Galeotti skips through Russia’s centuries-long history in around two hundred pages by focusing on its successive rulers. He covers many early princes, along with every tsar and every Communist Party general secretary. The book traces feuds, wars, territorial expansions, and Russian leaders’ repeated attempts to modernize their country while keeping their subjects under tight control, but it does not have much to say about those subjects.
Readers will also not find much about Russia’s social structure, ethnic composition, high and popular cultures, systems of education, or faiths. Galeotti intends his book for a broad audience, and his narrative is, indeed, lively and easy to follow. The chapter on Vladimir Putin is brilliant. But a number of unfortunate inaccuracies risk misleading a curious reader.