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Red Fortress: The Secret Heart of Russia's…
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Red Fortress: The Secret Heart of Russia's History

by Catherine Merridale

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This review was written for LibraryThing Early Reviewers.
Catherine Merridale's 'Red Fortress' reads like a mediocre attempt at pop history. Unlike some historians who score a win with their rehashing of well known ideas, facts, and histories that's made accessible to a public eager for scraps of information historians find mundane and banal, 'Red Fortress' seems to be a failure on both counts. Merridale provides just enough information to make this text a chore for the average reader while avoiding any type of original conclusions or arguments. The usual suspects have their fair share of space devoted to them (Ivan the Terrible, Peter the Great, Catherine the Great, etc.) and while the Kremlin continually features as either the main 'player' or in the background of the narrative, it does so to the detriment of the story being told. Like those top-down histories that concentrate on kings and queens, politicians and diplomats, military commanders and revolutionaries, 'Red Fortress' ignores the periphery to concentrate on the center and adds little to nothing to the history of Russia while managing to omit much that made Russia what it was and is. As an introduction to Russian history this is a mediocre effort and unfortunately I can't imagine it being a useful fit for any other role. ( )
  Kunikov | Mar 1, 2014 |
This review was written for LibraryThing Early Reviewers.
Catherine Merridale's "Red Fortress" is an extremely fascinating read. It offers a detailed account of the Kremlin site from it's earliest tribal beginnings through the fall of Communism. Merridale does a good job of providing an overview if Russian history, with a view towards how it affected the Kremlin compound. The history of the site seems to be that it is neglected and allowed to fall into ruin until the current regime needs it to score some political point. I found it interesting that most of the damage and destruction to the Kremlin over it's long history came mostly from the Russians themselves. I was disappointed the Early Reviewer's copies were without map, but otherwise I would definitely recommend this to anyone with an interest in the history of Moscow and Russian. ( )
  bookwormgeek | Nov 28, 2013 |
This review was written for LibraryThing Early Reviewers.
"Red Fortress" offers the reader a concise history of Russia with pointed emphasis on the architectural, cultural, and geographical significance of the Kremlin. What began as a remote small town with a white fort and limestone cathedral in the 1300’s, evolved into 68 acres of stately political buildings, cathedrals, parks, mansions, and a palace... A truly monumental symbol of political power and intrigue for the Russian nation. But it didn’t really stand the test of time. When the Kremlin wasn’t being nearly burned to the ground (several times), it was being destroyed by foreign tyrants like the Mongols and Napoleon, or desecrated by fellow Russian citizens in civil wars.

In the final chapter of "Red Fortress", Catherine Merridale summarizes by stating, “The Kremlin’s history is a tale of survival, and it is certainly an epic, but there is nothing inevitable about any of it. Today’s glorification of the Russian state, like that of previous regimes, is a deliberate and calculated choice and real people can certainly be made to answer for it.” (Pg. 394)

After the revolution, the communists destroyed everything that reminded them of the opulent pageantry of the royal life of the Tsar including monuments to former heros and the Orthodox cathedrals. They assassinated all royalty, dissenters, and at least 9000 priests. They had to “create a new canon of saints and fallen heros, communist style” (Pg. 291). And after Stalin’s death, the new leadership once again did everything they could to erase the memory of Russia’s latest history... downplaying Stalin’s association with the communist party and falling back on Lenin’s utopian ideology. They created new pageantry and traditions, constructed new monuments, and gave their ancient neglected buildings a superficial, inexpensive, but modern restoration.

And all the while you are reading about the Kremlin and it’s state of grandeur, destruction, repair, and neglect, you will learn obscure facts about Russia’s most notable leaders: Ivan the Terrible, Peter the Great, Catherine the Great, Nicholas II and Alexandria, Lenin, Stalin, and more current leaders likeYeltsin, Gorbachev, and Putin. Red Fortress includes details about politics, the cultural climate, and the socio-economic conditions throughout Russia’s 800 year history.

Personally, I found the first 100 pages difficult to digest. The years between 1200 and 1600 were just out of my range of interest, but the closer the "Red Fortress" got to the onset of the Romanov dynasty, the more fascinating and intriguing it became. And the Stalin years? Merridale schools us with a history lesson everyone should heed.

