The Soviet Union is gone, but its ghostly traces remain, not least in the material vestiges left behind in its turbulent wake. What was it really like to live in the USSR? What did it look, feel, smell, and sound like? In The Soviet Century, Karl Schlögel, one of the world’s leading historians of the Soviet Union, presents a spellbinding epic that brings to life the everyday world of a unique lost civilization.
A museum of—and travel guide to—the Soviet past, The Soviet Century explores in evocative detail both the largest and smallest aspects of life in the USSR, from the Gulag, the planned economy, the railway system, and the steel city of Magnitogorsk to cookbooks, military medals, prison camp tattoos, and the ubiquitous perfume Red Moscow. The book examines iconic aspects of Soviet life, including long queues outside shops, cramped communal apartments, parades, and the Lenin mausoleum, as well as less famous but important parts of the USSR, including the Great Soviet Encyclopedia, the voice of Radio Moscow, graffiti, and even the typical toilet, which became a pervasive social and cultural topic. Throughout, the book shows how Soviet life simultaneously combined utopian fantasies, humdrum routine, and a pervasive terror symbolized by the Lubyanka, then as now the headquarters of the secret police.
Drawing on Schlögel’s decades of travel in the Soviet and post-Soviet world, and featuring more than eighty illustrations, The Soviet Century is vivid, immediate, and grounded in firsthand encounters with the places and objects it describes. The result is an unforgettable account of the Soviet Century.
Karl Schlögel is professor emeritus of Eastern European history at the European University Viadrina in Frankfurt/Oder and a noted journalist. His books include Moscow 1937, The Scent of Empires: Chanel No. 5 and Red Moscow, and Ukraine: A Nation on the Borderland.
"Formidable. . . . The emergence of this book in our intellectual landscape is timely, as we seek to better understand Russia in an era when systematic political, economic, social, and even cultural approaches have failed to explain or predict the current resurrection of the 'Soviet Leviathan.' Indeed, perhaps 'the devil is hidden in the details,' and by diving yet again into these minute but culturally rich details of Soviet banal routine, spiritual life, and rituals, we can make a step forward in our comprehension of why the dark side of 'Soviet civilization' keeps reemerging again and again."—Oksana Ermolaeva, EuropeNow (Editor's pick)
"Fascinating. . . . The scholarship of the work is evident throughout, but 'The Soviet Century' is both more powerful and more subtle than a typical work of scholarship. At its heart, it’s a gigantic, heartfelt elegy, one of the most stunning tributes ever paid to the Soviet Union."—Steve Donoghue, Big Canoe News
“If the past is a foreign country, The Soviet Century is a unique travelogue from one of the world’s most innovative observers of urban space and material culture. Karl Schlögel’s scholarly Baedeker is the culmination of a lifetime of study, travel, and thought. It guides us across nothing less than a continental empire and a century of upheaval. But Schlögel’s greatest accomplishment is to connect stunningly eclectic new detail to the big picture, allowing us to see and feel a lost civilization anew.”—Michael David-Fox, Georgetown University
“Karl Schlögel has created a rich and fascinating mosaic of Soviet culture focusing on the manifold sensory qualities and experiences of everyday life. His insatiable curiosity leads him to wide panoramas and meaningful closeups of a culture that lives on in histories, memories, and appropriations.”—Joes Segal, The Wende Museum
“From the voice of Stalin’s favorite radio announcer to Kolyma’s vast system of Gulag camps, and from Red Army soldier graffiti to the Red October piano factory, Karl Schlögel’s The Soviet Century describes a vast culture that was by turns hope-inspiring and harrowing. A unique, immensely readable book!”—Jan Plamper, University of Limerick
“A museum of the totality of Soviet life would be impossible, but Karl Schlögel’s vividly written panorama comes close. With clarity and dry wit, Schlögel digs up the Soviet Union’s daily routines, rituals, landscapes, spaces, objects, and values to reveal how the empire’s reach could be both terrifyingly deep and astonishingly shallow.”—Yuliya Komska, author of The Icon Curtain: The Cold War’s Quiet Border
“The Soviet Century is a great monument to the vanished Soviet world. Rich, witty, and entertaining, the book offers a comprehensive textual museum that is all the more important because no such real-life museum exists in Russia or elsewhere, and I doubt that it will be created anytime soon. The more difficult it is to go to the White Sea Canal, the Lenin Mausoleum, or a Russian dacha, the more enjoyable is this book.”—Alexander Etkind, Central European University