Lake Ladoga. The coastal history of the greatest lake in Europe. Maria Lähteenmäki and Isaac Land, editors. Helsinki: Finnish Literary Society, SKS. 2023. 233 p, paperback, epub and pdf. ISBN 978-951-858-628-2 (print). €45. Also available as a free open-access download (https://doi.org/10.21435/sfh.27).
This is an enlarged and substantially revised version in English of Laatokka: Suurjärven kiehtova rantahistorica, edited by Maria Lähteenmäki and published in 2021. It deals with Lake Ladoga, which as the title reminds us is the largest freshwater lake entirely in Europe, and undoubtedly one of the world’s ‘great lakes’. It is over 150 km long and 100 km wide, large enough to experience its own weather and often known as the ‘Karelian Sea’. Until 1944 half of it lay within Finland; redrawing of borders after the Second World War placed it entirely within the Soviet Union, in Russia. As scholarship relating to Russia becomes increasingly disconnected from much of the rest of the world, and the risk of forgetting increases, publication of this book in English is timely. Why should readers Polar Record take notice of it? Geographically speaking, the lake lies within the subarctic region, in the southern taiga. As such, it falls within one of the most important biomes for the global climate system, and it would be easy to justify a deep study of the area on purely physical grounds. However, this is (mostly) a history book and it reminds physical scientists like me that we cannot properly begin to understand a physical environment without also taking note of human interactions, with one another and with the environment itself. As Maria Lähteenmäki writes in her introductory chapter, the history of the Ladoga region is ‘interwoven not only with the Finnish-Russian borderland of Karelia, but also with the Soviet Cold War narrative, the history of postwar Russia, and the story of Europe’s Green Belt.’