"Let books be your dining table, / And you shall be full of delights. / Let them be your
And you shall sleep restful nights" (St. Ephraim the Syrian).

Thursday, August 7, 2014

The Great War and the Great Losses in Russia

Unless you've been living under a rock for over a year, you will know that we have been gearing up for the events commemorated between the end of June and this week: the Sarajevo assassination of 28 June 1914 of the heir to the Habsburg throne that led, somewhat, to the outbreak of hostilities in Europe 100 years ago this week. The destruction of the so-called Great War was widespread and nobody escaped the sorrow and bloodshed, but for Eastern Christians there is perhaps an extra sorrow in what happened not only during the war but during the subsequent revolution and civil war in Russia. Some seem never to have recovered from the loss of empire and everything that went with it, including the apparent promise of a great Orthodox power on the world stage. A new book, to be released in November, will set fresh eyes on these multiple losses: Joshua Sanborn, Imperial Apocalypse: The Great War and the Destruction of the Russian Empire (Oxford UP, 2014), 288pp.

About this book the publisher tells us:
Imperial Apocalypse describes the collapse of the Russian Empire during World War One. Drawing material from nine different archives and hundreds of published sources, this study ties together state failure, military violence, and decolonization in a single story. Joshua Sanborn excavates the individual lives of soldiers, doctors, nurses, politicians, and civilians caught up in the global conflict along the way, creating a narrative that is both humane and conceptually rich.
The volume opens by laying out the theoretical relationship between state failure, social collapse, and decolonization, and then moves chronologically from the Balkan Wars of 1912-13 through the fierce battles and massive human dislocations of 1914-16 to the final collapse of the empire in the midst of revolution in 1917-18. Imperial Apocalypse is the first major study which treats the demise of the Russian Empire as part of the twentieth-century phenomenon of modern decolonization, and provides a readable account of military activity and political change throughout this turbulent period of war and revolution. Sanborn argues that the sudden rise of groups seeking national self-determination in the borderlands of the empire was the consequence of state failure, not its cause. At the same time, he shows how the destruction of state institutions and the spread of violence from the front to the rear led to a collapse of traditional social bonds and the emergence of a new, more dangerous, and more militant political atmosphere.

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