'I sit high and see far' is the appropriate Russian aphorism. That outsider’s long view is the book’s strength. After all, these foreigners often have more privileged access to great men and events than the vast majority of Russian witnesses ... Rappaport has unearthed plenty of wonderful new material, including the unpublished memoir of Leighton Rogers, discovered in the Library of Congress. Yet there are some odd omissions ... By confining herself to foreigners in Russia’s capital, Rappaport takes a necessarily narrow slice of revolutionary history. But the story these witnesses tell is endlessly fascinating.
Helen Rappaport’s Caught in the Revolution is an enlightening cavalcade of people on the move — running across the frosty paving stones in Petrograd, arriving on a steam train, waving goodbye from a military transport, all caught up in the uncertain transformation of the world’s largest country. It is a reminder of the fact that outsiders of all sorts rushed to cover the events in the faltering empire, from the suffragette Emmeline Pankhurst to the unsung American journalist Bessie Beatty. It is a catalogue of witnesses pulled from an exhaustive reading of European and American memoirs and on-the-spot reporting, and a testament to the supremely bad forecasting of foreigners eager to make sense of the moments they were experiencing.
Rappaport’s sources give a vivid account of this complexity. Yet her book lacks two things. The first is sophisticated analysis of the big issues that divided Russia’s politicians and their impassioned supporters...Rappaport’s own views instinctively reflect her sources’ attitudes, so that her writing lacks impartiality, let alone curiosity as to why so many Petrograders wanted revolution, beyond the broad-brush point that tens of thousands were hungry and impoverished...The second problem is the lack of Russian voices in the book. Rappaport makes no pretence that hers is anything but an account of foreigners’ experiences in someone else’s revolution. Nevertheless, a few chapters on what Russians were thinking would have provided an alternative to the parade of outsiders’ prejudice she offers ... Rappaport chooses their graphic accounts brilliantly. What today’s editors like to call the backstory is the bit that evades her.