Sunday, October 28, 2007

The Rest is Waiting

Today, having made the effort to go to the bookstore for my semi-monthly CD- and book-buying trip, I was faced with a choice: Simon Sebag Montefiore's Young Stalin or Alex Ross' The Rest Is Noise: Listening to the Twentieth Century. My title gives the game away, and I never had any doubt that I would pick up Ross' magnum opus (to-date). I was still torn.

Let me say that, despite the somewhat sensationalist coverage at the author's website, Stalin: The Court of the Red Tsar is a marvelous book. It can stand with such a tower of prosopography as Sir Ronald Syme's The Roman Revolution (1939, repr. variously). I doubt that any more fascinating, comprehensive, and compelling study exists of Stalin and his inner circle at the zenith of his power than Sebag Montefiore's book. Stalin comes off as less of a vicious monster and more of a twisted, insecure, and - above all else - lonely man. One sees that his hardened Bolshevism and Robespierre-like willingness to spill blood toward the end of achieving Communism were balanced by an almost pitiful solitude. It made such an impression upon me that, at this point, his works are on my "Buy, sight unseen" list. No other sweeping historical study since Simon Schama's wonderful Citizens made such an impact.

The Rest Is Noise, though, has been on that list for some time now. Ross won my instant trip, but I did make a note in my handy-dandy notebook to order Sebag Montefiore's volume on Stalin at the earliest convenience.

Now, I just have to get through Ross' book and report my findings.


At 7:10 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I started reading the Ross, and it was like a hot knife through butter. What I found was well written and packed with enough interesting info, that I could not put it down. Then I got to the Stravinsky chapter (or what is perhaps the first Stravinsky chapter), and when I got to the end of that chapter, the machine stalled: I stopped, and haven't (yet?) taken it back up. It is not necessarily that the Stravinsky stuff is noticeably (somethinger) than the Strauss/Mahler/Schoenberg discussion (and after all, Taruskin gave Ross a flattering back-cover blurb, and Taruskin is ten times the Stravinsky scholar that I'll ever be). But where everything throughout the Strauss/Mahler/Schoenberg had a ring of rightness to it, there was something about the tone, the selective emphases in what is necessarily a cook's-tour of Igor Fyodorovich, which jarred.


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