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Reviewed by:
  • Mikhail Fedorovich, and: Marina Mnishek, and: Vasilii Shuiskii
  • Maureen Perrie
Viacheslav Nikolaevich Kozliakov, Mikhail Fedorovich. 346 pp., illus. Moscow: Molodaia gvardiia, 2004. ISBN 5235026993.
Viacheslav Nikolaevich Kozliakov, Marina Mnishek. 341 pp., illus. Moscow: Molodaia gvardiia, 2005. ISBN 5235027906.
Viacheslav Nikolaevich Kozliakov, Vasilii Shuiskii. 301 pp., illus. Moscow: Molodaia gvardiia, 2007. ISBN-13 978-5235030459.

The three books reviewed here, all by Viacheslav Nikolaevich Kozliakov of Riazan´ State University, form part of the Russian biographical series Zhizn´ zamechatel´nykh liudei (Lives of Remarkable People, hereafter ZhZL). ZhZL is an extraordinary publishing phenomenon. Long described as having been "founded in 1933 by M. Gor´kii," in the post-Soviet period the series is more accurately said to have been "founded in 1890 by F. Pavlenkov and continued in 1933 by M. Gor´kii."1 The date of the revival of the series is, of course, significant, reflecting as it does the ideological shift in the early 1930s characterized by Nicholas Timasheff as the "Great Retreat," with its return to the recognition of the role of individuals—and especially of famous people—in history. If the rehabilitation of the concept of the "great man" (most of the "remarkable people" celebrated in the series were in fact male) marked a Stalinist departure from the earlier Soviet emphasis on the historical significance of classes and masses, the ZhZL series did preserve the Old Bolshevik principle of internationalism by including not only Russian but also non-Russian figures. Only during World War II was the series temporarily transformed into a library of popular patriotic booklets about "Great Individuals of the Russian Nation" (Velikie liudi russkogo naroda), which comprised 28 titles with a total print run of 855,000 copies.2 [End Page 411] In the 1950s, the editors of the series declared its three guiding principles to be "scholarly reliability [nauchnaia dostovernost´], a high literary level, and readability [zanimatel´nost´ ]"; of these, according to the series website, the first is today the most important criterion governing the selection of authors.3 Certainly the series has retained into the post-Soviet period that high-minded didacticism which was one of the more attractive qualities of Soviet-era "scholarly-popular" (nauchno-populiarnaia) publishing.

As for the series' choice of biographical subjects, the range has always been wide, if somewhat vaguely defined: "outstanding representatives of all fields of human activity," according to the website.4 But the definition of a "remarkable person" in the Soviet period undoubtedly reflected the ethos of the time. The late Ruslan Grigor´evich Skrynnikov once told me that when he was invited, in the Brezhnevite 1970s, to contribute a volume to the series, he had suggested that he write about the First False Dmitrii (Grisha Otrep´ev), on whom he was then working. It was made clear to him, however, that Grisha (whom most Soviet historians still considered to have been a "Polish puppet") was not the right kind of "remarkable person": so Skrynnikov wrote about Minin and Pozharskii instead.5 There is still no biography of the First False Dmitrii in the ZhZL series, but his Polish wife Marina Mniszech (Maryna Mniszchówna), the heroine of the second of Kozliakov's three recent volumes, would surely have been just as unacceptable a subject in the Soviet period, as would Dmitrii's nemesis, Vasilii Shuiskii, the protagonist of Kozliakov's most recent contribution to the series. Mikhail Fedorovich, too, the hero of the first of Kozliakov's three biographies, would have been excluded—by virtue of the fact that, like Shuiskii, he was a tsar, rather than because he was one of the most unremarkable personalities in the entire Romanov dynasty.6 [End Page 412]

Kozliakov has to admit that Mikhail Fedorovich lacked charisma (6), and he acknowledges that the fact that the first Romanov tsar was a "model of domestic and Christian virtue" might make him appear boring to some readers (324). But, as the author points out, many of Mikhail's contemporaries had lived through the much more "interesting" reign of Ivan the Terrible (324),7 so that the accession of a gentle ruler, committed to the peaceful restoration of economic, social, and political stability in Russia, was in itself...


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