easier for the listener to stop and start up again.
The episodes themselves are written and presented by Martin Sixsmith a BBC correspondent who lived in Moscow during the 80's and 90's. Sixsmith has an in depth knowledge of the subject he is talking about and this is extremely clear through all the 5 CDs. As well as Sixsmiths own writing the recording is also full of readings from letters and other historical documents which provide another aspect to the information imparted. Sixsmith has a good voice for radio making the CD easy and pleasant to listen to.

This is by no means an in-depth account of Russian history, in fact we do fly through some pretty significant events but it provides enough information to create interest and therefore (hopefully) encourage the listener to research more on their own.

I am not an expert on Russia, in fact my knowledge is extremely slim but I found these CDs to be a fascinating introduction to their rich and diverse history. It is worth noting that this is the second part of a set, the first part being Russia: The Wild East 'From Rulers to Revolutions', and I shall definitely be looking to buy a copy of this in the future. Recommended listening.
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