The Future is History
This book is so good, but I had to put it down for a while along with pretty much everything else serious. I'm trying to creep out of my cave filled with childhood favorites, but it's slow going. While I don't feel guilty about this method of getting through 2020, I'm also looking back at the first part of the year and missing the amazing books I was reading then. It's about time that I figure out a better reading balance.
Masha Gessen uses four people's experiences to paint portraits of post-Soviet Russia, from the last days of Gorbachev's government through the hardening of Putin's regime into concrete -- it ends around 2015. Gessen tries to understand Russian society and why totalitarianism always takes over, again.
There is fascinating discussion of the almost total lack of social sciences in the USSR; hard sciences were very prestigious, but disciplines like psychology and sociology barely existed. (After all, the USSR was supposed to be an ideal society carrying out the ideals of Marxism, and therefore nobody had psychological problems or a need to study societal trends.) One of Gessen's subjects goes into sociology and ends up studying "homo sovieticus," the sort of person that living in the USSR produced. Another works at a university, studying issues of gender and sexuality -- topics fraught with danger as the Russian government's persecution of LGBT citizens intensifies. I knew some of this, but wow, I learned a lot and none of it was pleasant.
Others become activists or run for governmental office, so we also learn about the utter riggedness of elections. Over the first two decades of the 21st century, the Kremlin learns to use the language of liberal democracy to install a much more sophisticated version of the same old thing.
Lots of important stuff in here, and it's a really good read; I'm only sorry I didn't get to it sooner. Highly recommended to anyone interested in Slavic issues.
Also, this is an excellent cover photo, with the speaker obliterating the woman's face. It's evocative and disturbing and I keep trying to look around the apparatus to the person.