Picks and Pans Review: The Russian Empire

updated 02/11/1980 AT 01:00 AM EST

originally published 02/11/1980 AT 01:00 AM EST

by Chloe Obolensky

This visual overview of Mother Russia before the revolution (1855 to 1914) includes nearly 500 photographs, most never published before. Its empire once spanned more than one-sixth of the earth's land surface and encompassed everything between Germany and the Pacific Ocean. The stills were plucked from family albums, photographic societies, geographical archives and ethnographic collections from about a dozen European countries as well as the United States. Subjects include Russian settlers in Siberia at the end of the century, Cossack musicians, Leningrad (then called St. Petersburg, of course) in 1913, the last major costume ball at the Winter Palace in 1903, and views of rivers and towns, peasants and aristocrats. A superb introduction by the late Russian scholar Max Hayward lends a perspective that gives readers of Chekhov, Turgenev, Tolstoy, Gogol and Dostoevski a clearer understanding of how history shaped literature. (Random House, $24.95)

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