The Russia Reader: History, Culture, Politics

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Letters recording the reactions of ordinary Russians to the Revolution as events unfolded in 1917, an account of the day-to-day scramble to make a living after the end of the Soviet Union, and excerpts from a sixteenth-century manual instructing elite Muscovites on proper household management—The Russia Reader brings these and many other selections together in this introduction to the history, culture, and politics of the world’s largest country, from the earliest written accounts of the Russian people to today. Conveying the texture of everyday life alongside experiences of epic historical events, the book is filled with the voices of men and women, rulers and revolutionaries, peasants, soldiers, literary figures, émigrés, journalists, and scholars. Most of the selections are by Russians, and thirty are translated into English for the first time.

Illustrated with maps, paintings, photographs, posters, and cartoons, The Russia Reader incorporates song lyrics, jokes, anecdotes, and folktales, as well as poems, essays, and fiction by writers including Akhmatova, Dostoyevsky, Pushkin, and Tolstoi. Transcripts from the show trials of major Party figures and an account of how staff at the Lenin Library in Moscow were instructed to interact with foreigners are among the many selections based on personal memoirs and archival materials only recently made available to the public. From a tenth-century emissary’s description of his encounters in Kyivan Rus’, to a scientist’s recollections of her life in a new research city built from scratch in Siberia during the 1950s, to a novelist’s depiction of the decadence of the “New Russians” in the 2000s, The Russia Reader is an extraordinary introduction to a vast and varied country.

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
“For the reader who desires to take a first dip into Russian history and culture but is overwhelmed by the vast amount of work available, The Russia Reader is the ideal starting point.” - Viktoria Ivanyutina, The Moscow Times

“If you purchase just one non-fiction book on Russia this year, make it this one. An eclectic, rich compendium of readings that covers a very broad swath of Russian history and culture. . . . Surely to be a popular choice for college survey courses on Russian history, this volume offers a wealth of knowledge for anyone with an interest in things Russian. And it does not require systematic reading, front to back. In fact, it rewards the serendipitous reader: no matter where you dip into it, you are sure to be enthralled.” - Paul E. Richardson, Russian Life

“The Russia surveyed here is one that reveals the complex layers of history that have accumulated over time and the voices that Barker and Grant marshal in telling Russia’s history are engaging and innovative ones. . . . The Russia Reader should interest any . . . traveler looking for a rich introduction into the history, culture, and politics of Russia.” - Stephen M. Norris, Anthropology of East Europe Review

The Russia Reader is excellent. It is a tremendous introduction for the newcomer to Russian history and culture, and even the well-versed reader should find fascinating new material amongst the rich variety collected here.” - Mary Bailes, Scotland-Russia Review

“This volume represents, in the truest sense of the phrase, a Herculean effort…In compiling an eclectic mixture of stand-alone articles and excerpts from existing and newly commissioned translations…, Adele Barker and Bruce Grant seek to provide a one-stop source for students and travelers. For the most part, they have succeeded admirably.” - Kathleen Parthé, Slavic and East European Journal

The Russia Reader provides a wonderful overview of Russian life and culture across the centuries, from the emergence of Muscovy and Russian Orthodoxy to the present day. The editors have done a remarkable job in selecting a range of texts that offer a sweeping overview of the complexity and passion of Russian life, and their brief introductions helpfully situate the texts. Whether readers follow the fate of Russia chronologically or use the book as a kaleidoscope to explore different facets of Russian life and culture, they will find a treasure trove of beautiful, dramatic, and tragic readings for exploring Russian history and culture across the ages.”—Peter Holquist, University of Pennsylvania

“Adele Barker and Bruce Grant have selected a fascinating group of writings reflecting Russian reality, past and present, most by Russians themselves. The selections make absorbing reading and convey insights that penetrate the veil of mystery that has so long obscured the ‘Russian soul.’”—Jack F. Matlock Jr., United States Ambassador to the Soviet Union, 1987–1991

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780822346487
  • Publisher: Duke University Press Books
  • Publication date: 7/28/2010
  • Series: The World Readers
  • Pages: 784
  • Sales rank: 1,143,096
  • Product dimensions: 6.10 (w) x 9.30 (h) x 1.90 (d)

Meet the Author

Adele Barker is Professor of Russian and Slavic Studies at the University of Arizona. She is the editor of Consuming Russia: Popular Culture, Sex, and Society since Gorbachev, also published by Duke University Press; co-editor of The History of Women’s Writing in Russia; and author of Not Quite Paradise: An American Sojourn in Sri Lanka.

