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Why did early Bolsheviks sponsor expeditions for occultists obsessed with a Shangri-La? Russian historian of shamanism Andrei Znamenski answers this in his engaging study of characters caught up in an unlikely pairing. It matched Marxist communal ideology with New Age-tinged notions of totalitarian theocracy. It conquered, if briefly, the steppes of Mongolia as a vanguard for a pan-Buddhist takeover of Central Asia. Even before the October Revolution, plans to spark uprisings in the inner Asian fastnesses grew. Secret plans by geopolitical instigators circulated that the fulfillment of apocalyptic promises loomed, so the communist conspiracy to sign on fellow travelers here recruited strange companions.

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