"Walking on Ice" is about listening, learning, leadership, and determination—about success under challenging conditions. Russia is not a land of laws, but of relationships and tactics, both unpredictable. The Westerner has a special challenge fitting into the colorful and exciting environment of an evolving Russia. Even in this high-tech world, we need to understand the deeper meaning of a people, including those cultural elements that make them on occasion behave differently. This is not your usual business book, scholarly treatise, or a common book about some foreign place a journalist visited once. It is about the potential, the promise, the place, and most importantly, the people and the importance of relations. It's about the culture, the politics, the economics, and how this all affects the business and knowing where to step on the path of building something that lasts. It tries to explain why things are so often unpredictable, or at least prepares the reader for the recurring surprise. It is written "from the trenches" and is about success - in spite of and because of it all. It is about what the author observed and experienced over sixteen years of work in this thousand year old land with fresh and ambitious young people who are determined to make it all work. And it is about the fun of it all.
Frederick gives an overview of the book:
One freezing Moscow morning I met Svetlana, an attractive fortyish Bolshoi ballerina who lived across the hall from me, and we walked to the Metro together. The ice, black and dirty, was four inches thick with a light cover of new wet snow--as slippery as it gets. She gracefully clicked along in her three-inch heels as if she were waltzing across the marble floor of a palace. I asked Katya, my Russian teacher, “How do they do it?” Of course, she was surprised at the question. Her answer had more meaning than she intended. “Russians have been walking on ice for a thousand years,” she said. “We have no choice. We have never really known anything firm under our feet.”
History has not been kind to the Russians. Seventy years of cruel rigidity under Communism within the context of a thousand years of autocratic rule has fostered a blind dependence on central authority, as de Tocqueville says “of servitude,” a resulting lack of personal responsibility and self confidence, and a fatalistic distrust of the future.
The Westerner’s common notion about Russian women is either that of the babushkas, the stocky grandmothers in gray headscarves dutifully sweeping the frozen streets of Moscow, or the fantasy of long-legged Russian beauties, seductive KGB agents in James Bond movies. While both impressions are valid, in my book there are six kinds of Russian women: the beautiful, the babushka, the Barbie, the beaten, the bold and the bewildered.
They say Russian music, like Russian literature, is always excited about something. Why is it then that almost all Russian music, even Shostakovich, is written in a minor key? Mozart wrote over six hundred pieces of music and eighty percent are in a major key. What is the difference? Russia is a melancholy land.
When first in Russian business, I was told to read "Brothers Karamazov" to understand the Russian. As always, there are three sides to the Russian coin and this masterpiece reflects this fact about this land of 1000 years. The chapter "The Grand Inquisitor" is to me one of the greatest tracts in the world's literature and reflects on organized religion as well as a Russia about to implode. Absolutely essential. This book helps you understand that.