Old Saint Basil's Cathedral in MoscowJohnson's Russia List title and scenes of Saint Petersburg
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New York Times
Book Review
November 11, 2001
Books in Brief: 'Soviets'
Pictures From the End of the USSR

Photographs by Shepard Sherbell.
Yale University, $45.

If what you seek is something polished, pleasant and acceptably provocative, ''Soviet: Pictures From the End of the USSR'' is not the coffee-table book for you. Its hundreds of grainy black-and-white images by Shepard Sherbell depict a land that was always raw, uncomfortable and so full of powerful contrasts -- the best and worst of the world -- that few would assume it could offer solace. Sherbell set out to portray the end of the Soviet Union. He offers ample evidence of the detritus that attests to the failure of the Soviet empire: the rusting hulks of ships or factories; the urban developments thrown up to house millions, littered with discarded pipes or even the carcasses of nuclear missiles; the vast factories whose architecture screams ''Planned!'' and whose workers struggle to keep production going; the fallen statues of Soviet heroes like Lenin or Feliks Dzerzhinsky, founder of the organization that became the K.G.B. Yet Sherbell's keen eye has also discovered why this most enduring of authoritarian systems did not, after all, prevail. Even the most ruined faces that gaze out from these vistas of destruction glisten with unvarnished human emotion, hinting at the vast cultural achievement that will always be Russia's, though it is merely glimpsed here.

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