Episode 284: The Greatest Russian General, in War and Peace

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If we know Mikhail Ilarionovich Golenischev-Kutuzov, we know him as Tolstoy imagined him, as an old man, before Austerlitz, “with his uniform unbuttoned so that his fat neck bulged over his collar if escaping… in a low chair with his podgy old hands resting symmetrically on its arms'' who begins to snore loudly and rhythmically as his generals plan the battle. Why? Because he alone understands the hand of providence, or the finger of fate; because he alone “recognizes that there are forces in the universe that are ‘stronger and more important than his own will’.” Tolstoy’s Kutuzov therefore decides not to decide; diminishes himself in order to triumph; realizes that he is an observer rather than pretending to be an actor. But who was Kutuzov really? And how can we know him? Those are the questions at the heart of Alexander Mikaberidze’s new biography Kutuzov: A Life in War and Peace. It is as concerned with Russia in the late eighteenth century, and with what was subsequently made of Kutuzov’s legacy–to the very moment we record this conversation–as he is in Kutuzov’s life story. Alexander Mikaberidze is Professor of European History at the Louisiana State University at Shreveport, where he is also Ruth Herring Noel Endowed Chair for the Curatorship of the James Smith Noel Collection. This is his fourth appearance on Historically Thinking. For Further Investigation Alex Mikaberidize talked about the Napoleonic Wars as a world war in Episode 14, and then again in Episode 155, after the publication of his book The Napoleonic Wars: A Global History (which won the 2020 Gilder-Lehrman Military History Prize) He also appeared in Episode 241: Doing the Research Brian Cox seems pretty well-cast as Kutuzov; but if you listened to the podcast closely, you'll see that the makeup people made an error

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