Soviet Union

The Collector

On a warm Saturday in early July, an employee at the Maryland Historical Society placed a call to the police. He had noticed two visitors behaving strangely—a young, tall, handsome man with high cheekbones and full lips and a much older, heavier man, with dark, lank hair and a patchy, graying beard. The older man had called in advance to give the librarians a list of boxes of documents he wanted to see, saying that he was researching a book. At some point during their visit, the employee saw the younger man slip a document into a folder.

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Vladimir Putin, rather suddenly, is shifting from Good Czar to Bad Czar in the minds of the Russian people. A telltale sign—even more startling than growing street demonstrations against his rule—was the jeers that greeted his appearance at a recent martial-arts fight in Moscow. Putin, as his image makers have incessantly reminded since their man scaled the Kremlin heights eleven years ago, is an ardent sportsman with a black belt in judo.

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In the Jewish struggle around Zionism there were at least three strands in opposition so fierce that it was evident that the very meaning of “the people Israel” was at stake. The first of these was a vast religious cohort, at once immensely learned or purported to have such learning and having, as well, the authority of the sages. Or the ages. While ongoing study and “trust in the Lord” constituted their program, they practiced a politics that was fundamentally anti-political. God was both their instrument and their end.

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The Republican presidential primary has provided ample display of the party’s penchant for bellicosity in foreign affairs, and last night’s debate was no exception. It’s a posture that’s understandably gotten many liberals worried about a reprisal of the famously interventionist Bush Doctrine. “God help us if any of these jokers makes it into the White House,” wrote Fred Kaplan of Slate after watching the previous GOP’s national security debate. But maybe liberals shouldn’t fret so much.

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Mitt Romney has gone to such lengths to lock up New Hampshire that the first in the nation primary is looking to be something of a snooze-fest this year, unless Jon Huntsman gets his father to open up the family vault wider or Newt Gingrich's call for 9-year-olds to become paid school janitors strikes a surprising chord with the good people of Peterborough and Londonderry. But just because Romney is getting the state GOP establishment to line up behind him -- Kelly Ayotte! Charlie Bass!

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The Triumphalist

The Origins of Political Order: From Prehuman Times to the French Revolution By Francis Fukuyama    (Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 585 pp., $35) Ideas about what it means to be modern are soon dated. Not so long ago theories were in vogue claiming that a “scientific-technical revolution” was under way that would lead to a single type of government spreading throughout the world. Originally promoted by Daniel Bell in the 1950s, the theory of convergence suggested that the Soviet Union would evolve to become like the advanced industrial societies of the West.

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Public Parts: How Sharing in the Digital Age Improves the Way We Work and Live  By Jeff Jarvis  (Simon & Schuster, 263 pp., $26.99) In 1975, Malcolm Bradbury published The History Man, a piercing satire of the narcissistic pseudo-intellectualism of modern academia. The novel recounts a year in the life of the young radical sociologist Howard Kirk—“a theoretician of sociability”—who is working on a book called The Defeat of Privacy.

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Cruelty and Collapse

The End: The Defiance and Destruction of Hitler’s Germany, 1944-1945 By Ian Kershaw (Penguin, 564 pp., $35) It can be harder to lose a war than to win one. Nazi Germany won quick victories in 1939 and 1940 against its eastern and western neighbors, Poland and France. Many Germans who had doubted the wisdom of war came around with enthusiasm to the sound of German boots on the Champs Elysées. Warsaw and Paris fell more quickly and with fewer complications than anticipated. Their conquest convinced many Germans, including army officers, that further campaigns could be won by strokes of genius.

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We’re supposed to be living in an Age of Democracy, but not every world leader, it seems, has gotten the memo. Vladimir Putin announced last week that he plans to return to the Russian presidency next year, and he could stay there for two more six-year terms, until 2024. Putin has been Russia’s dominant ruler since 2000—the last three years, as Prime Minister, nominally junior to his protégé, Dmitri Medvedev, the current president, but only nominally. Medvedev, as suspected, turned out only to be a seat warmer. So the mask is off, and Putin and Putinism stand triumphant.

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