The Woodrow Wilson Center Press

What People are Saying

“What form Russia will take is of major significance for the world, but of course no one is more interested than the Russians themselves, who are already busily attempting both to divine and determine that future. Russia in Search of Itself allows us to eavesdrop on Russia’s national conversation, which ranges from the brilliant to the boozy (and wouldn’t be Russian if it didn’t).”—Richard Lourie, Washington Post (full review).

“Russia has been in search of itself for a long time. For the present state of the old vs. new debate there is no better guide than this short book by James H. Billington, Librarian of Congress since 1987.”—Walter Laqueur, The Moscow

“Modest in scale (but not conception)…Russia in Search of Itself ought to be required beach reading for the administration’s policy-makers…  Most political prognostications benefit from being qualified and hedged. Mr. Billington, guided by the extraordinary history of the land and people he knows so well, here courageously opts for the opposite approach.”—Martin Sieff, Washington Times

“If you want to be ahead of the crowd in understanding it [contemporary Russia's intellectual ferment ‘in spite of the growing repressiveness of the current regime’], read James Billington.”—Times Literary Supplement

“The style is in many ways more literary than political science, but its content treads confidently across today’s Russia.”—Edwin Bacon, Political Studies Review

“An engaging look at Russian identity formation through the lens of intellectual history.”—Alison Rowley, Canadian Slavonic Papers

Russia in Search of Itself ought to be required beach reading for the administration’s foreign policy-makers.”—Martin Sieff, Sunday Times

“A slim but extraordinarily useful survey of the main currents in Russian thought and letters in the post-Soviet era.”—Martin Walker, International Affairs

“James Billington, one of America’s greatest experts on Russian history and culture, applies his knowledge of the past to Russia’s present. The result is both literate and readable, a book anyone interested in the subject will need to buy.”—Anne Applebaum, author of Gulag: A History

Russia in Search of Itself offers an indispensable guide to current Russian thinking about the eternal question of Russia’s identity and the historic roots of the lively debate in which Russians today are engaged. His study illuminates the moral and spiritual roots for both pessimism and optimism about the path Russia may choose.”—James F. Collins, former U.S. ambassador to Russia

“Jim Billington has reminded us yet again of why he is a giant in the field of Russian studies. His wisdom about what is happening in Russia today—and what may happen there in the future—is rooted in his profound knowledge of its history. To have tackled a subject as complex as Russian identity and the Russian national idea with such concision, clarity, and confidence is a major achievement.”—Strobe Talbott, author of The Russia Hand: A Memoir of Presidential Diplomacy

Chapter List


I. The Long Prologue
1. The Nineteenth-Century Discovery of Identity
2. The Twentieth-Century Search for Legitimacy

II. The Quickening Quest
3. A New Nation in Search of Identity
4. The Authoritarian Alternative: Eurasianism
5. The Travails of a Democratic Identity

Bibliographic Postscript

About Woodrow Wilson Center Press

Woodrow Wilson Center Press publishes books by fellows, other resident scholars, and staff written in substantial part at the Wilson Center.