Tag Archives: Russia

Crime and Punishment by Fyodor Dostoevsky

Summary

  1. Sparknotes can do a much better job summarizing it than I can but Raskolnikov murders a pawnbroker for money, feels terribly guilty and the whole novel is about how he deals with his feelings, his lack of understanding of cause and effect and his final confession
Key Takeaways
  1. Rodion Romanovich Raskolnikov – protagonist, murderer, filled with self-loathing and is overwhelmed by what he did
  2. Sofya Semyonova Marmeladov – Raskolnikov’s love
  3. Avdotya Romanovna Raskolnikov (Dunya) – Raskolnikov’s siter
  4. Arkady Invanovich Svidrigailov – Dunya’s former employer, threatening to her and her brother
  5. Razumikhin – Raskolnikov’s friend, poor student, Raskolnikov’s foil (friendly, hard worker, kind)
  6. Profiry – in charge of the murder investigation, Raskolnikov’s antagonist
What I got out of it
  1. Very interesting book and Dostoevsky is known for his incredible understanding of human nature. Much like Brothers Karamazov, I found it good but not great (perhaps because I listened to both books and wasn’t really able to completely dive into the book and its characters)

Peter the Great: His Life and World by Robert Massie

Peter the Great

Summary

  1. Peter the Great westernized and modernized Russia in the 17th and 18th centuries. He developed their seafaring capabilities, opened Russia up to western technology, trade and customs and all this pushed Russia into the global scene. Peter was one of the most energetic and hard working people in history
Key Takeaways
  1. As a child, Peter was robust and very healthy, unlike his sickly step brother Ivan. He was fascinated by war from an early age and believed in meritocracy which was almost unheard of in Russia at this time. When he was a older, he wouldn’t accept a promotion in his army until he felt he deserved it
  2. Was extremely curious and learned many practical things but lacked formal education and could hardly read and write
  3. He found an old English boat and this sparked his life long love of sailing and the sea as well as his fascination with the west (in a time when anything foreign was typically deemed evil) – 2 huge themes for the rest of Peter’s life
  4. Peter reached a height of 6’7 and had boundless energy but also slight tics and convulsions when faced with stress
  5. After an important win over the Turks, Peter ramped up his efforts to build up a navy and sent 50 noble men to Western Europe to learn how to build and man the large vessels that were being built. This was only the beginning as he would send hundreds more in the coming years to learn western ways and establish connections with the west. Peter also decided to travel to the west for 18 months incognito in 1697 to learn their ways. This was a turning point in European history as it opened up secluded Russia
  6. The Great Northern War with Sweden over lands in the Baltic would take over 30 years and consume much of the rest of Peter’s life. Russia gained back some of her ancient lands from this war and Sweden’s power weakened. Charles XII was in power in Sweden at this time and lead one of the strongest and best trained armies in the world. He was crowned king at 15, was smart and stubborn and a thrill seeker and ashamed of any sign of weakness. His first decisive victory over the Russians made him very cocky and he would pay for it later in his life with huge losses coming from the Russians
  7. Peter had an important victory over the Swedes on the Baltic and quickly started building a new city in 1703 – what is now St. Petersburg. It cost many lives and took much effort but it soon became a city. Peter forced laborers and nobility alike to move to st Petersburg so that the city had a population. Everyone but Peter hated the city as it was damp, there was little food and floods and fires broke out regularly. Eventually it of course became central to Russian politics and culture
  8. Would eventually marry Catherine. She was also born very poor and soon an orphan but through her beauty and wit was able to capture the attention of Sheremetev, then Menshikov and then Peter himself. She would marry Peter in 1711 and bear him 12 children but only 2 would live let a young age – Anne and Elizabeth. She never forgot where she came from and was tough but feminine and perfect for Peter
  9. Peter and his son Alexis were very different in that his son did not enjoy war, shunned his duties as a tsarevich and was more intellectual. He was educated and married in Dresden as Peter wanted in order to get western ties into the family. Peter eventually became so frustrated with Alexis that he said he had removed him as heir to the throne. Alexis escaped to Vienna and then Naples out of fear for his life but soon returned after his father summoned and forced him to come back. Alexis was charged with treason and tortured but exactly how he died is a mystery
  10. After the Great Northern War, Peter began focusing on internal initiatives – made the government more efficient by implementing the senate and began opening colleges. Also made everything more meritocratic – reversing centuries of donning positions in the military and government based solely on birth. Also was not afraid of bringing in foreign experts to help start and teach about anything – a new practice in xenophobic Russia. He also took big steps at eliminating bribery and corruption in government with strict punishments. Established an industrial economy and promoted private enterprises. Established a consistent currency in order to bolster and make trade more efficient. Made st Petersburg Russia’s biggest port but was not able to create a successful merchant marine as other world powers had a near monopoly. All of these things took their toll on the Russia citizens in the form of very high taxes but they never borrowed from foreign governments or went to to debt. Peter was also much more practical and tolerant in terms of religion and did much to change how the church was run and administered. He did not like pomp or ceremonies and preferred simple foods and lived frugally. He had a bad temper and often hit and punished those around him as he flew into a tantrum. He tried, sometimes unsuccessfully, to introduce culture into st Petersburg through theater and music but the most important addition was the implementation of the Academy of Sciences
  11. Peter died at 53 years of age on January 28, 1725 after 43 years of rule. He was one of the most influential men in Russian history and forever changed their course
What I got out of it
  1. I had no idea how much Peter had done for Russia in terms of modernization and opening it up to the rest of the world. He had to overcome so much of the old Russian mentality where anything or anyone not from Russia was looked down upon and demeaned. With his energy, work ethic and vision, he changed the face of Russia forever.

Read Peter the Great

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The Brothers Karamazov by Fyodor Dostoevsky

brothers k
Summary:
  1. An incredibly deep and captivating book which delves into the lives of the 3 (maybe 4) Karamzov brothers and their brute of a father. Dmitri, Ivan and Alyosha (and maybe Smedyakov) are the brothers and Dmitri and Fyodor, the father, are in love with the same woman, Grushenka. Dmitri is thought to have killed his father over money and to have Grushenka to himself and much of the book revolves around this but there are also many other sub-plots. The genius of this book lies not in any action but in Dostoevsky’s in-depth analysis of the characters and what those characters come to represent. It would do the book injustice to try to summarize it so briefly here but it was clear to me after I finished why this is one of the most revered books of the last century and why it has influenced countless people from Freud to Kafka.
Key Takeaways:
  1. Details the life of faith vs the life of doubt. Dostoevsky clearly favors the life of faith even though it is the more difficult option and often never gets any recognition. Alyosha represents faith and Ivan represents doubt.
  2. Free will is at times seen as a burden because if people are free to make their own choices, then they should choose the hardships that often come with faith and religion as opposed to the comfort of doubt.
  3. People are not capable and should not judge one another – the only true judge is one’s conscience
  4. One must first truly know and love oneself before you can love God and others and the primary way to know oneself is through suffering
  5. The choice to believe in God cannot be explained in rational terms
  6. Ayosha’s elder monk, Zosima, dies and his body quickly becomes putrid which is seen as a sign of his sins even though he was greatly revered before dying. This can be seen as a symbol that great religious devotion and faith often does not receive any recognition or reward.
What I got out of it:
  1. Again, this book is too deep and complex to try to summarize here but I am very happy I read it and definitely understand why it is so revered in literary circles. I have added the rest of Dostoevsky’s works to my reading list after finishing this masterpiece and know I will come back to this book and re-read it at some point.

Read The Brothers Karamazov