Although new histories of Russia, often reflecting the author's cultural slant, appear regularly, there is a dearth of books that explain the Russian perspective. This work takes the opposite approach by acquainting readers with some of the foremost ideas in Russian cultural history. This outline of Russian thought and culture necessarily begins with the geographic setting because it fostered certain tendencies. The narrative then proceeds to explain the spiritual foundation and cultural orientation that established a system of values and set the direction for future developments. For example, it was the split in the Christian world between the Roman West and the Greek East in 1054 that instituted the 'us' and 'them' divide, and which effectively separated Russia from Europe. The divergence became greater in the 1200s when Russia came under Mongol suzerainty and for more than two centuries it was the westernmost province of an Asian empire.
At the same time, while feudalism in Western Europe contributed to social and political fragmentation, feudalism in Russia contributed to centralization of authority and the establishment of tsarism, wherein everyone, from the lowly swineherd to the high nobleman, became a servant of the state. By the turn of the nineteenth century, most of the intelligentsia seemed to expect a revolution, and this atmosphere benefited the Machiavellian Bolshevik leaders who wrested control over the intelligentsia, and then foisted on the people social and economic theories of Karl Marx. At the same time, the Bolshevik leader Vladimir Lenin established the mechanism for a brutal and doctrinaire government. Stalin succeeded Lenin, and although in many respects he acted more as a traditional guardian of state interests than of Marxist orthodoxy, the Soviet regime's political and economic isolation exacerbated the material and spiritual wellbeing of the people to such an extent that in December 1991 the Soviet Union simply, and unexpectedly, dissolved. Significantly, in April 2005, when President Vladimir Putin addressed the State Duma, i.e. the Russian parliament, he described the dissolution of the Soviet Union as the greatest geopolitical catastrophe of the twentieth century.
Not surprisingly, a sizeable majority of Russians agreed. Russia and much of the geopolitical space around it share a common history and system of values, and their current and future relations depend as much on global issues as on those subtle qualities of thought and culture that have shaped their particular worldview.