The Future Is History: How Totalitarianism Reclaimed Russia - Masha Gessen

Staff Pick

Masha Gessen’s breathtaking history of Russia from the end of communism to today is a detailed analysis of what initially looked like a revolution but that, in the end, only brought the country full circle. Chronicling  the shifts from glasnost and Gorbachev through Yeltsin and on to Putin’s efforts to re-establish a Greater Russia, The Future is History (Riverhead, $28) doesn’t recount a story of  the iron curtain being torn apart and rewoven as much as it charts the condition of a patient with “a recurrent infection.” The disease is totalitarianism. Its toxins include terror and ideology, secrecy and repression. Those it afflicts suffer a host of symptoms, including constant anxiety and depression, both economic and emotional. These combine to turn ordinary individuals into the hollow, traumatized Homo Sovieticus, a creature too insecure to make demands. While this species seemed to die off with the Soviet Union, Gessen shows that, like Soviet-style totalitarianism itself, Sovieticus has survived. Her analysis puts this survival into the contexts of both political theory and psychoanalysis, showing first how totalitarianism took hold and continues to hold on, and then describing exactly how this repression breaks a society. While she invokes leading theorists such as Orwell and Arendt, Gessen grounds her account in the stories of seven people and their families. If her focus on a psychologist, a sociologist, a pioneering gay academic, a philosopher, and a Pussy Riot activist emphasize the social sciences, this is no accident. One of Gessen’s most striking points about the Soviet system is that it deliberately erased sociology and related disciplines, thus robbing people of the tools they needed to see, define, and understand themselves.

The Future Is History (National Book Award Winner): How Totalitarianism Reclaimed Russia By Masha Gessen Cover Image
ISBN: 9781594634536
Availability: Special Order—Subject to Availability
Published: Riverhead Books - October 3rd, 2017