Cover image for St. Petersburg : madness, murder, and art on the banks of the Neva / Jonathan Miles.
Title:
St. Petersburg : madness, murder, and art on the banks of the Neva / Jonathan Miles.
Title Variants:
Saint Petersburg
ISBN:
9781681776767
Edition:
First Pegasus Books hardcover edition.
Publication Information:
New York : Pegasus Books : distributed by W.W. Norton & Company, 2018.
Physical Description:
592 pages, 16 unnumbered pages of plates : illustrations (some color), map ; 24 cm
Contents:
Twilight on the Nevsky 1993 -- Part I. Emperors 1698-1825 -- Havoc in London -- Dangerous acceleration -- Oblivion and rebirth -- Dancing, love-making, drink -- The city transformed -- Madness, murder, and insurrection -- Part II. Subjects 1825-1917 -- A new kind of cold -- Discontent -- Dancing on the edge -- Dazzle and despair -- Part III. Comrades & citizens 1917-2017 -- Red Petrograd -- A city diminished -- Darkest and finest hour -- Murmurs from the underground -- Broken windows onto the West -- Mirage 2017.
Abstract:
St. Petersburg has always felt like an impossible metropolis, rising from the freezing mists and flooded marshland of the River Neva on the western edge of Russia. It was a new capital in an old country. Established in 1703 by the sheer will of its charismatic founder, the homicidal megalomaniac Peter the Great, its dazzling yet unhinged reputation was quickly cemented by the sadistic dominion of its early rulers. This city, in is successive incarnations - St. Petersburg, Petrograd, Leningrad and, once again, St. Petersburg - has been a place of perpetual contradiction. The city was a window to Europe and the Enlightenment, but so much of Russia's unique glory was also created here: its literature, music, dance and, for a time, its political vision. It gave birth to the artistic genius of Pushkin and Dostoyevsky, Tchaikovsky and Shostakovich, Pavlova and Nureyev. Yet, for all its glittering palaces, fairytale balls, and enchanting gardens, the blood of thousands has been spilled on its snow-filled streets. The city has been a hotbed of war and revolution, a place of siege and starvation, and the crucible for Lenin and Stalin's power-hungry brutality. In this volume, the author recreates the drama of three hundred years in this paradoxical and brilliant city, bringing the reader up to the present day, when its fate hangs in the balance once more. This is an epic tale of murder, massacre and madness played out against an unforgettable portrait of a city and its people
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Summary

Summary

St. Petersburg has always felt like an impossible metropolis, risen from the freezing mists and flooded marshland of the River Neva on the western edge of Russia. It was a new capital in an old country. Established in 1703 by the sheer will of its charismatic founder, the homicidal megalomaniac Peter the Great, its dazzling yet unhinged reputation was quickly cemented by the sadistic dominion of its early rulers. This city, in its successive incarnations--St. Petersburg, Petrograd, Leningrad and, once again, St. Petersburg--has always been a place of perpetual contradiction.It was a window to Europe and the Enlightenment, but so much of Russia's unique glory was also created here: its literature, music, dance and, for a time, its political vision. It gave birth to the artistic genius of Pushkin and Dostoyevsky, Tchaikovsky and Shostakovich, Pavlova and Nureyev. Yet, for all its glittering palaces, fairytale balls and enchanting gardens, the blood of thousands has been spilt on its snow-filled streets.It has been a hotbed of war and revolution, a place of siege and starvation, and the crucible for Lenin and Stalin's power-hungry brutality. In St. Petersburg, Jonathan Miles recreates the drama of three hundred years in this paradoxical and brilliant city, bringing us up to the present day, when its fate hangs in the balance once more.This is an epic tale of murder, massacre and madness played out against squalor and splendor, and an unforgettable portrait of a city and its people.


Reviews 3

Publisher's Weekly Review

Biographer and historian Miles (Nine Lives of Otto Katz) spans three centuries in this profile of St. Petersburg-a "dysfunctional" European city and "improbable" former capital. It's a cluttered and skewed history; Miles delivers architectural details along with lurid tales of orgies on ice and other debaucheries of court life, while futilely attempting to tally the denizens who succumbed to disease, cold, and political terror. Miles juggles three themes: the "murderous desire" of St. Petersburg's elite; a ruthless succession of secret police organizations; and the city's compromised cadre of musicians, dancers, artists, and writers. Some of the latter, including Andrei Bely, Fyodor Dostoyevsky, Nikolai Gogol, and Nikolay Nekrasov, exposed the deprivation beneath the city's gilded cupolas. But Miles's lens is primarily that of an outsider and his analysis is simplified and colloquial. He describes in depth the opinions of foreign ambassadors, businesspeople, and tourists, yet the native Russians tend to blend into an undifferentiated mass. Miles visited the city in the 1990s and again two decades later, and goes so far as to suggest that the modern city is "in danger of sinking into the mire." Unfortunately this work comes across as more empty hype than history. Illus. (Mar.) © Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved.


