Hosking, Geoffrey A(lan) 1942-
HOSKING, Geoffrey A(lan) 1942-
PERSONAL: Born April 28, 1942, in Troon, Ayrshire, Scotland; son of Stuart William Steggall (in banking) and Jean Ross (a teacher; maiden name, Smillie) Hosking; married Anne Lloyd Hirst (a teacher), December 19, 1970; children: Katya, Janet. Education: King's College, Cambridge, M.A., Ph.D.; attended St. Anthony's College, Oxford. Hobbies and other interests: Squash, chess, walking.
ADDRESSES: Home—18 Camden Mews, London NW1 9DA, England. Office—School of Slavonic and East European Studies, University of London, Senate House, Malet St., London WC1E 7HU, England. Agent—Murray Pollinger, 4 Garrick St., London WC2E 9BH, England.
CAREER: University of Essex, Colchester, England, assistant lecturer, 1966-68, lecturer in government, 1968-71, lecturer, 1972-76, senior lecturer in history, 1976-78, reader in Russian history, 1978-84; University of London, School of Slavonic and East European Studies, London, England, professor of Russian history, 1984—; currently Leverhulme Professor of History. Visiting lecturer in political science, University of Wisconsin, Madison, 1971-72; research fellow, Columbia University Russian Institute, 1976; visiting professor, University of Cologne Slaviches Institute, 1980-81. Council member, Writers and Scholars Educational Trust, 1985—; member, East-West advisory committee, 1987-89, and Council of Management, Keston College, 1989-89; BBC Reith lecturer, 1988; governor, Camden School for Girls, 1989—; trustee, J. S. Mill Institute, 1992—; jury member, Booker Prize for Russian fiction, 1993—.
MEMBER: British Universities Association of Slavists, American Association for the Advancement of Slavic Studies.
The Russian Constitutional Experiment: Government and Duma, 1907-14, Cambridge University Press (Cambridge, England), 1973.
Beyond Socialist Realism: Soviet Fiction since "Ivan Denisovich," Holmes & Meier (New York, NY), 1980.
The Awakening of the Soviet Union, Harvard University Press (Cambridge, MA), 1990.
Church, Nation, and State in Russia and Ukraine, St. Martin's Press (New York, NY), 1991.
(With Jonathan Aves and Peter J. S. Duncan) The Road to Post-Communism: Independent Political Movements in the Soviet Union, 1985-1991, St. Martin's Press (New York, NY), 1992.
Empire and Nation in Russian History, Baylor University Press (Waco, TX), 1993.
Russia: People and Empire, 1552-1917, Harvard University Press (Cambridge, MA), 1997.
Russia and the Russians: A History, Harvard University Press (Cambridge, MA), 2001.
(With George F. Cushing) Perspectives on Literature and Society in Eastern and Western Europe, St. Martin's Press (New York, NY), 1989.
(With Julian Graffy) Culture and the Media in the USSR Today, St. Martin's Press (New York, NY), 1989.
(With Robert Service) Russian Nationalism, Past and Present, St. Martin's Press (New York, NY), 1997.
(Coeditor) Myths and Nationhood, University of London (London, England), 1997.
(With Robert Service) Reinterpreting Russia, Oxford University Press (New York, NY), 1999.
Contributor to Towards a New Community: Culture and Politics in Post-Totalitarian Europe, edited by Peter J. S. Duncan and Martyn Rady, University of London, 1993.
SIDELIGHTS: Geoffrey A. Hosking is a wide-ranging scholar of Russian history and literature. Reviewing Hosking's career in History Today, Daniel Snowman observed: "The country and its people. These are what Hosking has particularly tried to know. His writings are sprinkled with references to a town here, a village there, a quotation from the letters column or local newspaper, a joke the workers or peasants would tell each other, a telling anecdote from his own experience. But Hosking is not a collage artist. On the contrary, his finely tuned mind loves nothing more than to alight upon an organising principle, perhaps a Big Hypothesis, that helps explain a mass of otherwise inchoate facts."
In Beyond Socialist Realism, Hosking seeks to familiarize Western readers with Soviet literature written in, and in the period following, the relaxed artistic environment of the Khrushchev years. Beyond Socialist Realism contains a "well-written and sensitive analysis" of the significant works of nine authors deemed by Hosking as "'representative of the renewed realism' in Soviet letters," according to Times Literary Supplement contributor John B. Dunlop. Hosking considers the works of Vasily Belov, Valentin Rasputin, Vladimir Tendryakov, Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, Vladimir Maximov, Vladimir Voinovich, Georgy Vladimov, Vasily Shukshin, and Yuri Trifonov. "They have created, within the official doctrine of 'socialist realism,' a pluralistic critical literature that ranges from the 'village prose' of Belov and Rasputin to the dark urban pessimism of Trifonov," observed Stephen F. Cohen in the New York Times Book Review. Dunlop stated: "Hosking believes that these works, with their anti-Promethean stance, their questioning of the benefits of headlong modernization, and their existential and religious probings, may carry some lessons for us in the West."