Bruce Grant is Associate Professor of Anthropology at New York University. He is the author of The Captive and the Gift: Cultural Histories of Sovereignty in Russia and the Caucasus and In the Soviet House of Culture: A Century of Perestroikas.

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Table of Contents

Acknowledgments xi

General Introduction 1

I Icons and Archetypes

The Scythians Aleksandr Blok 13

On Russian Distinctiveness and Universality Fyodor Dostoyevsky 16

To Russia (March 1854) Aleksei Khomiakov 20

Moscow and Petersburg: 1842 Aleksandr Herzen 22

"Great Russians" and "Little Russians," Andreas Kappeler 31

Bathing the Russian Way, From Folklore to the Songs of Vladimir Vysotskii 40

A Cosmopolitan Project Susan Buck-Morss 47

II From Kyiv through Muscovy

The Igor Tale Anonymous 61

The Russian Primary Chronicle Anonymous 66

Slavic Byzantium George P. Fedotov 70

Russia through Arabian Eyes Ibn Fadlan 75

Rules for Russian Households Att. Monk Sylvestr 80

My Early Life Ivan IV 85

III Reform to Revolution

The Bronze Horseman Aleksandr Pushkin 97

Peter's Social Reforms John Perry 101

Love and Conquest, The Correspondence of Catherine II and Grigory Potemkin 110

The War of 1812 Leo N. Tolstoi 115

Description of the Clergy in Rural Russia I S. Belliustin 120

Emancipating the Serfs Petr Kropotkin 125

Classic Russian Cooking Joyce Toomre Elena Molokhovets 128

The Challenged Gentry Elizaveta Vodovozova 134

Dear Nicky, Dear Sunny, The Correspondence of Nicholas II Empress Aleksandra 140

IV Far Pavilions: Siberia

Russia's Conquest of Siberia Basil Dmytryshyn E. A. R Crownhart-Vaughan Thomas Vaughan, editors and translators 151

Sibiriaks Marie Czaplicka 158

Exile by Administrative Process George Kennan 162

Science Everywhere Ol'ga Marchuk 168

The Big Problems of Little Peoples Aleksandr Pika Boris Prokhorov 174

At the Source Vladimir Sangi 186

V A Changing Countryside

The Dacha Faddei Bulgarin 201

Work Done "Out of Respect," Aleksandr Engelgardt 207

The Mushroom Hunt Sofya Kovalevskaya 213

Progress and Prosperity Sir Donald Mackenzie Wallace 218

Svetloyar: In a Wild and Holy Place Vladimir Korolenko 222

Searching for Icons Vladimir Soloukhin 237

The Village of Posady Lev Timofeev 243

VI Near Pavilions: The Caucasus

The Russian Conquest of the Caucasus John F. Baddeley 257

Mtsyri Mikhail Lermontov 263

Sandro of Chegem Fazil Iskander 270

Chechnya-A Brief Explanation Georgi Derluguian 281

Evening Prayers Idris Bazorkin 293

VII Revolution

The Communist Manifesto Karl Marx Friedrich Engels 305

The Background of Revolution Edward Hallett Carr 310

Revolution and the Front Viktor Shklovsky 319

Letters from the Front Ol'ga Chaadaeva, comp 326

The Withering Away of the State Vladimir Lenin [V. I. Ulianov] 331

Voices of Revolution, 1917 Mark Steinberg 336

Gedali Isaac Babel 339

Two Years among the Peasants in Tambov Province A. Okninsky 343

VIII Building a New World from Old

Make Way for Winged Eros Aleksandra Kollontai 351

The Bathhouse Mikhail Zoshchenko 362

We: Variant of a Manifesto Dziga Vertov 365

The Travels of My Brother Aleksei to the Land of Peasant Utopia Aleksandr Chaianov 370

