This is an incredibly well balanced overview of the Russian peasantry, that is divided up into 10 main chapters covering each of the following headings:
Population, where we learn about death and birth rates as well as how geography plays a major role in population;
Environment, where we get a deeper look at the geography of Russia and how that played a part in migration of peasants as well as how Russia grew during this period;
Exploitation, in which Moon attempts to balance the assumption that serfs were very badly treated (something the Communists were attempting to teach) against the more complicated reality of the interplay between landowner and serf;
Production, where we learn what was grown, harvested, and sold as well as why Russian peasants never advanced beyond the technology level of 16th century peasants in the rest of Europe;
Households, where we learn about the large, multi-generational households that were common and why they persisted;
Communes, wherein we learn about how the community of peasants was a vital factor in managing the estate, keeping order, and keeping everyone alive;
Protest, where we learn about the 4 major rebellions that took place before the 19th century;
Consumption, What the peasants ate and bought, and by inference how they lived day-to-day and what their interests were;
Continuity, where we learn not what changed for the peasants but how their culture survived, thrived, and was kept intact even when families were split apart, or entire communities moved thousands of miles;
Change, where we take a closer look at the myth that peasant society was static (see Production and how the peasant farming techniques did not change much).
This is a book designed for someone who wants a good introduction to Russian peasant society, overall Russian history, and a look at how different political influences can shape how we look at the data present. Moon does an excellent job of being very fair to not only the peasants, but also to the landowners (and even the tsarist’s government itself) by presenting the complexity of the issue of serfdom. While there are a few “evil players” here and there – Darya Nikolayevna Saltykova, for example – the interplay of power between the serf and the elite was dynamic, subtle, complex, and not nearly as black and white as the American slave plantations.
I highly recommend this book for anyone who wants to learn more about this period in history, especially if you are a lover of Russian literature and wish to gain a keener insight into the novels of the great Russian masters who so often included serfs in their stories.