New York Review of Books Review

to walk the streets of St. Petersburg, Russia, on a clear evening during the white nights of June is one of the world's more sublime urban experiences. The sun will not set in this former imperial capital until 10:25, and before it drops you can wander a city suffused with radiant light and take in a density of landmarks whose beauty and historical significance rival those of Paris: The czars' Winter Palace, now part of the vast Hermitage Museum. The Summer Garden on the Neva River, where, in 1811, America's first ambassador to Russia, John Quincy Adams, strolled with Czar Alexander I. And across the Neva, the imposing walls and 400-foot, golden cathedral spire of the Peter and Paul Fortress, the first major structure planned by Peter the Great when he established the city in 1703. A city of this stature deserves a book to match, and so the Paris-based cultural historian Jonathan Miles has set out to write a sweeping account of a metropolis whose tumultuous, bloody past and dazzling cultural heritage mirror that of Russia as a whole. Miles, whose previous books include "The Nine Lives of Otto Katz" and "The Wreck of the Medusa," has conducted extensive research and has gotten some things right, most notably the rich architectural and artistic legacy of a city that was home to such luminaries as Gogol, Dostoyevsky, Shostakovich and Nureyev. Miles dishes up the A-to-Z of St. Petersburg's history: The brutal, westward-looking Peter the Great commanding his subjects to drain and fill the swamp to give Russia a great city on the Baltic. ("Sooner or later," a 19th-century French visitor wrote, "the water here will get the better of human pride.") The succession of rulers - including the empire-building Catherine the Great and the ineffectual last czar, Nicholas II - whose stable of European architects created St. Petersburg's handsome neo-Classical facade. The sorrows of a city that spawned the Russian Revolution and endured the 900-day German siege during World War II. And the trials of Soviet-era Leningrad, which gave us its native son, Vladimir Putin, now dragging St. Petersburg and Russia halfway back to their authoritarian past. The problem with Miles's book is that it so often skims along the surface of St. Petersburg's - and Russia's - history, looking from the outside at a culture and a people the author doesn't seem to genuinely understand. The book lacks the depth, narrative drama and feel for the past that are hallmarks of Robert K. Massie's first-rate imperial biographies, including, to name just two, "Nicholas and Alexandra" and "Catherine the Great"; Harrison Salisbury's magnificent account of the siege, "The 900 Days"; and, more recently, Douglas Smith's "Rasputin." One reason Miles's book falls short is his near-total reliance on English-language sources. His bibliography, which runs to almost 20 pages, doesn't contain a single Russian-language book, and his eyewitness historical accounts tend to rely on the impressions of foreign visitors to the city, not Russians. He makes rudimentary linguistic mistakes, like misspelling the Russian word for Saturday and repeatedly referring to Prince Grigory Potemkin - and the famed battleship named after him - as Potempkin. Imagine a Russian setting out to write a history of New York City using only Russian-language material, and you have the inherent conceit that undermines this ambitious project. ? FEN Montaigne is a former Moscow correspondentfor The Philadelphia Inquirer and the author of "Reeling in Russia."


Library Journal Review

Miles (The Nine Lives of Otto Katz) writes a fascinating and rich history of the founding of St. Petersburg/Leningrad, beginning with 26-year-old Tsar Peter (Peter the Great) visiting the great cities of Europe, disguised as a workman, ready to learn shipbuilding and navigation from the "ground up." What Peter sees and learns in London, Amsterdam, and other places, he brings back to a Russia tied to tradition. It is the boundless drive and energy that Miles describes so well, that allowed Peter to see his vision come to life in St. Petersburg. Along with this vision came much death and destruction in the building of the city. Throughout the book, Miles undertakes to explore the Western art and architecture that influenced future leaders, especially the Romanovs. Some Russians in the mid-19th century were seeking democratic change; not seeing it in their own country. Miles effectively describes the beginnings of revolutionary transformation in St. Petersburg and the county as a whole with the coming of the 1917 Revolution. VERDICT The importance and the epic scale of St. Petersburg comes across vividly in this work. For all readers who enjoy Russian history combined with a rich overview of the arts.- Amy Lewontin, Northeastern Univ. Lib., Boston © Copyright 2018. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.


Table of Contents

1 Twilight on the Nevsky - 1993p. 1
Part I Emperors 1698-1825
2 Havoc in Londonp. 9
3 Dangerous Accelerationp. 23
4 Oblivion and Rebirthp. 70
5 Dancing, Love-Making, Drinkp. 102
6 The City Transformedp. 126
7 Madness, Murder and Insurrectionp. 178
Part II Subjects 1826-1917
8 A New Kind of Coldp. 219
9 Discontentp. 257
10 Dancing on the Edgep. 299
11 Dazzle and Despairp. 324
Part III Comrades & Citizens 1917-2017
12 Red Petrogradp. 365
13 A City Diminishedp. 384
14 Darkest and Finest Hourp. 408
15 Murmurs from the Undergroundp. 430
16 Broken Window onto the Westp. 458
17 Mirage - 2017p. 476
Acknowledgementsp. 487
List of Illustrationsp. 489
Notesp. 494
Bibliographyp. 544
Indexp. 564