Spurred by a wonderful high school Russian History teacher (thanks, Mr. Barman!), this country has been an area of interest for over 40 years from my studies of the Cold War Soviet navy to great Russian novels. Russia has only occasionally enjoyed great leadership over the past ten centuries but is never as weak as might first appear yet also constrained by internal weaknesses that constrain upside. This short list is focused on three of the five “great” leaders (only one of whom was nice) in Russian History:
– Ivan the Terrible
– Peter the Great
– Catherine the Great (German)
Peter the Great: His Life and World (1980) Robert K. Massie
Taking full power at age 24, Peter was heavily influenced by Western European advisors and made sweeping changes to modernize Russia, including reorganization of the Army, building a strong navy, introducing French and western dress at court and forcing courtiers and nobility to shave their bears. Had no qualms about beating the crap out of people to get his way. Russia began to industrialize and export metals and lumber. A force of nature who dramatically transformed Russia from a backwater to a respected nation in his short 53 years.
Catherine the Great (1977) Robert K. Massie
Born Sophie of Anhalt-Zerbst, reigned as Empress of Russia from 1762-1796 after surviving poisoning attempts and overthrowing her idiot husband Peter III. Led a renaissance of culture, science and universities. Expanded Russia through war and diplomacy, recruited Europeans to move into Russia (wow!) and colonized Alaska.
The Incompatible Allies: German-Soviet Relations 1918-1941 (1953) Gustav Hilger, Alfred G. Meyer
Born September 11, 1886 in Moscow, German Ambassador to the Soviet Union Gustav Hilger lived in Russia until 1941. Hitler asked, after meeting him in person, whether he was “one of them or one of ours.” Stalin remarked: “German heads of state and German ambassadors to Moscow came and went – but Gustav Hilger remained.” Tried to talk Hitler out of invading. Served U.S. and West Germany until retiring in 1956 and gave informal advice until his death in 1965.
Twenty Letters to a Friend (1967) Svetlana Alliluyeva
Stalin’s daughter. Got to see the monster up close and personal and his destruction of nearly everyone around him. Very readable and personal account of a girl whose mother killed herself at age 9, saw her first love exiled by dad because he disapproved, and defected to the U.S. in 1967.
Hitler and Stalin: Parallel Lives (1991) Alan Bullock
Dual biography comparing their respective origins, personalities and careers. Their 2nd grade school class photos are eerie. Each is in the middle of the back row, with piercing eyes. Who was the bigger asshole? Hitler wins, but Stalin was competitive.
This list excludes all those Russian novels I love…but which I may add in the future.