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13 November 2018

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Book Review

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Know Your Enemy: The Rise and Fall of America’s Russia Experts

by David. C. Engerman

It is astounding to realize how few Russian experts (barely beyond single digits) there were in the United States before the 1917 revolution and even before World War II. Indeed, in 1948, when the war with Hitler was won and the Cold War just begun, the U.S. government only had about a dozen Russian speakers in its employ.

What followed was an explosion of government funding for academic programs and institutes around the country, the development of Soviet Studies and Kremlinology, and a strenuous effort to “know thine enemy.”

Engerman shows that this effort forged a unique relationship between government and academia. It was a relationship not limited to the hard or social sciences, as it bled over into literature, creating a web of interaction between spies, academics, generals and politicians that somehow linked Pushkin to the Pentagon, yet mostly failed to predict, half a century later, the sudden collapse of the organism under study.

Deeply researched, well-written, this is an important chronicle that explains much about how government and academia still interact, and it should be read not just by Russophiles, but by anyone interested in new academic initiatives to focus on “Islamic Studies.”

— Paul E. Richardson

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Reviewed in Russian Life: May/June 2010