In Dunlop's critical judgment, Beyond Socialist Realism has one significant weakness. "Hosking's radical refusal to acknowledge any substantive difference between 'official' and samizdat [underground dissident] literature leads him into the methodological error of treating such works interchangeably." Even so, the reviewer concluded, "Despite my disagreement with certain of Hosking's ideas, I would underline that Beyond Socialist Realism is an important study of a much-neglected field (it also contains a first-rate, detailed bibliography for which specialists will be grateful)."
In 1985 Hosking published The First Socialist Society. Noted Soviet affairs scholar Adam B. Ulam, writing in the Times Literary Supplement, praised the book's scope: "Professor Hosking's skill as a writer," Ulam commented, permitted him, "in addition to the narrative of events. . . , to squeeze in so much about the economy and cultural scene." Bohdan Nahaylo of the Spectator noted with approval Hosking's treatment of the Soviet Union as an empire: "Here, at last, is a book that recognises certain basic truths about the Soviet Union which other authors have tended to overlook. For one thing, Hosking treats the Soviet Union as a multinational state, [and] does not blur the distinction between the USSR's majority Russian nation and its 135 million or so non-Russians." Martin McCauley, writing in British Book News, observed with approval Hosking's quotations from Russian novels "as historical evidence" that give "greater color to his account." He also commended the book's approach to its subject: not from the perspective of the Soviet leadership in the Kremlin, but from that of ordinary people. In fact, the book's approach to Soviet history was sufficiently removed from "the party line" that Choice contributor A. K. Davis—who presented with his review an account of the USSR's history that harmonized with the official Soviet stance—expressed concern that "Hosking's tone at times may seem anti-Soviet." Most reviewers, however, described the author's standpoint as decidedly neutral.
What few critics—or few other people, for that matter—could have guessed in 1985 was that the Soviet system had little more than a half-decade of life left in it. Ulam, for instance, ended his review with the words, "I like to believe with Geoffrey Hosking that there does exist among the Soviet people a longing for freedom, a longing which one day, but, alas, not in the near future, will come to the surface." By 1990, when Hosking published The Awakening of the Soviet Union, the dissolution of the Communist regime was underway. The book's thesis, one that Hosking had presented in different ways for some time, is that the Russian people have long possessed the institutions for creating the civil society necessary to establish democracy. Chief among these grass-roots institutions was the communal peasant organization called the mir, and it was precisely this democratic tendency which ironically spawned the workers' soviets which the Bolsheviks co-opted during the 1917 revolution.
In expressing this viewpoint, Hosking often found himself at odds with the conventional wisdom that the Russian people simply lacked the capacity to govern themselves democratically, but later events seemed to corroborate his earlier thesis. Citing Hosking's 1988 Reith Lectures—which form the basis of the book—James Sherr wrote in the Times Literary Supplement that "the lectures will not easily date. Professor Hosking has managed to capture the spirit of the times, but unlike many today, he is not captured by it." Ulam, this time writing in the New York Times Book Review, commented that The Awakening of the Soviet Union served as an antidote to claims by members of the media and others that the end of Communism resulted primarily from the foresight of Soviet president Mikhail Gorbachev and his system of glasnost or "openness." Other reviewers also noted the author's evenhandedness: Leo Gruliow in Antioch Review, for instance, observed that Hosking "avoids the journalist's pitfall of trying to sum up a situation still fluid." In the New York Review of Books, Peter Reddaway wrote that Hosking's discussion "of how suppressed history was restored to people's consciousness is also highly original." Linda J. Cook, in the Russian Review, called the book "a remarkably informative, rich, clearly written account of the tumultuous events of 1987-1990."
Perhaps Hosking's most ambitious work is Russia and the Russians: A History, a comprehensive survey of Russian/Soviet history from the beginnings of the Russian state in A.D. 650 to the end of the twentieth century. Reviewing the book for History, Harold J. Goldberg found it an "impressive work" that aims to explore "the ambivalence of the West toward Russia . . . [and] the ambivalence that Russians often express toward themselves and their own history." In Goldberg's opinion, Hosking is "remarkably successful in achieving his goals" for the book. "This is a useful supplement to Hosking's more analytical 'Russia: People and Empire,' which appeared in 1997," noted Steven Merritt Miner in the New York Times Book Review. "The new book is the most up-to-date, comprehensive one-volume history of Russia in print, drawing as it does on a wealth of scholarship to provide readers with a superb, well-organized chronological narrative. The footnotes alone give the reader an excellent guide to recent scholarship." Some critics felt that Russia and the Russians filled a need for a readable general history of Russia. Remarking that a number of books on Russia and the Soviet Union "tackle a wide variety of narrow studies," a Contemporary Review correspondent commented that Hosking "is to be congratulated" for his thorough overview. Gilbert Taylor in Booklist suggested that the work "is especially welcome" because Hosking "links the Communist era, now that it is over, to the enduring themes of the Russian experience." Zachary T. Irwin in Library Journal also commended Hosking for "revealing Russia's enduring continuities," adding that Russia and the Russians "compares favorably with some of the best Russian histories of recent decades."
