Sunday, October 29, 2017

Laura Engelstein's "Russia in Flames"

Laura Engelstein is Henry S. McNeil Professor Emerita of Russian History at Yale University, where she served as chair of the History Department, and Professor Emerita at Princeton.

She applied the “Page 99 Test” to her new book, Russia in Flames: War, Revolution, Civil War, 1914-1921, and reported the following:
On page 99 of Russia in Flames Rasputin is murdered. Even people who know little about the Russian Revolution of 1917 have heard of Grigorii Rasputin, the sinister holy man who allegedly held the Empress Alexandra under his spell and contributed to the downfall of the 300-year-old Romanov dynasty. The details are lurid: on December 17, 1916, as Russia was struggling under the pressure of World War I, Rasputin was enticed into the basement of the Petrograd palace of the wealthy and highly placed Prince Felix Yusupov. There, Yusupov and two accomplices, one a grand duke and the tsar's cousin, the other a vociferous anti-Semite, first poisoned and then shot their victim, before dumping his body under the ice of the frozen river. The patriotic assassins hoped to restore the tsar to his senses and improve Russia's fortunes in the war. Many Russians at the time believed Nicholas II was in thrall to the occult forces personified by the man in black; people ever since have been fascinated by the healer's gruesome demise.

When my editor first approached me about a project for the centenary of 1917, he proposed I write about Rasputin. Rasputin's influence behind the throne and the public's widespread belief in his demonic powers contributed to the erosion of the tsar's political authority. Rasputin nevertheless had only a bit part in the large-scale drama that was leading Russia to the revolutionary brink, a turning point in world history. Russia in Flames tells the big story: the autocracy's collapse, the heroic attempt of civil society to create a democratic Russia, the defeat of that project by the demands of continuing war, the despair of the popular classes that bore the brunt of the conflict, the bloody Civil War that dismembered the empire, and the machinations of Lenin's Bolsheviks, determined to point Russia in a new, utopian direction. Yet, on page 99, Rasputin comes back to haunt me.
Learn more about Russia in Flames at the Oxford University Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue