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The Rise and Fall of Great Powers Hardcover – 29 May 2014

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Product details

  • Hardcover: 384 pages
  • Publisher: Sceptre (29 May 2014)
  • Language: Unknown
  • ISBN-10: 1444752340
  • ISBN-13: 978-1444752342
  • Product Dimensions: 15.7 x 3.4 x 24 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 3.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (33 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 70,637 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Tom Rachman was born in London and raised in Vancouver. A graduate of the University of Toronto and the Columbia School of Journalism in New York, he has been a foreign correspondent for the Associated Press, stationed in Rome, and worked as an editor at the International Herald Tribune in Paris. He lives in Rome.

Product Description


...One of the paciest, easiest to read novels you could imagine... mesmerising: a thorough work-out for the head and heart that targets cognitive muscles you never knew you had. (The Times)

Some novels are such good company that you don't want them to end; Tom Rachman knows this, and has pulled off the feat of writing one... All this amounts to a touching story of fallen idols, with brilliant insights into misplaced loyalties, and the power that adults have over children. Rachman has written a hugely likeable, even loveable book about the people we meet and how they shape us. (Sunday Telegraph)

The detail is never overdone, the language is quirky and the novel's structure is beautifully managed (The Lady)

Sprawling, ambitious second novel. (New York Magazine)

When a Tom Rachman novel lands in the bookstores I stop living and breathing to devour it. It's hard to think of anyone who has a better grasp on the world we live in (and I mean, like, the entire planet) and can write about it with such entertainment and panache. (Gary Shteyngart, author of Little Failure)

Rachman follows his best-selling debut (The Imperfectionists, 2010) with the haunting tale of a young woman reassessing her turbulent past . . . Brilliantly structured, beautifully written and profoundly sad. (Kirkus, Starred Review)

A bookshop-lover's book, and beautiful prose-lover's book, and read-it-all-in-one-weekend book. (The New Republic)

The Imperfectionists is a splendid original, filled with wit and structured so ingeniously that figuring out where the author is headed is half the reader's fun. (Janet Maslin, New York Times)

Even with all the flights of fancy and exotic locales, the characters in it are beautifully human . . . After his much acclaimed 2010 debut, The Imperfectionists, Rachman uses this follow-up to prove he's a writer to watch. (

Memorable for its melancholy warmth and its almost Dickensian sentimentality. (The Sunday Times)

Ingenious... Mr. Rachman needs only a few well-drawn characters to fill a large canvas and an impressive swath of history. (New York Times)

Book Description

The stunning second novel from the author of international bestseller The Imperfectionists.

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Customer Reviews

3.7 out of 5 stars

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful By prisrob TOP 50 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on 10 July 2014
Format: Hardcover
This novel is a book lovers paradise. Books all around, books and authors mentioned frequently. It is a strange book, one that did not grab me instantly, but gave me little squeezes and finally got me.

Matilda Tooly Zylberberg aka Tooly stopped going to school at age 10. She moved every year with Paul, her caretaker or relative, not sure at first glance. Paul was a computer savvy person who worked for the State Department creating secure files at Embassies. Their last stop was Bankok, and then Tooly disappeared. She moved throughout her life with various people, Sarah, Venn, Humphrey, Duncan, until at last we begin to piece together her life, as she goes looking for herself.

The novel traces her life in snippets, back and forth between, 1988, 1999, and 2011. In each year we learn a little about Tolly, but not who she really is. As the novel opens in 2011, we find her in Wales, owner of an aging bookshop. She pays the wages of her helper, Fogg, from her meager savings. Never interested in her looks, clothes or much money, Tolly is always on the verge of something. A FB message from an old lover, Duncan, reveals that her old friend Humphrey is dying. This brings us to her search for her father, whoever and wherever he may be.

The author, Tom Rachman, well known for his previous book, 'The Imperfectionists', has written a novel that confuses, bewilders and enchants. I kept thinking "Come On, Move On", becoming impatient, with the first few chapters, but persistence pays off. As I wondered what the point of this novel was, one sentence rang true.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful By Tash Last on 18 Jun 2014
Format: Hardcover
Recently I’ve started my reading/reviewing process differently. I go to Goodreads or Amazon and find a one or two star review (hopefully one without spoilers) and learn exactly how bad the book can be. Then I open the book and start to read. What happens? I am almost always pleasantly surprised.

This is the case with Tom Rachman’s The Rise & Fall of Great Powers. After reading the bad review I expected to be bored and confused. However, after finishing the book, I found the writing and story to be engaging and really easy to follow.

Tooly Zylberberg had an unconventional childhood. She was raised by a group of drifters, thieves and scoundrels after she was ‘taken’ from her home in Maryland. Now in her early thirties she is the owner of a second hand bookstore in Wales. After her ex-boyfriend calls to say that her father is ill, she decides to venture to New York to confront the characters from her past and learn the truth about her upbringing.

The novel alternates between 1988, 1999 and 2011. Some say that this alternating structure is confusing, and while there is an array of colourful characters, they are so distinct that I didn’t feel at all lost.

While the story is a mystery, at the heart of the novel are the characters. Humphrey, an old Russian intellectual and great reader; Sarah – a flighty and flirtatious groupie; Paul – a rather odd bird enthusiast; Venn – the mysterious and charismatic leader of the group, and many others you will love and/or hate.

It is interesting to follow Tooly through her discoveries and you realise that events from her childhood did not actually happen as she remembered them. The fallibility of memory, especially when we were young, is a core theme of the book. How well do we really know the people who raised us?

This is an enjoyable read with some breath-taking prose and philosophical ideas.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful By Kirstie 381 on 13 July 2014
Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
Loved this book.
Have struggled to get into a book since reading The Goldfinch last year, but this book has broken me back in.
The book is just about life...all be it, a very random life. It's about what we think is real. What we imagine, what we want to believe. I think it's the best way to approach reading the book. Like life, go into this book blind, learn as you go along and realise the truth at the end. I think you'll enjoy it all the more for not knowing too much.
The writing is superb, easy to follow, regardless of the jumping around of time frames. Fantastic book. A great read. The characters will stay with me for a long time.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful By Arkgirl VINE VOICE on 29 Jun 2014
Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
The life of Tooly Zylberberg, friends and family is told in three different time periods, covers continents, great sweeps of history and has some great characters but it is very slow to get going and does fall a little flat in places. We meet Tooly:
as a child (9/10) in Bangkok, living with a nomadic life with her father and struggling to fit in;
then Tooly in her early twenties, mixing with a group of students in the USA, but with three key characters mysteriously in the background ... Is one her mother; is she in love with another or just being being manipulated or used; and who is Humphrey and is he a benign influence or just a strange hanger on?
Finally we see Tooly in her thirties running a small bookshop in rural Wales but then she is dragged back into her old life when someone tracks her down on Facebook.

There are mysteries galore and lots to interest and provide intrigue,but I did find my attention was not always captivated and I did get drawn away by other books. It is a thought provoking book and I will consider reading more by Tom Rachman but I did find aspects frustrating, felt there are lots of unanswered questions and Tooly seems difficult to like at times. I received this for an honest review and I do feel there is much appreciate in the writing and story ideas but felt he might have stretched the ambition of the plot a little too far to be completely satisfactory.
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