What is to Be Done?

Nothing Short of a Revolution

By Nikolai Chernyshevsky
Translated By Michael R. Katz 
Russian, 1863
Political Fiction, Philosophy, Feminism

Main Attractions

1.  Fascinating Character Study
2.  In depth Exploration of Choices 
3.  Powerfully Influential on Society
4.  Plot Line is a Rich Tapestry
5.  Introduces Unique Alternatives
6.  Strong Feminist Undertones
7.  Moving or Baffling Love Story
8.  A Revolutionary Obscure Character
9.  Great Dialogue with Lots of Ideas
10. Enjoyable & Very Readable Story 

Cuisine & Delicacies

Ranked as: Decadent Chocolate Cheese ’N Cake
This one is packed with philosophical musings and quotes.  There is a decent sized cast of characters who all influence each other’s actions and choices.  The depth of this book makes it difficult to finish if you become bogged down by the ideas that are explored.  It’s a rich feast for those who enjoy exploring characters and pondering why they make the choices they do.  The fest becomes even richer if you explore the historical context & impact of this great book.  Add a side dish of maple pecan cheesecake if you read the 2 companion books!! 

Why Visit Here

This book is written as part of a set of 3, see “Alternate Books” below.  Reading all three books by the different authors gives a rich dialogue & debate by 3 legendary writers.  It shows the power of literature and reading into the historical impact of just this one book, What is to Be Done?  demonstrates the cultural impact that literature can have.  This book is touted as sparking a revolution because of its rich ideals.  

It’s very much a feminist book but also gives insight into politics, economics and social roles.  Chernyshevsky challenges social conventions in this book.  He provides some very unusual alternatives to our way of life.  It’s written in an entertaining novel format so the ideas are presented in a very accessible way.  

I recommend the unabridged format, cited at the top of this blog post.  My initial reading was the abridged format, translated by Benjamin R. Tucker, Revised & Abridged by Ludmilla B Turkevich, published by Vintage Books, 1961.

The Literary Conversation:
These 3 books were written in reply to each other:
Fathers and Sons By Ivan Turgenev (1862) - It started it all with a powerful story about tensions between generations & social change, introducing Nihilism.
✓ What is to Be Done By Nikolai Chernyshevsky (1863) — He added a Feminist spin and political/economic themes to the dialogue, introducing some idealist solutions.
Notes from the Underground By Fyodor Dostoevsky (1864) - He took the idea of Nihilism and ran with it, crushing any idealist notions with practicalities of social conventions or poverty.

Destination Summary

It’s a story that branches into a love triangle.  It’s incredibly written and recommended for folks who don’t read about love triangles.  

Off the Beaten Path

A short video explaining Nietzche’s Superman

Travel Advisory

There are 2 editions.  The 1961 Edition published by Vintage and translated by Benjamin R. Tucker was revised & abridged by Ludmilla B Turkevich.  There is about 100 pages missing from the original text.    

I highly recommend the complete, unabridged  edition pictured at the top of this page.  It's the 1989 Edition published by Cornell University Press. 

Packing List

✓ All 3 books for an intensely deep experience
✓ A Documentary about Russian History, focusing on Emancipation of the Serfs in 1861
✓ A box of tissues & a train ticket to Russia

Recommended Resources
Alternate Books
✓ Prologue: A Novel for the Beginning of the 1860’s By Nikolai Chernyshevsky (1877) - He wrote this while in Exile, it includes his ideas that were later condensed into What is to Be Done?
✓ Demons (also called Devils/The Possessed) By Fyodor Dostoevsky (1872) - He goes much deeper into ideas that he started in Notes from the Underground.

Book Adaptations
✓ What is to Be Done? By Leo Tolstoy (1886) - He explores morality and also the trials of poverty.
✓ What is to Be Done? By Vladimir Lenin (1902) - He greatly admired Chernyshevsky’s book and wanted to explain his political ideas.
✓ Who is to Blame? By Alexander Herzen (1846) - A precursor to Chernyskevsky’s, What is to Be Done?

Additional Resources:
✓ A thesis titled “The Philosophical Ideas of N.G. Chernyshevsky”