Sep/Oct 2018 Current Moscow Time: 18:17:51
24 September 2018

  The world’s biggest country, in a magazine. Since 1956.

Mr. Smith Comes to Montpelier

Author: Paul E. Richardson

July/Aug 2016
Page 4   ( 1 pages)

Summary: On meeting heroes where you are.


Early in my Russian studies adventure, I was fortunate to hear one of my intellectual heroes, George Kennan, speak in person. He packed the Iowa church where he had come to speak, and I surreptitiously snapped a photo of him from the pews; it hung in my office for many years.

I admired Kennan not just for his years of diplomatic service and his seminal historical writings, but because he insisted on taking the long view, of understanding Russia in the context of its history and as it sees itself. He had disavowed his early-career advocacy for containment (saying he had been misunderstood as Mr. X), and was, in opposition to the Manichean conventional wisdom of the Cold War, arguing for a more nuanced, multi-faceted engagement with the Soviet Union.

This spring I had the opportunity to meet another of my intellectual heroes, Hedrick Smith. As many Americans, I was first exposed to Russia in depth through his book The Russians. The book excited me with a desire to learn more about Russia, to tackle the language, and to do the sort of journalism found in his book.

So when I found out that the Vermont Humanities Council was hosting a visit and lecture by Smith (on his most recent book, Who Stole the American Dream), I knew I had to go hear him speak. And when I looked and found that The Russians had first been published exactly 40 years ago, in 1976, I knew I had to interview him for Russian Life.

We had a very pleasant discussion over coffee and breakfast; the interview begins on page 42. I hope you will find Mr. Smith’s memories as fascinating as I did. And I encourage you to pick up a copy of The Russians at a local library or used bookseller. It is surprising to what has and has not changed in forty years.

Meanwhile, this issue’s three other feature stories take readers on three very different journeys: to a Karelian village in northern Russia, to a Russian outpost in southern Ukraine, and on a trek across Russia in search of a forgotten past.

These journeys evoke different aspects of Russia’s culture and history, be it the Gulags or Odessa humor, black banyas or the boundlessness of Russian hospitality. It is that eclectic mix which makes Russia an endlessly fascinating place for all of us.

Finally, take note that The Spine of Russia photo book is due from the printers in mid-July. The majority of the print run was pre-ordered by project backers, but we overprinted a few hundred copies, and, if you act quickly, you can pick one up for yourself and/or some friends (#holidaygift).

It is hard for me to adequately express how satisfied I am with how this book came out (although it is still heart-rending to consider we could only select about 200 photos for the book, out of over 3,000 collected during the journey). The print quality is stunning and it is exciting to see something we worked so hard on for over a year come so vividly to life. Combine it with a side order of Driving Down Russia’s Spine, and there is really very little else you need to make it through the summer.

Enjoy the issue.

To read more, follow the "Purchase Back Issue" link from the full story listing for this issue.