Catherine Merridale did an enormous amount of research citing 64 pages of references.
Anyone considering a trip to Russia would definitely have a new appreciation for the few rare remaining authentic historical sites. As early as 1947 - during a tour of the Kremlin - Steinbeck is quoted as saying, “Just two hours in this royal palace so depressed us that we couldn’t shake it all day... the Kremlin was the most gloomy place in the world.” (Pg. 334) And today? Well, sadly Red Fortress gives the impression that though at one time the Kremlin had a soul of its own, today it is not much more than an empty shell - a tourist attraction of smoke and mirrors.

If you have an unquenchable curiosity about Russian history, "Red Fortress" offers a unique and haunting perspective. ( )
1 vote LadyLo | Nov 25, 2013 |
This review was written for LibraryThing Early Reviewers.
I expected Catherine Merridale's "Red Fortress" to be fascinating reading, and I was not disappointed. Though a history of The Kremlin, in particular, it is also a fine history of Russia from it's earliest tribal beginnings through the present day Presidency of Vladimir Putin. I found it a sad state of affairs and ironic that what the Tsars had spent so many centuries of effort and humanity building and amassing, the Bolshevics largely destroyed in just a few years beginning in 1917 - only to have the Soviets later rebuild cheap replacements. I was disappointed that the advance reader copy from Early Reviewers had no photos, illustrations or maps. The reading is kind of dense at times, but the topic is never less than fascinating. ( )
1 vote y2pk | Nov 10, 2013 |
This review was written for LibraryThing Early Reviewers.
Red Fortress: History and Illusion in the Kremlin
By Catherine Merridale
Metropolitan Books/Henry Holt and Company
Reviewed by Karl Wolff

Spanning from the pre-Christian times of the early middle ages right up to rule of Vladimir Putin, Red Fortress: History and Illusion in the Kremlin by Catherine Merridale, is a magisterial distillation of nearly a thousand years of Russian history. Unlike other histories of Russia and the Soviet Union, Red Fortress focuses on the Kremlin. (Kreml means "red" in Russian.) The tight focus allows for a new perspective and gives Merridale a uniquely interdisciplinary approach to the material. The book is at once national history, local history (in this case, a subsection of Moscow), architectural history, art history, and museum history.

Bracketed by the Moscow and Neglinnaya Rivers, the Kremlin began as a fort in the northern Russian hinterlands. What began as a walled city to prevent the depredations of Mongols evolved into a princely enclave for the Ruirik, Danilov, and Romanov dynasties. (The rulers of Russia themselves evolving from dukes to grand dukes to princes and, finally, tsars.) In the opening pages, Merridale stands in the Tretyakov Gallery in Moscow appreciating the 1668 masterpiece, The Tree of the State of Muscovy. The icon shows "two men who have planted a tree. On the left, holding the medieval equivalent of a watering can, is a priest, and painted letters tell us that he is Peter, the leader of the early fourteenth-century Russian church. On the right, in charge of the plant itself, is a prince, Ivan I, who ruled Moscow for sixteen years from 1325 until his death in 1341." It is with this foundational myth that Merridale takes us all the way back to the beginning in the twelfth century, although "There is no reliable record for the Kremlin's beginning." What is exhilarating about reading this book is its immersive power. This is very much pop history and should be on the must-read list of any amateur Kremlinologist or those who enjoy Russian history.

The immersive power propels the narrative forward. The Kremlin's history has much bloodshed, coups, fires, and demolition. Much like Rome, the Kremlin becomes an accretion of history, layer upon layer building over the centuries. We read about early architectural masterpieces, lovingly described, only to witness their immolation or destruction. The Kremlin's rulers, always keeping a tight fist on historical interpretation, build new structures to highlight their glory or raze those that get in their way. In the nineteenth century, we see the clash of these interpretations with the rise of a conservative intellectual elite wanting to preserve the Kremlin's innate "Russian-ness," and the revolutionary firebrands who want to overthrow the ossifying monarchy.

Another key element to the Kremlin is religion. The walled city is a mosaic of watchtowers, monasteries and cathedrals, palaces and arsenals. After Constantinople fell to the Ottoman Turks in the fifteenth century, Moscow saw itself as "The Third Rome." In modern language, one could see the Kremlin as home to a "spiritual superpower," transforming this once isolated backwater into a urban area with the prestige of Rome. (This also explains, but doesn't excuse, Putin's recent homophobic legislation and its sanctimonious language.)