Learning to Labor Anastasiia Bushueva 378

Stalin's Forgotten Zion Robert Weinberg 388

IX Rising Stalinism

Lenin's "Last Testament," Vladimir Lenin 401

The Body and the Shrine Nina Tumarkin 405

Soviet Literature: The Richest in Ideas Andrei Zhdanov 413

Swell the Harvest, Shock Brigade of Composers and Poets 417

Dizzy with Success Joseph Stalin 419

The War against the Peasantry, 1929-30 Lynne Viola et al 422

Collectivization 1931 Ivan T. Tvardovskii 426

Anna's Story James Riordan 431

The Proletariat's Underground Paradise Irina Kokkinaki 436

X The Great Terror

Bukharin 1936 J. Arch Getty Oleg V. Naumov 447

Mass Attack on the Watershed Maxim Gorky et al 453

Requiem Anna Akhmatova 456

Memories and Biographies of the Leningrad Terror Leningrad Martyrology 465

Revelations from the Russian Archives Diane P. Koenker Ronald D. Bachman 471

Labor Camp Socialism Galina Ivanova 475

Spies and Murderers in the Guise of Physicians and Scientists V. Minayev 483

XI The War Years

June 1941: The Enemy Will Be Destroyed Leningrad Pravda editorial 493

Magnificent Stubbornness Vasilii Grossman 497

Wait for Me, Konstantin Simonov 508

Smolensk Roads, Konstantin Simonov 510

The Blockade Diary of A. I. Vinokurov 513

The Diary of a Red Army Soldier S. F. Putiakov 518

Tragic Numbers: The Lives Taken by the War Ol'ga Verbitskaia 520

The Paradox of Nostalgia for the Front Viacheslav Kondrat'ev 523

XII The Thaw

March 5th, 1953 Yevgeny Yevtushenko 537

The Secret Speech Nikita Khrushchev 540

The Defense of a Prison-Camp Official Anna Zakharova 545

Who Lives Better? Giuseppe Boffa 551

When Did You Open Your Eyes? Boris I. Shragin 559

The Last Trolley Bulat Okudzhava 567

XIII Russians Abroad, Near and Far

Russian Harbin E. P. Taskina 573

China Aleksandr Vertinskii 586

From Harbin, Home Natal'ia Il'ina 588

On the Banks of the Seine Irina Odoevtseva 593

108th Street Sergei Dovlatov 599

XIV Life under Advanced Socialism

Communal Living in Russia: Stories and Thoughts Ilya Utekhin Alice Nakhimovsky Slava Paperno Nancy Ries 615

Trial of a Young Poet: The Case of Joseph Brodsky 621

The Most Well-Read Country in the World S.S. Vishnevskii 627

International Relations at the Lenin Library Galina Koltypina 633

Moscow Circles Benedict Erofeev 639

The Soviet Middle Class Maya Turovskaya 650

Anecdotes of the Times 658

Partisans of the Full Moon Akvarium 661

XV Things Fall Apart

The Most Responsible Phase of Perestroika Mikhail Gorbachev 667

Causes of the Collapse of the USSR Alexander Dallin 673

Our Fairy-Tale Life Nancy Ries 684

Getting By Valerii Pisigin 692

XVI Building a New World Again

Burying the Bones Orlando Figes 701

Pyramids and Prophets Eliot Borenstein 706

My Precious Capital Mikhail Ryklin 714

Fade to Red? Masha Lipman 721

Casual Oksana Robski 729

Anecdotes about New Russians 734

Return to the Motherland Irina Sandomirskaia 735

Suggestions for Further Reading 743

Acknowledgment of Copyrights and Sources 753

Index 765

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First Chapter




Copyright © 2010 Duke University Press
All right reserved.

ISBN: 978-0-8223-4656-2

Chapter One

Icons and Archetypes

Who are Russians and where did they come from? As long ago as two millennia, Slavic peoples were said to occupy the northeastern realms of the Eurasian continent, competing with Finnic and Lithuanian northerners for preeminence in vast lands. More popularly, ancestors of modern Russians, often called "the eastern Slavic tribes," are thought to have come from what is now present-day Poland between the seventh century and the ninth. Rus' is the name most often given to the people who gained political ascendancy in Kyiv at this time, with the year 988 marking the founding of the Russian Orthodox branch of Christianity.

