Thursday, December 9, 2010

Molotov's Magic Lantern: A Journey in Russian History and Best of 2010 Book Lists

As the current year rushes to an end every publication, web site, bookstore, literary site and blogger offer their "best of list" paying homage to the year past in book publishing.  I read just about every list written and marvel because seldom do I see a book listed as, Best Of, that I either purchased or read.  My tastes, particular and peculiar as they are, rarely rise to any sort of popular level.  I acquire and read both old and new so creating a list based on the books acquired in the past year would not be in sync with annual ritual of Best Of.  I read the lists to know what other book crazy folk cherish and to see if I have overlooked something of value.

Yesterday I spent some time reading the Economist, Best of 2010, book article.  Divided into the usual categories, I quickly scanned for a missed treasure and was not disappointed.  Released in the United Kingdom, March, 2010, Molotov's Magic Lantern: A Journey in Russian History, by Rachel Polonsky, Faber and Faber, available in a North American edition on January 4, 2011, immediately peaked my interest.

While speeding through the Politics and Current Affairs section, where I never expect to find anything of interest (I read the news daily and wait for serious history to be written in the future), I noticed the following description, "A modern classic, inspired by Stalin’s violent henchman and the library he built, by a Russian scholar." 

What was that, Molotov? Stalin? A library?   Why is this in Politics and Current Affairs?  Reviewed on March 4, 2010, I quickly realized that this is a must read, not for the history of Molotov and his often bloody work for Stalin but for insight into the library he built.  (How did I miss the review in March?) 

Molotov was an epic monster and recognized now in association with the Molotov Cocktail, the improvised, incendiary/explosive device, so named and successfully deployed against the Red Army by the Finns to mock him during the wars between Finland and the Soviet Union, 1939-1944.  Molotov was a bibliophile?  What did he read and collect?  I wonder, and now, I must know!  I'll eventually catalog this in my library under Russian History and Books About Books.  Every time I do a general search in either category I will always remember why Molotov's Magic Lantern is there as well as when and how I discovered this book treasure.

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