Fisher, Steven. Into Russia’s Cauldron, An American Vision, Undone; The Newly Revealed Century-Old Eyewitness Journal of Leighton W. Rogers. Chicago: Forest Cat Productions, 2021. 427 pp., maps, photographs, index, epilogue, paper, $22.99.
While working as an employee of Citibank of New York at its Kiev, Ukraine branch in 2017, Steven Fisher discovered by chance information relating to a journal that Leighton Rogers kept in Petrograd during the Russian Revolution of 1917. This manuscript was later found in the Library of Congress and is the subject of this book, along with Fisher’s introductory material. Rogers had been recruited by Frank Vanderlip, director of National City Bank (NCB), Citibank’s predecessor, who saw an opportunity for American banking expansion in Russia, and decided to open a new branch in Petrograd, prominently located on the left bank of the Neva across the river from the Peter and Paul Fortress. Rogers was one of a contingent of recent ivy-league college graduates recruited for the job.During the volatile year of 1917, while dodging occasional gunfire and forced to eat many meals and sleeping nights at the bank, the contingent also dined out frequently and attended concerts, operas, and other Petrograd venues. They seemed to realize only late that they were “standing on a volcano,” as Ralph Barnes described American Ambassador David Francis at that time. The fledgling bankers of NCB also seemed unaware of many other well-funded Americans in the city who made possible the initial success of the bank.
As Lyubov Ginsburg’s dissertation (completed in 2010) on the American community in the city, cited in the bibliography, and the late Vladimir Noskov’s epic study (published in St. Petersburg in 2018) on the American diplomatic colony (embassy and consulate) noted many other Americans resided in the city, ranging from followers of the American Methodist church through an expanded embassy and its new Second Division, under Basil Miles, that supervised the neutral care of German and Austrian prisoners of war, many of the latter would form the Czechoslovak Legion. They also included contingents of American Red Cross, the YMCA, the staff of New York Life, the largest insurance company in Russia, that occupied a prominent symbol of the United States in the “Singer building” on Nevsky Prospect. In addition, there were the members and large staffs of the Root and Stevens Commissions as well as a veritable horde of journalists who descended on the city to explore the “Russian experiment” for readers at home. All sought a reliable place to keep money. Steven Fisher deserves credit for employing excellent secondary sources–Figes, Kennan, Hasegawa, Foglesong, Pipes, and others–and including the works of contemporaries of Rogers, such as John Reed, Albert Rhys Williams, and Pauline Crosby, and several more, and especially for rescuing this manuscript from archival oblivion. This is an important story of an interesting, even exciting American chapter in the Russian Revolution.
Norman Saul, Professor of History, Emeritus University of Kansas