Donald Rayfield

Philosophers & Murderers

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

By Charles Clover

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 Luke Harding

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.

Subscribe to read the full article

Donmar Warehouse

kentstate_oct_2016_online

Follow Literary Review on Twitter

  • Last Tweets

    • Gideon Rachman charts the migration of power from West to East. How, asks Michael Burleigh, will the USA respond? ,
    • ‘Not everyone knows what it is to have your father’s rival’s penis inches from your nose’. Ian McEwan in a Nutshell ,
    • RT : I've got approx. 100 copies of from early 1990s-2000s to give away (most w/ covers).… ,
    • 'I Contain Multitudes is popular science writing at its best.' Wendy Moore is fascinated by a study on microbes ,
    • 'Costume of the life force? Words fail.' Germaine Greer on an ode to the condom ,
    • It's Write on Kew for the next four days. There are free copies of Literary Review about; why not dip your toe into the magazine?,
    • Which sci-fi author time-travelled to ancient Rome and lived a parallel life a persecuted Christian named Thomas? ,