Whether Polish or Ukrainian in its origins, a collective of roaming tribes, or a seemingly absolutist state, Russian space has long been multicultural, multi-confessional, and regularly contested. At its height the Russian Empire covered one-sixth of the world's land mass. While Russians' well-known nineteenth-century efforts to stabilize control through intensive Russification of their non-Russian subjects gained them a reputation for harshness, the pluralism of the mammoth political enterprise was never far from view. In the census of 1897, the tsar officially recognized 104 "nationalities," 146 officially active languages, and dozens more of each waiting in the wings for their moment of recognition. Yet in an age of modernity, with the rise of empires and the forging of the nation-states that would succeed them, the notion of countries as persons unto themselves, with their own natural environments, landscapes, personalities, possessions and, not least, souls, came to Russia as it did to all corners of the globe. This is the Russia of imperial majesty and onion domes, Siberian snowscapes and fearsome forests, fearless leaders and iron rule.

The essays in this section furnish illustrations of these famous Russian icons and archetypes, as much as they aim to partially undo them. What exactly does it mean to be Russian, asks Aleksandr Blok in his poem "The Scythians," which opens our volume. Does Russia more properly belong to Europe or to Asia, and what does it mean, Blok asks, to be part of an Asiatic mentalité? If Blok located Russia's sense of self among the tribes that once spread across the southern steppe, the nineteenth-century philosopher Aleksei Khomiakov champions the cause of the inward-looking Slavophiles who saw a distinctive Russian character free of foreign influence in response to the more expansive Westernizers who, since at least the time of Peter the Great, have argued for particular brands of liberal reform. Regardless of what side one took in the debate, the question remains whether any political body, not least one as extensive as that of the eighteenth- or nineteenth-century Russian Empire, could meaningfully forge such a coherent collective at all.

In the twentieth-century world of nation-states, the notion of nation-as-person was everywhere read back into Russian history and society. The very idea of the nation (in Russian, natsiia) comes from the Latin root natio, "to be born," as does the Russian term for "people" (narod). One hears in the mysterious Russian soul, in the zagadochnaia russkaia dusha, one of many metaphysical shelters wherein Soviet citizens sought safety as a response to a state that had ambitiously promised a world of rationality for all.

Popular writers, both Russian and foreign, have spared little ink in suggesting Russia's strangenesses. The Marquis de Custine, journeying to Russia from France in the nineteenth century, is perhaps among the most famous in this line of gentlemen travelers. During the cold war even the more apolitical scholars managed to frame culture as an explanation for history. In the 1950s the psychologist Geoffrey Gorer and the anthropologist Margaret Mead advanced "the swaddling hypothesis," suggesting that places like Russia, where infants were tightly bound in blankets to prevent them from injuring themselves, created a host of primal frustrations, making their citizens prone to irrational outbursts later in life.

More favorably, essays such as Susan Buck-Morss's take us a long way from a cold war of primal outbursts and mysterious unknowns. What if, she asks, the Soviet Union was never as closed to the flows of shared European political ideals or global capital as most area specialists suggest? To what extent have the binary categories of East and West obscured more than they have revealed? The disarming proposition is that, far from engineering a world of two solitudes, the United States and the USSR spent much of the twentieth century actively imitating each other.

Aside from questions of character that encased Russia in a cloak of mystery or of cold war rhetoric, or a little of both, resides the more fundamental question of geography. Andreas Kappeler takes as his point of departure the fact that the first Russian state was located in what is today Ukraine. His is part of the much larger debate over whether Russia properly belongs to Europe or to "the slave soul" of a more absolutist Asia.

Whatever history may over us by way of clarifications and corrections, Russian society has no doubt long invested in a series of icons and archetypes that have provided meaningful coherence to millions. Debates over what these archetypes mean arise in organized politics and in clouds of steam, with vodka, birch branches, and the company of fellow travelers.

The Scythians (1918) Aleksandr Blok

On 29 January 1918, frustrated with the slow pace of the Brest peace negotiations intended to keep the new Soviet Russia out of World War I, Aleksandr Blok (1880-1921), one of Russia's most gifted lyrical poets, wrote "The Scythians" ("Skify"). The poem is a mix of history, destiny, promise, and threat, a challenge made to Europe to settle scores or face the consequences from a Russia rising from the ashes of revolution.