In History Today, Daniel Snowman concluded that Hosking has "used his intellectual versatility to help fuel his guiding light, the flame of Russian history." Snowman further commented: "Hosking was neither cold warrior nor fellow traveller. But he wasn't a dryas-dust academic either. He felt, and feels, that you can only really understand the present if you know what produced it."
Hosking once told CA: "My interest in Russia goes back to my school days. We didn't study Russia or Communism at all at school; perhaps that's why I found it fascinating. I had the feeling then (and still have) that the great political, artistic, philosophical and religious issues of our day were somehow being decided in Russia. No one, of course, regards the Soviet Union any longer as a socialist paradise; few people think the country has anything particularly important to tell the world. But Russia's uniquely long experience in trying to fulfill the ideals of socialism makes it a country vitally important to study (whether or not one regards socialism as desirable). This is the viewpoint from which I . . . examined the contemporary novel in Beyond Socialist Realism: Soviet Fiction since "Ivan Denisovich." The novelists (official and samizdat) are the most truthful and the profoundest historians of their own nation under Communist rule. They are both witnesses to and interpreters of that social reality. I have followed this up with my own history of the USSR, largely based on more orthodox sources, but drawing on diary and memoir material, and stressing internal social and cultural developments more than is usual in such general histories."
BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:
Antioch Review, spring, 1991, pp. 288-95.
Booklist, April 15, 2001, Gilbert Taylor, review of Russia and the Russians: A History, p. 1530.
British Book News, June, 1985, Martin McCauley, review of The First Socialist Society: A History of the Soviet Union from Within, pp. 376-77.
Choice, March, 1986, A. K. Davis, review of The First Socialist Society, p. 1124; February, 1993, p. 1023.
Contemporary Review, September, 2001, review of Russia and the Russians, p. 190.
English Historical Review, April, 2000, John Kelp, review of Reinterpreting Russia, p. 495.
Europe-Asia Studies, July, 2000, Wendy Slater, review of Reinterpreting Russia, p. 958.
History, fall, 2001, Harold J. Goldberg, review of Russia and the Russians, pp. 3-4.
History Today, July, 2000, Daniel Snowman, "Geoffrey Hosking," p. 28.
International Affairs, January, 2002, Michael Pursglove, review of Russia and the Russians, pp. 193-194.
International History Review, June, 2002, David Goldfrank, review of Russia and the Russians, pp. 393-394.
Library Journal, April 1, 2001, Zachary T. Irwin, review of Russia and the Russians, p. 114.
Los Angeles Times Book Review, January 12, 1986.
New Leader, March, 2001, Ronald Grigor Suny, review of Russia and the Russians, p. 30.
New Statesman, August 20, 2001, John Kampfner, "Gogolian Farce," p. 42.
New York Review of Books, November 7, 1991, Peter Reddaway, review of The Awakening of the Soviet Union, pp. 53-59.
New York Times Book Review, May 4, 1980; April 8, 1990, p. 14; September 29, 1991, p. 34; May 25, 1997, p. 13; July 8, 2001, Steven Merritt Miner, "Where the West Begins," p. 14.
Publishers Weekly, March 12, 2001, review of Russia and the Russians, p. 74.
Russian Review, January, 1993, pp. 139-40; January, 1995, pp. 155-56.
Slavic Review, winter, 2000, Elise Kimerling Wirtschafter, review of Reinterpreting Russia, p. 902.
Spectator, March 8, 1986, Bohdan Nahaylo, review of The First Socialist Society, pp. 31-32.
Times Literary Supplement, October 3, 1980, John B. Dunlop, review of Beyond Socialist Realism: Soviet Fiction since "Ivan Denisovich"; September 13, 1985, Adam B. Ulam, review of The First Socialist Society, p. 1010; March 16, 1990, James Sherr, review of The Awakening of the Soviet Union, p. 273; August 24, 2001, Richard Pipes, review of Russia and the Russians, p. 7.
Virginia Quarterly Review, spring, 1986, pp. 52-53.
Washington Post Book World, July 8, 2001, Robert G. Kaiser, "Blood Red," p. 1.*