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Between academic writing of history – what professional historians, usually employed by universities, do – and popular history – what journalists, celebrities and independent writers usually with some claim on fame do – there is a growing intermediate genre, which I will call ‘history light’. While popular history is produced rather quickly and often with armies of researchers working for the celebrity author, history light is artisanal. It takes more time and bears the mark of the scholar/journalist author. Such writers, smart people with a flair for fluid prose, have turned out bestsellers and prizewinners that have found a broad reading public. They can be read with enjoyment and profit by the general public and scholars alike. History light may not be as sensationalist or prurient as many popular histories, but neither is it as thickly evidenced or balanced as the best academic histories. Such books usually have a strong point of view, often supportive of the liberal/conservative status quo in the United States, and in the case of those that deal with Russia or the Soviet Union, usually condemnatory of the Soviet Union, communism and extremes of left and right. They often tend to be indictments rather than historically empathetic; that is, they shape evidence to a particular conviction instead of allowing a more complex, perhaps even ambiguous, reading.
Two events in 2008 shaped the political map of the Caucasus: the West's decision on the independence of Kosovo and the Russo-Georgian War. First, on 17 February, Kosovo authorities unilaterally declared the independence of what was at the time a UN protectorate. This declaration enjoyed much support in the West, including near-immediate recognition by key states such as the US, Germany, France, the UK, and a dozen others. But it also faced strong opposition from Serbia and Russia and strong skepticism from prowestern countries such as Georgia. Russia opposed not only the Kosovo declaration itself but more importantly the western adoption of it. From the Russian perspective, by supporting Kosovo's accession to sovereignty western states were violating the rules set at the moment of collapse of the federal states of Yugoslavia and the Soviet Union: to invite the former union republics to join the international clubs of sovereign states, but not extend such invitation to any other sub-units. In other words, Azerbaijan, Croatia, Kazakhstan, and Russia became members of the United Nations, but sub-entities like Chechnya, Kosovo, or Tatarstan did not receive the same recognition.
The third volume of The Cambridge History of Russia provides an authoritative political, intellectual, social and cultural history of the trials and triumphs of Russia and the Soviet Union during the twentieth century. It encompasses not only the ethnically Russian part of the country but also the non-Russian peoples of the tsarist and Soviet multinational states and of the post-Soviet republics. Beginning with the revolutions of the early twentieth century, chapters move through the 1920s to the Stalinist 1930s, World War II, the post-Stalin years and the decline and collapse of the USSR. The contributors attempt to go beyond the divisions that marred the historiography of the USSR during the Cold War to look for new syntheses and understandings. The volume is also the first major undertaking by historians and political scientists to use the new primary and archival sources that have become available since the break-up of the USSR.