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Red Plenty [Paperback]

Francis Spufford
4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (43 customer reviews)
RRP: £10.99
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Book Description

7 July 2011

The Soviet Union was founded on a fairytale. It was built on 20th-century magic called 'the planned economy', which was going to gush forth an abundance of good things that the penny-pinching lands of capitalism could never match. And just for a little while, in the heady years of the late 1950s, the magic seemed to be working.

Red Plenty is about that moment in history, and how it came, and how it went away; about the brief era when, under the rash leadership of Nikita Khrushchev, the Soviet Union looked forward to a future of rich communists and envious capitalists, when Moscow would out-glitter Manhattan, every Lada would be better engineered than a Porsche and sputniks would lead the way to the stars. And it's about the scientists who did their genuinely brilliant best to make the dream come true, to give the tyranny its happy ending.

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Product details

  • Paperback: 448 pages
  • Publisher: Faber & Faber (7 July 2011)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0571225241
  • ISBN-13: 978-0571225248
  • Product Dimensions: 12.7 x 2.7 x 19.9 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (43 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 54,253 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


'Bizarre and brilliant book ... Spufford's genius is to re-create that moment as people lived it, rich in possibility, the future not yet assured ... this is like no other history book I have read ... it is hard to believe that there could be a more rigorous evocation of that brief, illusory moment when Soviet communism seemed poised to transform the world. I finished the book in awe, not just at Spufford's Stakhanovite research, but his skill as a novelist, his judgement as a historian and his sheer guts in attempting something simultaneously so weird and yet so wonderful.' --Sunday Times

'This strange, clever book blends fact and fiction to convey vast amounts of information with the light touch of the storyteller.' --Guardian

'Virtuoso storytelling in a series of vividly imagined episodes - funny, poignant, spine-chilling.' --Daily Telegraph

'An eccentric but vivid history ... seen through the eyes of imaginatively crafted fictional characters.' --The Times

'Virtuoso storytelling in a series of vividly imagined episodes - funny, poignant, spine-chilling.' -- Daily Telegraph

The book is rigorously researched and inventively conceived. --Independent on Sunday

'An eccentric but vivid history ... seen through the eyes of imaginatively crafted fictional characters.' --The Times

'Virtuoso storytelling in a series of vividly imagined episodes - funny, poignant, spine-chilling.' --Daily Telegraph

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

Most Helpful Customer Reviews
65 of 66 people found the following review helpful
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
5.0 out of 5 stars Spufford triumphs again 2 Sep 2010
By critic
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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35 of 36 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Enjoyable, Eccentric and Economic Fun!!!! 19 Sep 2010
By Kuma
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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13 of 13 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Captivating, unusual and brilliant 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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9 of 9 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Docu-drama in prose 5 Nov 2010
I bought this book after reading a favourable review in The Economist, so I knew it was not an ordinary history book. When I started reading it and found it was more fiction than fact, I was initially disappointed because I didn't know how much of the history was imagined. The author does warn about this in the introduction, but it's hard to adjust to because it's marketed and priced as a history book, not a novel, so there are certain expectations of accuracy and format that are not addressed.

Now that I've read all the way through it I think the best way to describe the book is as my title. This is very much like a modern dramatised history, or docu-drama, that you see on TV all the time. The characterisation is very good, the scenery very vivid, the author precedes segments of the book with a voice-over type narrative to position the chronology and some exposition to explain some of the ideas and challenges. The rest is done in-story by character conversations, and it's a good way of dumbing down complicated theories of political and ideological thought so that they can be easily comprehended and digested. Also explains some mechanical, industrial, and biological concepts, again using picturesque writing to implant the scene in your mind. On the whole I liked it a lot, would recommend it to people to read (but not necessarily to buy), and would give it 3.5 stars out of 5 if possible.

I see a lot of people have given it 5 stars, which is fine for them, but I wouldn't agree it's that brilliant, that classic, or that re-readable. But a good introduction to the subject matter, and that's worth a lot.
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
5.0 out of 5 stars Lets party like it's 1959! A wonderful delve into the Khrushchev era
Surprised by how much I loved this book - emphasis on my use of the word "book" rather than "novel" or "historical fiction". Read more
Published 1 month ago by Eternal Mondasian
3.0 out of 5 stars Interesting but Not An Easy Read
The historical background to this novel is very interesting and forms a good base for the stories. I say stories because other than being set in the same country there isn't much... Read more
Published 4 months ago by hkwoody
5.0 out of 5 stars a brilliant way to explain an economic system
The best book I have read that explains and humanises the USSR economic system and explains why and how it broke.. Read more
Published 5 months ago by G. E. Kirkup
5.0 out of 5 stars Understand why the experiment of Soviet socialism failed
As many before me, I thought this was a 'normal' history book: it isn't. It's a collection of historically-based stories that build up a picture of the idealism, the reality, and... Read more
Published 8 months ago by Nick Blackbourn
5.0 out of 5 stars Great Read
I really enjoyed this book. It started a bit slow , but I'm glad I stuck with it as it gathered momentum. Very well written and an interesting perspective on presenting history.
Published 14 months ago by Jitaditya
5.0 out of 5 stars A hidden story bursts brilliantly into life
There seems to be a lot of confusion concerning this book; is 'Red Plenty' fiction or history? Well it's neither and both. Read more
Published 15 months ago by Timothy Hooper
5.0 out of 5 stars A great storyteller
People need hope and after years and years of suffering it seemed that the communism would became more human and things can get better. Read more
Published 17 months ago by Marin P
5.0 out of 5 stars A triumph of historical AND fictional writing
I have sent copies to a number of like-minded friends and colleagues with an interest in 20C history. Read more
Published 19 months ago by Noel Parker
4.0 out of 5 stars Not what I expected
Like many other reviewers I thought this to be a history book so I was a little disappointed to find that it was a novel, but you have to read on and I found it enlightening, it... Read more
Published on 17 Oct 2012 by D. S. Sample
5.0 out of 5 stars A stunning book
For anyone who is fascinated enough by the horrors of the failed communist experiment to have read all the Le Carre thrillers, gulag memoirs and political textbooks, this is the... Read more
Published on 21 Sep 2012 by Kevin Phillips-Bong
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