For all his creative gifts, Blok was never fully embraced by the worlds he lived in. He was born into an aristocratic family who felt betrayed by his revolutionary sympathies (the poem opens with an epigraph from his uncle, the famous Slavophile Vladimir Solov'ev), and the nascent Bolshevik literary establishment was suspicious of his religious and mystical leanings. The poem is a deft commentary on Russia's famously divided soul. If there is an Asiatic bent to the Russian character, Blok implies, this might be a character best not tangled with. Two centuries of Mongol domination (1237-1480), he suggests, taught Russians a thing or two. But the true song in Russia's "barbarian lyre" comes from what Blok held to be its pre-Slavic, "proto-Indo-European" Scythian legacy, referring to the nomadic pastoralist peoples whose reach embraced vast swaths of contemporary southern Russia and Ukraine during Classical Antiquity (600 BCE-300 CE), an influence attested to in elaborate archaeological finds. The Scythians, Blok reminds us, were a dynamic, multiethnic force, a world of the future, rather than peoples of a fallen past. Europe would do well to heed their call.

Panmongolism! The name, though savage, yet rings caressful in my ear. -Vladimir Solov'ev

Mere millions-you. We-teem, and teem, and teem. You want to fight? Come on, then-try it! We're-Scythians-yes! With Asiatic mien We watch you, gloating, through our slit-squint eyelids. For you-long years. For us-alone one hour. We, like brute serfs, in blind obedience, Have held our shield between two warring powers- The Mongols and the Europeans!

For years, long years, your ancient furnace forged And dulled the avalanches' rumble, And what a wanton tale of woe was yours When Lisbon and Messina crumbled!

A thousand years you've watched this East of ours, Amassed and melted down our jewels, Contemptuously, have counted but the hour When you could train your guns on to us!

That hour has struck. Misfortune beats her wings, You multiply your insults daily. The day will come when nothing more remains, Not one trace, of your Paestums, maybe!

Old world! Before you fall in ruins-think, While yet you writhe in sweetest torture, How Oedipus, before the ageless Sphinx's Enigma, once, was moved to caution!

So, Russia-Sphinx-triumphant, sorrowed, too- With black blood flows, in fearful wildness, Her eyes glare deep, glare deep, glare deep at you, With hatred and-with loving-kindness!

Yes, so to love, as lies within our blood, Not one of you has loved in ages! You have forgotten that there is such love That burns and, burning, lays in ashes!

We love them all-cold numbers' heartless heat, The gift of heavenly visions in us, We understand them all-keen Gallic wit And gloomy-weighed Germanic genius.

Remember all-the streets of Paris' hell, The gentle coolnesses of Venice, The lemon groves-their distant, perfumed smell- And, smoke-enswathed, Cologne's immenseness ...

We love the flesh-its taste, its pinkish tone, The scent of flesh, too-choking, deathsome ... Are we to blame, then, if we crunch your bones When our unwieldy paws caress them?

It's nothing new for us to seize the rein, To curb our prancing, fiery chargers, To bend their stubborn will, to break them in, And let them know that we're the masters ...

Come on, then, come!-into the arms of peace. Have done with war and all its horrors. Before it's all too late-now, comrades, sheathe Your age-old sword, and we'll be-brothers!

And if not-well, we've nothing left to lose, We, too, can be perfidious traitors. For years, long years, you'll stand-accursed, accused Of crippled coming generations.

We'll blaze a trail-we'll beat a broad-flung track Through the dense woods that fringe, behind you, The gentle brow of Europe. We'll be back- Our Asiatic mugs will find you.

Come on, then-on, unto the Urals. We'll Prepare meanwhile the field of battle Where cold machines of calculated steel Shall meet the savage Mongol rabble.

But as for us-we'll no more be your shield; Ourselves no longer sword unsheathing, Through narrow eyes we'll scan the battlefield And watch the mortal combat seething.

We shall not turn aside when raging Huns Go delving into dead men's pockets, Turn churches into stables, burn the towns, And roast their white-flesh comrades' bodies ... For the last time-Old world, come to! The feast Of peace-fraternal toil awaits you. For the last time-the fair, fraternal feast. And our barbarian lyre invites you.

