Gary Saul Morson is the Lawrence B. Dumas Professor of the Arts and Humanities and a Professor in the Slavic ­Languages and Literatures Department at Northwestern. His latest book is Cents and Sensibility: What Economics Can Learn from the ­Humanities, cowritten with Morton Schapiro.
 (February 2020)


Truly Terrible

Ilya Repin: Ivan the Terrible and His Son Ivan, 1885

Ivan the Terrible: Free to Reward and Free to Punish

by Charles J. Halperin
Writing to his cousin Olga Freidenberg in 1941, Boris Pasternak remarked on Stalin’s unexpected glorification of Tsar Ivan IV, known as Ivan the Terrible: To our benefactor it seems that up until now we have been too sentimental…. The new enthusiasm, openly professed, is for the Terrible Tsar, the oprichnina …

In Search of an Honest Man

Stalingrad, 1942


by Vasily Grossman, translated from the Russian by Robert Chandler and Elizabeth Chandler, edited by Robert Chandler and Yuri Bit-Yunan

Vasily Grossman and the Soviet Century

by Alexandra Popoff
Vasily Grossman believed that writers must, above all, tell the truth as they see it, which was, of course, impossible under Soviet conditions. Early in his career, he appealed to the influential Maxim Gorky for help in getting his first novel published. “I wrote the truth,” Grossman pleaded. Gorky replied with the standard Soviet distinction between empirical truth and the higher truth of communism. “It is not enough to say, ‘I wrote the truth,’” Gorky instructed. “We know that there are two truths and that, in our world, it is the vile and dirty truth of the past that quantitatively preponderates. But this truth is being replaced by another truth that has been born and continues to grow.”

The Horror, the Horror

A photograph of Isaac Babel taken by the NKVD after his arrest, circa 1939

The Essential Fictions

by Isaac Babel, edited and translated from the Russian by Val Vinokur

Red Cavalry

by Isaac Babel, translated from the Russian by Boris Dralyuk
On January 17, 1940, Stalin approved the sentences of 346 prominent people, including the dramaturge Vsevolod Meyerhold, the former NKVD (secret police) chief Nikolai Yezhov, and the writer Isaac Babel. All were shot. Babel had been arrested on May 15, 1939, in the middle of the night, and, the story goes, he remarked to an NKVD officer: “So, I guess you don’t get much sleep, do you?” Grim wit was Babel’s trademark.

Will We Ever Pin Down Pushkin?

Alexander Pushkin; painting by Pyotr Konchalovsky, 1932

Strolls with Pushkin

by Andrei Sinyavsky, translated from the Russian by Catharine Theimer Nepomnyashchy and Slava I. Yastremski

The Feud: Vladimir Nabokov, Edmund Wilson, and the End of a Beautiful Friendship

by Alex Beam
Who was Alexander Pushkin? Russians regard him as their greatest writer, greater even than Lev Tolstoy. Edmund Wilson, once one of America’s best-known public intellectuals, pronounced him “the greatest poet of the nineteenth century.” But for those who do not know Russian, the reasons for this praise remain elusive. In …

Herzen: The Hero of Skeptical Idealism

‘Herzen Against Herzen’; photograph by Sergei Lvovich Levitsky, 1865

The Discovery of Chance: The Life and Thought of Alexander Herzen

by Aileen M. Kelly
To some, Alexander Herzen commands respect as “the first Russian socialist,” to others as the best debunker of revolutionary dreams. Born in 1812, he was the illegitimate son of a wealthy aristocrat, who gave him the German surname Herzen (meaning “of the heart”) in tribute to the boy’s mother, a …