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For almost half a century, the classic description and analysis of Communist treatment of the nationalities question over the early years of the Bolshevik regime has been Richard Pipes magisterial The Formation of the Soviet Union: Communism and Nationalism, 1917- 1923, published by Harvard University Press in 1954.
Professor Spence is described on the dust-cover of this book as 'perhaps now the leading historian of China in the English-speaking world'. Without doubt he is the most imaginative and the most versatile scholar working in that field. The Gate of Heavenly Peace, first published in 1981, was a history of modern China as seen through the lives of Chinese writers and intellectuals.
At the heart of this majestic and complex book is a simple story, engagingly recounted by the author. On 11 February 1855, Bernadette Soubirous, a young Pyrenean shepherdess, together with her sister Toinette and a friend Jeanne Abadie, was instructed by her impoverished mother to go out and search for tinder for the stove (p.3).
Why attempt the history of suicide? Leaving aside the rare episodes of mass self-destruction by such people as sect members and warriors determined to die rather than fall into the hands of their enemies, suicides have never made up more than a tiny m inority of any known human population. A rate of 25 per 100,000, or one in four thousand, counts as high in the late twentieth century.
The history of public health has been a flourishing field in the last three decades. Yet despite a spate of excellent monographs about various epidemic diseases and many good collections about health and disease in Africa, Asia, The Middle East, Latin America, as well as Europe and North America, the most recent textbook on the history of public health is four decades old.
There can be no response to this review as Georges Duby, the author of this trilogy died, full of honours, on 3 December 1996 before even the first of the translated volumes was published.
Consider a counter-factual or two. Would this book have been different had its author not have been immersed in the history of banking over the last few years? Would it have looked different had the author not been an active member of the Conservative party in the Thatcher years?
In many ways Russia is the touchstone of the twentieth century. Most of the main features of our troubled age have impinged on it more heavily than any other single country.
On the cusp of the new millenium, historians of Europe are already having trouble with the twentieth century.
The war between Nazi Germany and Soviet Russia remains a subject of great fascination. The campaign clearly had a vital effect on the outcome of the Second World War as a whole. It was an historical drama with unpredictable turning points. And it was fought on an vast scale and with a correspondingly vast scale of casualties.