BEYOND THE KREMLIN

Russian history and culture, from a historian in Cambridge

Books and Terror

Does reading books make you a better person? Students beginning university this week might wonder if learning brings wisdom, kindness or resilience. Faced with an ungenerous teacher in his book-stacked … Continue reading

October 1, 2019

Old enemies and absent friends

On holiday, keen to avoid anything to do with my day job, I came across a copy of The President is Missing, a thriller authored by Bill Clinton and James … Continue reading

September 8, 2019

When everyone agrees about D-Day

‘D-Day holds a special place in our nation’s story,’ writes the BBC’s James Lansdale, reflecting on the 75th anniversary commemorations on Thursday. But what’s the place, and what’s the story? … Continue reading

June 11, 2019

Against laziness

Mark Galeotti’s highly recommended We Need to Talk About Putin (Penguin / Ebury, 2019) is a wonderfully compressed book that punctures our lazy preconceptions about Russia. Robust, reasonable and addictive, … Continue reading

June 8, 2019

History on fire, from Notre Dame to Napoleon

Why do we cry when old buildings burn down? On Monday evening, life stopped for many people while the Cathedral of Notre Dame was on fire. Why does the fate … Continue reading

April 18, 2019 · Leave a comment

Are historians really losers?

Soviet history presents us with some of the most extraordinary events, places and people in all of the twentieth century. And yet in the classes I teach, we spend hours … Continue reading

February 3, 2019 · Leave a comment

The 9th Microdistrict: Moscow’s future

In 1956, they started to build a new future in Moscow out of both words and bricks. This was the year that Khrushchev gave the Secret Speech. He condemned the … Continue reading

January 27, 2019 · Leave a comment

Waiting for dawn

Tibor Szamuely sounded like a pessimist, and with good reason. Years after his release from the Gulag, he wrote a compelling book, The Russian Tradition, whose central argument is that … Continue reading

October 21, 2018 · Leave a comment

Penelope Fitzgerald’s Russia: past, patience, future

Penelope Fitzgerald’s historical novels are famous for their authenticity. In The Beginning of Spring (1988), set in Moscow in 1913, she describes rooms, trams, factories, shop signs and streets until … Continue reading

September 2, 2018 · Leave a comment

The World Cup, a month on

Only a month on, what can a historian add? First of all the usual pleasantries. My household was completely hooked. It was a spectacularly successful event, generating excitement and enthusiasm, … Continue reading

August 22, 2018 · Leave a comment