Professor’s Bookshelf: Peter Rutland
Professor of Government Peter Rutland specializes in Russian studies and has been at the University since 1989. He has traveled around the world to explore issues in Russian history, including events of the former Soviet Union. He has also studied economic policy in socialist and post-socialist countries as well as regional ethnic conflicts. The Argus corresponded with Rutland via email to discuss his favorite kinds of travelogues, his critiques on government literature and memoirs, and his recent writing progress.
The Argus: What is your favorite book on government in general?
Peter Rutland: My choice would be Alexis de Tocqueville’s “Democracy in America,” published in 1835. It is analytically rich, providing insights into the dynamics of American society and institutions, which are still relevant today. It is also a vivid travelogue that reads very well. A few years ago I took Tocqueville’s conceptual framework and used it to explain why democracy has failed in Russia—it worked very well.
A: What book on government have you been reading recently?
PR: I don’t read political science books for pleasure because they are usually poorly written and it takes a lot of effort to extract any analytical insights or empirical nuggets from them. I enjoy memoirs and travelogues that give you a sense of how people live in different environments. I just finished Yu Hua’s “China in Ten Words,” Rane Willeslev’s “On the Run in Siberia,” and Melanie McGrath’s “The Long Exile: A Tale of Inuit Betrayal and Survival.” As for novels right now, I am enjoying Haruki Murakami’s “IQ84”—900 pages long but hard to put down. I am looking forward to the movie version of David Mitchell’s “Cloud Atlas”—he is one of my favorite authors.
A: What have you been writing about recently?
PR: It’s hard to get much time for serious writing during the semester. All I can manage are book reviews and short analytical briefs on topics such as the reform of Russian railways and Russian investments in Africa. Right now I am working on a review for the Times Literary Supplement of a book on the Russian oil industry, “Wheel of Fortune” by Thane Gustafson.
A: What topic in government are you most interested in and why?
PR: I am intrigued by the persistence of national identity and people’s willingness to kill and be killed for their nation, despite the insistence of liberals that this phenomenon does not exist or is an illusion. Another big question that has not been clearly answered is the relationship between democracy and capitalism—under what circumstances is the latter conducive to the former. Obviously this is central to understanding the political future of Russia and China.