Review: 'Molotov's Magic Lantern' by Rachel Polonsky

So, I thought I'd do another video review; this time for 'Molotov's Magic Lantern: A Journey in Russian History' by Rachel Polonsky.

What I basically said was:

This is a really good book, which is full of Russian history, Russian politics and anecdotal accounts of Russia at various stages of its life.

The general premise is that Rachel Polonsky, a British journalist, moves to Moscow and finds that she's living directly below Molotov's old apartment on Romanov Lane, just back from The Kremlin. The chap actually living in there hands her the keys, thinking, with her academic and journalistic background, that she will know what to make of it.

What the book then does, is explore Molotov's apartment as she finds it, especially exploring and analyising his book shelves, putting it all into context and explaining to the reader where the interesting juxtapositions are, and what it all means. We then leave Moscow and travel out into the wider Russia, in all directions, to follow the historical and literary tangents of Molotov's book shelves out into the country. The book then becomes a travelogue of sorts, which functions very well to offset the scholarship, once you figure out what she is doing with the structure of her writing.

The main concern I'd have with this book is that it is not for the Russian history beginner. I'm no expert, but I know enough to have a vague understanding of the relevant people and events, so was able to follow the rather intuitive jumps that Polonsky makes between people, places and eras. I'm also fascinated by Russia at large, and the reading of this book is part of my wider WIP research, so I'm happy to take notes and stick with it through the dryer parts, but the casual, escapism-seeking reader might not. If this is your kind of thing though, it's a wonderful book.

The beady-eyed amongst you might actually notice Tolstoy, my cat, wandering behind me at the beginning of the review, which was a nice surprise for me also when I watched it back.

 Title: 'Molotov's Magic Lantern: A Journey in Russian History'
Author: Rachel Polonsky
Genre: Non-fiction/Historical Travelogue
Publisher: Faber and Faber
Publication date: 2010
Format: Hardback, 388 pages, and it was a gift.


  1. This book sounds perfect for me! I studied the Russian Revolution for my GCSE History and have been fascinated with Russia ever since.

  2. Amazing! Yep, that sounds perfect. You'll love it :)

  3. I'm excited by so many of the titles you listed for the Classics Club, and I'm excited to follow your journey. I wasn't able to comment at your list because there's no box there, but just to say hello and WELCOME. :)

    1. Thanks for pointing out my lack of comments box - just enabled it :)

  4. Thanks Jillian, I'm really excited too - so maybe of those books have been on my TBR pile for the longest time, but never seem to make it to the top!It's a wonderful idea, and thanks for hosting :)


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