Why Montefiore doesn’t excite me

As most of my readers probably know, Simon Sebag Montefiore, who teaches history at Cambridge, published Stalin: The Court of the Red Tsar last year. The book may be of interest to non-Russian-speaking audiences in the West, but I’m going to take the risk of suggesting that a reader well familiar with the Soviet and Russian print media of the late 1980s and early 1990s will find Montefiore unoriginal.

When the Soviet archives started to open during the perestroika, and a flow of memoirs went into print, a host of Russian historians, journalists and other dilettantes drank greedily from this newfound fountain, and… Well, I believe an equivalent of the efficient market hypothesis in its weak form applies to Stalin-Kremlin studies: the “market,” i.e., the community of those able to perceive and analyze, and eager to capitalize on, the information newly made public, drew the best possible conclusions back then. The body of public knowledge has scarcely grown since the mid-1995; scarcely has a great mind with a stake in the matter joined the learned community; hence, no better approximation to the truth is possible.

This is cheap talk, of course, but upon my word — I’ll be ecstatic if Montefiore’s book doesn’t make me feel like I’m reading the same old story all over again.

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