Audiobook - Russia: The Wild East

Steve Taylor-Bryant takes on the mammoth task of reviewing five and half hours of Russian history from Martin Sixsmith, thanks to Spokenworld Audio...

Neil Gardner, producer extraordinaire for the Ladbroke Audio guys that run our friends Spokenworld Audio, sent me an email asking if I’d like to review a little radio series now out on Audio that he had produced with former BBC Journalist Martin Sixsmith back in 2011. I, of course, said yes as I love my non fiction and yearn to learn all I can on any subject. It must feel like 10 years since Neil sent that email but finally I have got through 5 Hours and 37 Minutes of the dulcet tones of Martin Sixsmith and am now an expert on Russia (DISCLAIMER - I REALLY AM NOT, PLEASE DO NOT ASK ME ANYTHING).

That intro may sound like I didn’t enjoy the material although you’d be wrong, I thoroughly enjoyed every moment, but this is an epic commitment should you wish to take it on. Martin Sixsmith has a nice voice and I always enjoyed his reports from the US during the first Bill Clinton administration but it is his time as the BBC's foreign correspondent in Moscow during the end of the cold war that takes precedent here and, nice voice or not, you have to break it down into episodes. The mistake I made was trying to do the entire audio in one sitting and I found myself getting confused and lost and having to go back again anyway. Broken into its parts and listened to in say 30 minute segments it is an astonishing look back at a country that has so much history.

Sixsmith starts in the northern city of Novgorod and takes us through the legend that is Rurik, who used his iron fist to bring about order at the behest of the warring Slav's. We go through what a different beast Russia would have been had they adopted Islam as a religion, as they were close to doing before becoming Orthodox Christians, the war with the Mongols that led to the Absolutist State Model, the move from Kiev to a new Capital in Moscow, Ivan the Terrible, and when Napoleon was chased from the Motherland by its defensive patriarchs.

By the time we arrive at the 18th chapter we are beginning to get into the territory I learned many, many years ago in school history lessons, the long build up to revolution and the end of the Tsarist rule. From the assassination of Tsar Alexander II by the People’s Will Movement, the beginning of Socialism through the writers of the day, to Alexander III wanting to unite the Russian Empire as a single country with a single religion, currency and leader and his fear of opposition that led to him driving the revolutionary movement underground for a while. We then are into the reign of Nicholas II and his much hated Prime Minister Rasputin, the voices of Trotsky and Lenin just beginning to be heard and the Great War. It was this war, The First World War, that brought the biggest change in the Russian landscape and history. A country left in poverty and despair forces Nicholas to abdicate in February 1917 and after returning to Russia (and then allowing his Manic Depression to make him flee before coming back for a second time) Lenin finally leads the Bolshevik Coup that began the Russia of Communism.

At this point it seems like a great place to stop. The start of this review covers only 25 of the 50 episodes (originally aired on BBC Radio 4) and I really could be writing for another 3 weeks if I do not stop now.

I have given you the gist of the depths that Sixsmith goes into. If you are a history buff, a student needing research on eras of Russian history or, like me, just a casual lover of non fiction then you won’t go far wrong with this.

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