A specialist on twentieth-century Russia whose earlier volumes treated Leningrad during the Soviet period and Yaroslavl thereafter, Ruble here situates late imperial Moscow in relation to contemporary cities outside Russia with which, he argues, it shared important similarities that transcended national differences. Widely read in urban history in general, in the urban history of Russia, the United States, and Japan, in primary as well secondary writings about both Moscow and Chicago, and in English-language scholarship that deals with Osaka, he has produced an informative and thoughtful account of developments in three places that lend themselves readily to comparison with one another. Highly selective in the events it narrates and the topics it analyzes and inevitably a bit loose in its organization, the work nonetheless succeeds admirably in conveying a sense of ways in which, roughly between 1860 and 1914, competing people and institutions in urban places tended to enhance urban life. Ruble is most intent on rescuing at least one part of the country about which he knows most from a view that it was overwhelmingly different from its counterparts in more advanced countries. Events and conditions in Moscow thus receive particular attention at the end of the volume, but throughout the work attention to all three cities is about equal—and equally enlightening.
These cities resembled one another most obviously by virtue of the fact that each grew quite rapidly during the second half of the nineteenth century as a center of commerce and industry, becoming second only to one other city in significance as a metropolitan area in the country where it was located. Ruble [End Page 557] elucidates these resemblances in introductory accounts of each city’s overall history, not only up through the period on which he concentrates but also into the years after the First World War. Here he emphasizes the vitality of the forces that helped to produce and were unleashed by nascent capitalism, whether it was embodied in Chicago’s meat-packing industry, in Moscow’s elite cadre of merchants, or in Osaka’s textile factories.
Ruble argues that in these settings, none of which was overly burdened by the heavy hand of state power (national capitals having been located elsewhere, although Moscow became a capital after the Bolshevik Revolution), no group or interest succeeded in asserting and maintaining hegemony over others. A multitude of fissures that divided the populations of these cities in a variety of ways necessitated and permitted pragmatic efforts to build ever changing alliances for the purpose of advancing common purposes. To make his case, Ruble presents three stories of putative success, each of which appears to have resulted from efforts of this sort. The first focuses on “transit tussles” in Chicago, as a result of which, although efforts to municipalize street railways were stymied, not only entrepreneurs but also politicians, labor leaders, engineers, and “straphangers” got at least portions of what they wanted. Returning to Moscow, Ruble sketches a particularly appealing picture of ways in which reformers sought to improve educational opportunities for urban workers, both at the municipal level and in the philanthropic realm. In contrast, the discussion of Osaka, more like the discussion of Chicago, focuses on issues that pertained to physical infrastructure. It concentrates on town planning and the construction of new port facilities that greatly enhanced the city’s stature as a center of maritime trade.
Ruble buttresses his generally affirmative view of what was occurring in the places he treats in a penultimate chapter, where he holds up both for scrutiny and for admiration the careers of four mayors who played leading parts in the public life of the cities they led: Carter H. Harrison, Sr. and Jr.; Nikolai Alekseev; and Seki Haime. All of these men, whom Ruble labels “successful pragmatic pluralists,” were quite adept at forging coalitions and negotiating compromises, and each contributed substantially to making his city a better place in which to live. It bears emphasis that each...