In the end, the Kremlin attempts to preserve the national mythology of continuity, stability, and theocracy. The challenge is writing history in such a tightly controlled environment. Merridale explains her many workarounds and negotiations when dealing with a government that is less than forthcoming. Any historian must face the popular crowd when deconstructing a national mythology. (One sees this today in how the Right and the Left turn the Founder Fathers into two sets of dueling caricatures.) The pleasure of Red Fortress is witnessing history as a material thing that has to be wrestled with to be understood. With Russia's calamitous, horrific, and authoritarian history, it shows how the ordinary Russian would tolerate Vladimir Putin's illegal third term and be nostalgic for the reign of Joseph Stalin. If one just watched the nightly news or read social media updates, this behavior would seem illogical and obscene. But the everyday attitudes of ordinary citizens are framed by centuries of accumulated history, a dosage of fear for the future, and a nationalist stubbornness inherited from years of suffering, hardship, and disaster.

Red Fortress shows us how the local can become global and how an isolated river fort became the symbol of fear both within Russia and worldwide. Merridale reconstructs the past by diving into the archives, exploring the crevices of monasteries and palaces, and giving her own interpretive gloss on icons and artifacts from Russia's storied past.

Out of 10/9.0

http://www.cclapcenter.com/2013/11/book_review_red_fortress_histo.html

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http://driftlessareareview.com/2013/11/01/cclap-fridays-red-fortress-history-and... ( )
1 vote kswolff | Nov 1, 2013 |
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Book description
A place of power, the Kremlin, seen through the centuries of its history by an author, a scholar, who travelled its hidden paths. Threatened with destruction, destroyed and rebuilt many times to be expanded and to become a symbol of the permanence of the Russian state. Wonderful and at times lyrical essay with many connections to the cultures of the world.
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0805086803, Hardcover)

A magisterial, richly detailed history of the Kremlin, and of the centuries of Russian elites who have shaped it—and been shaped by it in turn

The Kremlin is the heart of the Russian state, a fortress whose blood-red walls have witnessed more than eight hundred years of political drama and extraordinary violence. It has been the seat of a priestly monarchy and a worldly church; it has served as a crossroads for diplomacy, trade, and espionage; it has survived earthquakes, devastating fires, and at least three revolutions. Its very name is a byword for enduring power. From Ivan the Terrible to Vladimir Putin, generations of Russian leaders have sought to use the Kremlin to legitimize their vision of statehood.

Drawing on a dazzling array of sources from hitherto unseen archives and rare collections, renowned historian Catherine Merridale traces the full history of this enigmatic fortress. The Kremlin has inspired innumerable myths, but no invented tales could be more dramatic than the operatic successions and savage betrayals that took place within its vast compound of palaces and cathedrals. Today, its sumptuous golden crosses and huge electric red stars blaze side by side as the Kremlin fulfills its centuries-old role, linking the country’s recent history to its distant past and proclaiming the eternal continuity of the Russian state.

More than an absorbing history of Russia’s most famous landmark, Red Fortress uses the Kremlin as a unique lens, bringing into focus the evolution of Russia’s culture and the meaning of its politics.

(retrieved from Amazon Mon, 30 Sep 2013 14:24:31 -0400)

(see all 2 descriptions)

"A magisterial, richly detailed history of the Kremlin, and of the centuries of Russian elites who have shaped it--and been shaped by it in turnThe Kremlin is the heart of the Russian state, a fortress whose blood-red walls have witnessed more than eight hundred years of political drama and extraordinary violence. It has been the seat of a priestly monarchy and a worldly church; it has served as a crossroads for diplomacy, trade, and espionage; it has survived earthquakes, devastating fires, and at least three revolutions. Its very name is a byword for enduring power. From Ivan the Terrible to Vladimir Putin, generations of Russian leaders have sought to use the Kremlin to legitimize their vision of statehood.Drawing on a dazzling array of sources from hitherto unseen archives and rare collections, renowned historian Catherine Merridale traces the full history of this enigmatic fortress. The Kremlin has inspired innumerable myths, but no invented tales could be more dramatic than the operatic successions and savage betrayals that took place within its vast compound of palaces and cathedrals. Today, its sumptuous golden crosses and huge electric red stars blaze side by side as the Kremlin fulfills its centuries-old role, linking the country's recent history to its distant past and proclaiming the eternal continuity of the Russian state.More than an absorbing history of Russia's most famous landmark, Red Fortress uses the Kremlin as a unique lens, bringing into focus the evolution of Russia's culture and the meaning of its politics"--… (more)

» see all 2 descriptions

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