Richard Pipes, Russian historian at Harvard and sometime member of President Reagan's National Security Council, is famous for his hatred of Communism. He doesn't like Russia much, either. Nor does he particularly care for most Russia and Soviet experts, regarding them as given to romanticising and whitewashing their subject. Worst of all are 'revisionist' Soviet historians in the United States and Britain, whose effort to write 'history from below', starting in the 1970s, he has denounced as wrongheaded and politically suspect. As I am one whom he has often chastised (most recently in the Chronicle of Higher Education), I approached his book warily. But against my will I enjoyed most of it. Pipes has not acquired the plastic veneer of most public men in America. He tells things as he sees them - which isn't to say he necessarily sees them right - and does not touch up his self-portrait. And he's an iconoclast, a trait I have always found attractive. To be sure, it's baffling that he managed to find so much Soviet-loving, 'soft-on-Communism' conventional wisdom in the United States to challenge; my own experiences in that regard were diametrically opposite. Still, he got there first by some thirty years. And things may be different at Harvard.
LRB 19 August 2004 | PDF Download