Ryszard Kapuscinski, in Imperium, examines crucial eras in the modern history of Russia: 1939-1967, 1989-1991, and 1992-1993. His conclusions about the nation, its people, its leadership, and its power and collapse, are far from clear or definitive. However, this does not weaken the impact of the book, for any such attempt at clear conclusions about Russia in the mid-1990s would be folly. Kapuscinski knows this and seems to draw journalistic energy from the fact:
The whole does not end with a higher and definitive synthesis, but, on the contrary, it disintegrates and falls apart, and the reason for this is that in the course of writing the book, its main subject and theme fell apart--namely, the great Soviet superpower (x).
The author does not pretend to know what will happen to what remains of that collapse, and he does not even pretend to have written a "history" of the eras covered before and during that collapse. He never pretends to be offering an objective analysis of his subject. Instead he presents "a personal report" with highly subjective observations about a remarkable nation at various, turbulent points in its evolution. Kapuscinski maintains at the end of the book the same open-ended perspective he claims at the beginning. Starting with the chaos of the Soviet invasion of Poland, and ending with the fall of the Soviet Empire, he is far more concerned with portraying (and celebrating) the conflicts of Russia than with coming to a neat understanding of its past or a simple forecast of its future. In fact, what the author is after above all is painting and sharing his vision of Russia as an entirely unique nation which defies understanding, analysis, and comparison.
At the same time, within that general refusal to predict, pin down or conclude, Kapuscinski does make numerous declarations which hold true for Russia and its government and people at various points in its modern history. For example, "The foundation...