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Author: David Goldfrank

Halperin’s extensively researched, methodically logical and thought out, and clearly written, if perforce selective study of Ivan iv and his reign scrupulously devotes attention to the reliability of the available sources. The author’s leitmotif here is that diplomatic papers and chronicles, as well as polemical literature, à la the disputed Ivan iv-Kurbskii epistolary exchange, as well as the History attributed to the latter and also foreigners’ reports, can simultaneously be authentic, authorial works and factually unreliable. Halperin flags in such sources numerous statements which stand either uncorroborated by other sources, some surely not credible, such as the young Ivan as a “monster in training,” or contradicted by them, for example, that oprichnina members were totally separated from the rest of Russian society. Halperin also modifies Michael Cherniavsky’s “Renaissance Prince” paradigm for Ivan iv with an emphasis on the explosive social tensions seen for this era and the dynamics of the domestic terror which the tsar unleashed, as well as his personal religious sensitivities and political ideology. Herein Halperin perceptively grasps the anomaly of Ivan’s repudiating the lasting, state-strengthening reforms of the 1550s. This reviewer takes partial responsibility for where Halperin was misled by the ‘Kurbskii’ History regarding Trans-Volgan hermitages.

In: Russian History