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Red Plenty Hardcover – 19 Aug 2010

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Product details

  • Hardcover: 448 pages
  • Publisher: Faber & Faber; Main edition (19 Aug. 2010)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0571225233
  • ISBN-13: 978-0571225231
  • Product Dimensions: 14.3 x 3.7 x 22.2 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (46 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 294,268 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

I'm a writer of non-fiction who is creeping up gradually on writing novels. I write slowly and I always move to new subject-matter with each book, because I want to be learning something fresh every time, both in terms of encountering history and people and thinking which are new to me, and also in the sense of trying out a new way of writing. My idea of a good project is one that I can only just manage. I've written a memoir of my childhood as a compulsive reader, an analysis of the British obsession with polar exploration, a book about engineers which is also a stealth history of Britain since 1945, and a fusion of history with novel called "Red Plenty", about the USSR in the early 1960s. My next book will complete my slow crabwise crawl into fiction by being an honest-to-goodness entirely made-up story, without a footnote in sight. But before that, I have out a short polemic about religion called "Unapologetic". Despite the impression given by some of the reactions to it, it isn't, in fact, an attack on atheism, a position I have no trouble at all respecting. I am a little rude and a little mocking to the likes of Richard Dawkins - but it seems to me that when it comes to the lived experience of faith, Dawkins and co. are, as they say, not even wrong. So, though the book begins at the familiar address where the bust-up over religion has been going on for a decade now, it then goes entirely elsewhere, to try to convey to readers of all persuasions what Christianity feels like from the inside: actual Christianity, rather than the conjectural caricature currently in circulation. The book isn't an argument than Christianity is true, because how could anyone know that? It's only an attempt to show that it is recognisable, in ordinary human terms - made up of the shared emotions of ordinary adult life, rather than taking place in some special and simple-minded zoo. There is a tumblr for the book at

(Oh, biography. I was born in 1964, I'm married with a seven-year-old daughter, and I teach on the MA in Creative and Life Writing at Goldsmiths College, London.)

Product Description


'An incredibly smart, surprisingly involving and deeply eccentric book…. I am not alone in thinking that [Francis Spufford] has one of the most original minds in contemporary literature.' --Nick Hornby, Believer

'One can scarcely think of a recent book that conveys the everyday textures of life in the Soviet Union so well. ... This is a thrilling book that all enthusiasts of the Big State should read.' --Michael Burleigh, Sunday Telegraph

'(I) finished it in awe, not merely at Spufford's Stakhanovite research, but at his skill as a novelist, his judgement as a historian and his sheer guts in attempting something simultaneously so weird and yet so wonderful.' -- Dominic Sandbrook, Sunday Times

'As a gallimaufry of the funny, technical-scientific and deadly earnest, Red Plenty ranks as one of the strangest books ever written on the Soviet Union. From start to finish, the book is an eccentric delight; absorbing, pleasingly digressive and superbly written.' --Ian Thomson, Financial Times

Book Description

What if the Soviet 'miracle' had worked, and the communists had discovered the secret to prosperity, progress and happiness...?

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Customer Reviews

4.5 out of 5 stars

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

65 of 66 people found the following review helpful By T. R. Cowdret on 20 Aug. 2010
Format: Hardcover
This is a fantastic, innovative look at the economic policies of the USSR under Khrushchev. If my opening sentence sounds dull, please don't see it as a true representation of this book. Spufford's approach is to interweave extensive research with the imagination and invention of a novelist. The end result is a fantastic patchwork in which fictional characters rub shoulders with historical ones and stunning descriptive passages add lustre to what might have been dry, factual information.
Some experts might balk at the idea of a non-Russian speaker using secondary sources to construct such a book. Readers of Taubman's biography of Khruschchev might also feel that a sense of 'deja vu' creeps in at points. However, Spufford's 'novelistic' approach brought new angles to this topic for me and certainly made me think about certain aspects of the period in a different way.
I'm not sure that I have done an effective job in this review of explaining the wonderful book Spufford has created. All I can say is that, having read many of Spufford's sources previously, I was hugely impressed with the end result of his creative approach.
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25 of 25 people found the following review helpful By critic on 2 Sept. 2010
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Spufford has a talent for conveying atmosphere, for recreating an era by means of anecdote, and he uses the technique to good effect here.

