This is my review of Red Fortress: The Secret Heart of Russia’s History by Catherine Merridale.
For enthusiasm and research, Catherine Merridale deserves five stars, but despite having visited Moscow both before and after the collapse of Communism, and been inside the Kremlin, I found this history hard going.
The opening chapters seem padded out, since there is little to say about the rural backwater of Moscow and the wooden fortification of the initial Kremlin when Kiev was the centre of activity for the region. In the later Middle Ages, the political rulers on one hand and religious patriarchs on the other are hard to distinguish, with the exception of Ivan the Terrible who tried without success to interest Elizabeth 1 of England in marriage.
For me, the book begins to come alive from the time of Peter the Great in the C17, through Napoleon’s destruction of Moscow to the impact of Communism and Putin setting out to harness the aura of the “red fortress” to cement his authority. Perhaps this is because it is easier to engage with people and ideas rather than often arbitrarily selected facts about buildings. I accept that this book may be invaluable for students, but for the general reader it is somewhat longwinded with a good deal of dry detail outside the entertaining anecdotes, which makes for a somewhat indigestible potted history.