Donald Rayfield

Philosophers & Murderers

Black Wind, White Snow: The Rise of Russia’s New Nationalism

By

Yale University Press 360pp £25 order from our bookshop

A Very Expensive Poison: The Definitive Story of the Murder of Litvinenko and Russia’s War with the West

By

Guardian Books and Faber & Faber 424pp £12.99 order from our bookshop

Charles Clover is an award-winning reporter, but he also writes like a conscientious academic. The first half of his book describes a century of Russian political philosophy, from Nikolai Danilevsky’s Russia and Europe of 1869 to Lev Gumilev’s ‘Ethnogenesis and the Biosphere of Earth’ (1989), while the second half draws on recent memoirs and interviews with many of the main actors in contemporary Russian skulduggery (though not with Vladimir Putin). Both halves, even though they demand slow, careful reading, are thought-provoking. If there is a problem with the book, it is the difficulty of relating political actions (for instance, the crushing of Chechnya or the snatching of Georgian and Ukrainian territory) to the philosophical writings that appear to justify such deeds. Hitler may have read Nietzsche, and Stalin might have read Machiavelli and Marx, but it is very likely that they would have acted in the same way had they read nothing at all. Political philosophy allows acolytes and propagandists to justify a leader’s actions post hoc; it seldom inspires them.

Sign Up to our newsletter

Receive free articles, highlights from the archive, news, details of prizes, and much more.

Follow Literary Review on Twitter

  • Last Tweets

    • RT : Founded in 1979, is a trusted independent source for reviews of new books across a variety of genres. A… ,
    • RT : Here we are - "Shelf Indulgence" by Ed Potten, a wonderful read, well worth your time: @Lit_Review,
    • 'Like going to a party hoping to get away as quickly as politeness allowed and at 4am finding myself still engrosse… ,
    • 'Neville never shed his sense of being the junior, and perhaps least-deserving Chamberlain.' From the archive, Mic… ,
    • 'The erecting and immediate destruction of a series of straw men rather detracts from what is for the most part an… ,
    • RT : A magnificent demolition job on this "acid laced tirade...unpleasantly self-obsessed...self pitying polemic...book… ,
    • 'Seventy years on, the time we have left to gather such first-hand testimony is running out.' John Keay on the sig… ,