The story is of Soviet Russia, and how, through the appliance of science, it will forge ahead of the capitalists. Only it didn't happen like that.

Spufford relates the story by vignettes, first showing how the system might work, and the optimism engendered, then the gradual lapse into economic arthritis that led to the collapse of the system.

Well worth your money and your time.
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13 of 13 people found the following review helpful By A writer in London on 21 Oct. 2010
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
This is one of the oddest, most surprising and most enchanting books I have ever read. Spufford insists that his work is not a novel, but it is. And it is a beautifully and brilliantly written novel which really ought to win (or at the very least be shortlisted for) a Booker prize. It's a serious cut above most current literary fiction in terms of the quality of its prose, and the characters (particularly the real ones) are deftly and expertly drawn. You will learn a great deal from reading this book, so packed is it with political history and economics and science, all seamlessly woven into the story. And because you are learning as you read, you are forced to think and reflect and wonder as you read. All of which makes this a book to be read in small, immensely pleasurable doses (I took mine twice daily on the tube) rather than in a single, marathon gulp. My advice would be to spin out the enjoyment as long as you can. My world feels empty and grey now that I have reached the end.
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35 of 36 people found the following review helpful By Kuma on 19 Sept. 2010
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Spufford's "Red Plenty" is an amazing work. I never thought I'd ever read a novel about economics, but this is a rare work. Other reviewers have already captured a lot of what the work is about, but as an historian what this book did was something that a history book would struggle to do and that is provide a sensation of expectation.
Often the historian is faced with teleological arguments and the dreaded threat of anachronism when assessing history. Received wisdom now tells us that Soviet Union was doomed to fail, this attitude dooms historians to wonder why there was a cold war at all, surely the West could have just waited and not have been as pro-active? This book undermines that notion, partly through shrewd judgement by picking a period in which the Soviet Union had the edge, the late 50s and early 60s - the book parachutes the reader into the era in which the Soviets beat the US to the punch with the ICBM and when the planned economy represented a real challenge to the free market. Spufford infuses us with the aspirations of his characters and does a marvellous job of suspending disbelief, leaving the reader thinking at the end that maybe the Soviet decline wasn't inevitable and could have been so different if some personalities hadn't intervened. In some respects this should be essential reading for any cold war student - it really breathes life into the topic.
As a work of literature it provides a compelling set of interlinking stories, paced correctly and very readable. For those of you worried about the economic content, this is very accessible and like a good fairy tale key pieces of information and explanations are transmitted to characters that need them explained, helping the reader understand if necessary.
I'd recommend this book to anyone wanting a really entertaining read, interested in history or economics or even those who simply enjoy intelligent prose.
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9 of 9 people found the following review helpful By Cholly McMurphy on 2 Nov. 2010
Format: Hardcover
As a 1950's Meccanophile I was thrilled by Spufford's `Backroom Boys' - a tale of British string and sealing wax inventiveness - and was very curious to see what he would make of recent Soviet History. I was not disappointed. He is a piece of work, that Spufford. He can certainly spin a good narrative. He managed to make Soviet History human - combining imagined vignettes of fictional characters with `proper' history. But unlike the usual depressing narratives covering that period (collapse of Communism - inevitable because repressive and over extended militarily) he shines a light on the totally understandable ideological commitment towards an envisioned better future realisable through the application of `Science' - physical, economic and social and managerial. If only the proletariat could be rescued from ignorance and taught to see the light - if only! Utopia is just over the horizon, and why not? What is life about if not the creation of a better world for more people, decent housing, clothing and adequate food? Spufford captures that feeling, that ideological current. Of course we know now that the experiment failed disastrously - but - and this is what I took from Spufford - there were people (ordinary people) who actually wanted it to succeed, who felt that any social organisation was better than a vast peasantry owned by a tiny aristocracy that was pre-revolutionary Russia. Just such a shame that the revolutionaries failed to trust the people.

And more - the 53 pages of notes on which the smooth narrative was based were as fascinating and as informative as the narrative itself. Well done, Spufford.
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