Daniel Snowman meets the historian of the Russian Revolution and of Russian culture.
Orlando Figes is unafraid of thinking big. A People's Tragedy, his (nearly) 900-page study of the Russian Revolution from the 1890s to the mid-1920s, is, he says, 'the first attempt at a comprehensive history of the entire revolutionary period in a single volume'. His recent book, Natasha's Dance, is a richly textured cultural history of Russia from the time of Peter the Great to that of Brezhnev. Like Tolstoy, Figes seeks to integrate the public and the private, the panoramic and the personal, and he writes with great flair (for which he acknowledges the influence of his mother the novelist Eva Figes) whether about princes, priests, poets and peasants, or about Tsarism, Revolution and Civil War. It is bold for an academic historian to opt for such broad horizons. It is also risky (as Figes discovered last autumn when the victim of a notoriously mean review of Natasha's Dance in the TLS). So is the Professor of History at Birkbeck College, London, planning to retreat into a more conventional academic shell? That is not the Figes style.