A version of this post originally appeared on February 4, 2023.
You know how some guys are reallllly into the Civil War or realllly into World War II? That's me with Russian history, though I want to stress that I do not dress up in period costume to reenact Pugachev's Rebellion.
With Russian literature as my gateway drug, I went on to major in Russian history as an undergrad. I daydreamed about continuing my studies, though that would have been impractical since my knowledge of the language is limited to a few nouns (glasnost, perestroika, and vodka).
Twenty* years after graduating college, I'm doing a self-directed study in Russian history, emphasizing cultural and social themes, though if you insist on discussing military history, this is the one area where I'm competent. Bring it.
Partly this is so I can better understand Putin and his invasion of Ukraine. Partly it's so I can add verisimilitude to my in-progress historical fantasy novel. Partly it's because none of you are willing to play Pugachev's Rebellion with me.
This study led me to Understanding Russia: A Cultural History, by Lynne Ann Hartnett. I picked up some good lessons from it, but the audiobook production values were disappointing, so I wouldn't necessarily recommend this unless you really dig Russian history.
However! This is part of the Great Courses series of audiobooks and documentaries, and here I can make an enthusiastic recommendation. They've got something for everyone. Scholars present lectures on a wide range of topics at the undergraduate level, so it's like auditing a class. Your local public library may have Great Courses audiobooks or documentaries to check out or download for free, or you can purchase them from the publisher website or wherever else you acquire your media.
*what the HELL
When Covid first hit, I started doing book talks on social media as a way to keep in touch with people. I never got out of the habit. I don't discuss books by my clients, and if I don't like a book, I won't discuss it at all. While I will sometimes focus on craft or offer gentle critical perspectives, as a matter of professional courtesy, I don't trash writers. Unless they're dead. Then the gloves come off.