On Russian Distinctiveness and Universality (1880) Fyodor Dostoyevsky

Throughout the nineteenth century one of the most famous debates in Russian society was held between self-proclaimed Slavophiles and Westernizers. Though a wide variety of thinkers marched under the Slavophile banner, they shared a concern that Peter the Great's founding of St. Petersburg and the relocation of the imperial capital from Moscow to create "a window on Europe" had created a moral vacuum in Russian life typified by imitations of Western European custom. Philosophers from Petr Chaadaev onward thus called for a return to pre-Petrine values, stressing Russian communalism and religious orthodoxy. By the late nineteenth century more radical thinkers such as Nikolai Danilevskii used the premises of Slavophilia to call for the creation of pan-Slavist nationalist movements. In his famous "Pushkin Speech," extracted at the outset of the text here and first given at the unveiling of a Pushkin monument in Moscow on 8 June 1880, Fyodor Dostoyevsky (1821-81) offers an encomium to the Russian poet that is artful in its political navigation. Setting aside decades of debate, Dostoyevsky insists that the longstanding disagreements between Slavophiles and Westernizers over Russia's future was simply "a big misunderstanding." In Dostoyevsky's rendering, his countrymen had "admitted the genius of other nations" into their souls. At the same time, this melting pot of East and West created something entirely new, whereby Russia, by "becoming a brother to all human beings," was embodying a universal human standard. Russian distinctiveness, Dostoyevsky insisted, could be found in this very ecumenism.

That he used Pushkin as the platform for his speech points to the reverence in which Pushkin has been held from the nineteenth century up to the present. Heralded as Russia's first national poet, he was the first to incorporate the living, spoken Russian language into his art, thus creating an artistic legacy thoroughly Russian, independent of foreign influences. In the characters Pushkin created, Dostoyevsky sees both the kernel and the apotheosis of true Russian types. In Tatiana from Eugene Onegin he finds the image of spiritual and moral nobility reflective of the Russian people as a whole. While Pushkin has often been used throughout Russian and Soviet history for political ends, the character of Tatiana has remained for Russians the image of what is good and morally sound about the Russian character, the personification of its highest ideals.

(From a speech on Pushkin published in the August 1880 issue of Writer's Diary, a journal that Dostoyevsky single-handedly wrote and edited.)

I shall state it emphatically: there has never been a poet with such a universal responsiveness as Pushkin. The point is not just in his responsiveness, but in its amazing depth, and in the reincarnation of his spirit in the spirit of foreign nations, in an almost perfect, and therefore also miraculous, reincarnation, because no such phenomenon has taken place anywhere else in any other poet. This can be found only in Pushkin, and in this sense, I repeat, he is an unheard-of phenomenon and, in our opinion, even a prophetic one, for it was precisely here that his national Russian force expressed itself the most: precisely in the national quality of his poetry, the national quality in furthest development, that of our future, which exists at present in concealment, and it expressed itself prophetically. For what is the strength of the spirit of Russian nationality if not Russia's striving toward its ultimate goals of worldwide and international universality? When Pushkin became a national poet, as he came in close contact with the people's strength, he acquired a presentiment of the great future mission of that force. Here he is prescient, here he is a prophet. (1880)

In fact what has Peter's reform meant to us, not only for the future, but also for what has already taken place, what has happened, what has appeared before our eyes? What did that reform signify to us? For us it was not merely the adoption of European costumes, customs, inventions, and European science. Let us penetrate into the essence of what took place, let us look closely. Yes, it is very possible that Peter originally began to carry it out only in the narrowest utilitarian sense, but subsequently, when he developed his idea to its furthest limit, he doubtlessly yielded to some secret intuition, which pulled him, in this matter, toward future goals that were indubitably far greater than narrow utilitarianism.

In exactly the same way the Russian people also did not accept the reform merely out of utilitarianism, but rather they already sensed with their foresight, almost immediately, some kind of very remote, incomparably higher goal than mere narrow utilitarianism.


Excerpted from THE RUSSIA READER Copyright © 2010 by Duke University Press. Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

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