When Russia Learned to Read

Paper Text – $27.95

ISBN 978-0-8101-1897-3
Publication Date
June 2003
Page Count
488 pages
Trim Size
6 1/8 x 9 1/4

When Russia Learned to Read

Literacy and Popular Literature, 1861-1917
Jeffrey Brooks

Late Imperial Russia's revolution in literacy touched nearly every aspect of daily life and culture, from social mobility and national identity to the sensibilities and projects of the country's greatest writers. Within a few decades, a ragtag assembly of semi-educated authors, publishers, and distributors supplanted an oral tradition of songs and folktales with a language of popular imagination suitable for millions of new readers of common origins eager for entertainment and information. When Russia Learned to Read tells the story of this profound transformation of culture, custom, and belief.

With a new introduction that underscores its relevance to a post-Soviet Russia, When Russia Learned to Read addresses the question of Russia's common heritage with the liberal democratic market societies of Western Europe and the United States. This prize-winning book also exposes the unsuspected complexities of a mass culture little known and less understood in the West. Jeffrey Brooks brings out the characteristically Russian aspect of the nation's popular writing as he ranges through chapbooks, detective stories, newspaper serials, and women's fiction, tracing the emergence of secular, rational, and cosmopolitan values along with newly minted notions of individual initiative and talent. He shows how crude popular tales and serials of the era find their echoes in the literary themes of Dostoevsky, Tolstoy, and other great Russian writers, as well as in the current renaissance of Russian detective stories and thrillers.

About the Author
Jeffrey Brooks, professor of history at The Johns Hopkins University, is the author of Thank You, Comrade Stalin! Soviet Public Culture from Revolution to Cold War (Princeton, 2000). When Russia Learned to Read: Literacy and Popular Literature, 1861-1917 was awarded the prestigious Wayne S. Vucinich Prize of the American Association for the Advancement of Slavic Studies in 1986.
"[S]ocial and cultural history at its best." --Political Science Quarterly
"Brooks has given us rich fare for the person seeking to understand the complexities of mass culture in a country many have thought to lack any such thing." --The Journal of Interdisciplinary History