Marshall D. Shulman Book Prize

2023 Citation Recipient

Togzhan Kassenova

The Marshall D. Shulman Book Prize, established in 1987 and sponsored by the Harriman Institute at Columbia University, is awarded annually for an outstanding monograph dealing with the international relations, foreign policy, or foreign-policy decision-making of any of the states of the former Soviet Union or Eastern Europe published in the previous calendar year. The prize is dedicated to the encouragement of high-quality studies of the international behavior of the countries of the former Communist Bloc.

Co-winner: Togzhan Kassenova, SUNY Albany
Title: Atomic Steppe: How Kazakhstan Gave Up the Bomb (Stanford University Press)

With the dramatic collapse of the Soviet Union, a newly independent Kazakhstan found itself with more than a thousand nuclear weapons, which would have made it the world’s fourth largest nuclear power. How did this come about and why did Kazakhstan give up these weapons in the 1990s? Answering this question with an authoritative voice and profound sensitivity, Togzhan Kassenova takes us on an incredible journey across forty years. Atomic Steppe goes back to Soviet-era nuclear tests and young Kazakhs’ first encounters with limbless animals, takes us around atomic lakes and across contaminated villages, and shows us inside highly secretive labs and post-communist negotiation rooms, from Semipalatinsk to Nevada. Skillfully combining archival sources with memoirs and interviews, the book is exemplary in making a complex picture accessible and vivid. Sensitive to broader geopolitical stakes, it nevertheless insists on the need to place Kazakhs and their relationship to nuclear power at the center. Moving beyond strict policy approaches, it spotlights a diverse range of actors, from poet-protesters and nuclear engineers to the diplomats scrambling in the aftermath of the Soviet collapse. Illustrated with powerful images and intimate testimonies, Atomic Steppe concludes with a moving epilogue that brings to the foreground people—and their day-to-day lives—in how we tell the timely history of nuclear power and denuclearization.

Co-winner: Alessandro Iandolo, University College London
Title: Arrested Development: The Soviet Union in Ghana, Guinea, and Mali, 1955-1968 (Cornell University Press)

Why did the Soviet development model fail in West Africa? Alessandro Iandolo pursues this question by brilliantly mapping a now-lively literature on socialist development and offering fresh insights built on years of dazzling research in multiple archives and languages—from Ghana and Mali to France and Russia. Moscow championed specific developmental goals in West Africa, but Iandolo argues that it failed “to bear the costs” of the modernization it sought to bring about. He reconstructs how the Soviets sought to deploy the state as the agent of this modernization, deeply attentive to the similarities and distinctions between the Soviet and other models around the world. While Moscow clearly favored state ownership and collective enterprise, the expectation was not that Ghana, Guinea, and Mali would imitate earlier Soviet planning. Still, within a few years, high hopes gave way to frustrations over resources, disappointments, failures, and mutual recriminations. Sensitive to the structural impediments of the larger Cold War conflict, Iandolo places Soviet economic activity abroad within the broader history of important substitution. His granular study of ambition, capacity, and execution adds an important dimension to the history of Second World-Third World relations. Exemplary in globalizing the history of the Soviet state, Arrested Development successfully begins to build necessary bridges across literatures and specializations.