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65 of 66 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A Wonderful Patchwork of Research and Imagination
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...
Published on 20 Aug 2010 by T. R. Cowdret

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17 of 20 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars Good book, but appalling Kindle edition
Really disappointed by the Kindle edition of this book - Faber and Faber have done a real disservice to a great book by pushing out a poorly formatted digital version, clearly without any testing. The book has lots of very long footnotes in each chapter which are completely unlinked to the main text. This means that when you get to the end of each chapter you are...
Published on 23 Jun 2011 by Offmessage


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5.0 out of 5 stars The pressing weight of individual histories, 20 Feb 2012
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This review is from: Red Plenty (Paperback)
It's been noted already, that this is 'a book about the economic system in Stalin's Russia', and that you shouldn't let that put you off at all.
Because it's not about that, really. It's about the hopes and aspirations of many very interesting people in the last century. And it will make the weight of individual histories press on your chest, make you swoon at so many big dreams that have turned to air.
It's utterly wonderful, and pure fiction in perhaps a new way that's being opened up by interenet access to new things - languages for one - and the ability to cross-pollinate what's gone before with new tools. I just realised I used the word 'new' three times in that last sentence, but I'll let them stand here.
Maybe the term 'speculative fiction' should now be applied to the past, rather than the way it was once intended, about the future?
This book provides different perspectives which may change the way you see the world, and it promotes empathy and understanding while being endlessly stimulating and informative. What more can be asked of a novel?
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5.0 out of 5 stars A magical, unique, book, 10 Dec 2011
By 
A. J. Poulter "AP" (Edinburgh) - See all my reviews
(REAL NAME)   
This review is from: Red Plenty (Paperback)
This is a unique and wonderful book. It tells the story of the Soviet Union's dash for growth, after the end of the Second World War. While this might not sound too intoxicating a topic, its treatment is lavish and sucks in a large number of characters and their stories.

The first thing you notice is that this work comes with a substantial bibliography which is very unusual for a novel. Apart from the expected texts on Russian history and economics there are some interesting choices of science fiction novels from Ken Macleod, Liz Williams, Adam Roberts, Kim Stanley Robinson and Jack Womack. The goings on in the novel are referenced back to the sources which they are based on or which inspired them. What this does is establish both an air of authority, as one can see where the author went for inspiration, in terms of plot and realism, and also a whiff of 'anything might happen' from such an eclectic
mix of materials.

And the story is bizarre. The popular baleful image of Communist is a society that has to queue to get necessities. But after the shadow of Stalin had lifted, the idea was for socialism had to prove it was better at providing things than the vagaries of the capitalist market place, as exemplified in the USA. Military competition took a back seat to production for consumers. Since the economy was to be planned, techniques for better planning were required. Economists supplied models, computer scientists provided the tools.

Scenes in the novel flip between a large cast of characters. We see economists getting ideas and getting muddy. There are elements of graft and corruption. And there are moments of poetry as a genetics researcher, given a new flat in a new development in Siberia, goes for a midnight dip in an inland sea, hundreds of miles from the real coast. As well as academics there are stories about real people. A wheeler-dealer connected with the Russian mafia gets involved in supplying a factory equipment so it can make its targets. Yet even he does not know the chicanery involving a staged accident and a simple planning fix at the highest level which flesh out the story. There is a tragedy when a town revolts at local mis-management and a strange (but real) example of an analogue computer being pressed into service as a targeter for an anti-ballistic missile system. And a Komosol youth manages to make a young black American at a trade exhibition admit to racial prejudice in the USA, even when she knows that things equally bad happen in the USSR.

At the end, when Khrushchev has been deposed and planning reverts back to its pre-scientific days, there is a real sense of deflation, as though something miraculous could have happened, but didn't, almost like a Russian fairy tale where the dark wins
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5.0 out of 5 stars Red Plenty is an Intellectual Tour de Force, 2 Dec 2011
This review is from: Red Plenty (Paperback)
What Fancis Spufford achieves in "Red Plenty" is intellectually dazzling. He manages to convey the flavour of living in the Soviet Union in the 50s 60s and 70s whilst portraying the protagonists as identifiable human beings with all the strengths and weaknesses that that entails. Even more remarkably he seems able to get inside the heads of leading Soviet politicians of the era and explain how they took the decisions they did. The straight-jacket of bureaucracy that killed off the initiatives of genuinely talented and idealistic people is vividly conveyed as is the back-stabbing of colleagues in order to climb the career ladder.

This book is essential reading for people with a left-wing persuasion. How can a socialist society be built without making these same mistakes? We must never give up on the ideals originally embodied in the Soviet system while never again using the totalitarian methods it employed to try to achieve them.

I hope that Francis Spufford or someone like him will now go on to produce a similar book illustrating the frustrations of living in an undiluted capitalist economy like that of the USA.
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5.0 out of 5 stars A biaography of an idea, 21 Nov 2010
This review is from: Red Plenty (Hardcover)
Red Plenty is a biography of an idea - the idea of planned economy as a mean to achieve plenty. A biography consisting of both fiction and facts, intermingled into a beautiful piece of literature. The book is inhabited by visionary Economists, Academics, Party leaders, Factory directors, Hopeful youth and Disgraced biologists. They all have a part to play in the arena of the construction and dismantling of the Soviet Union. Some are idealistic. Some have great ideas that could have made the Soviet experience a success. Some have learned how to survive in the USSR. The book begins and ends with Nikita Khrushchevs rise and decline. With him go some of the most prominent ideas that made the Stalin past bearable, leaving only the unbearable now. By reading the isolated anecdotes as a whole, a picture of a society emerges, its mechanisms and their intentions and origins. Francis Spufford also helps the reader along the way with historical explanations. A book for anyone with an interest in understanding this withered superpower and how it became so.
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5.0 out of 5 stars Red Plenty, 27 Sep 2010
This review is from: Red Plenty (Hardcover)
A really good and informative read. Gave an insight into Russia and its people that wasnt dry but touching and evocative.
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2 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars THE RUSSIANS WERE NOT TEN FEET TALL, 23 Sep 2011
By 
Stephen Cooper (South Yorkshire, England) - See all my reviews
This review is from: Red Plenty (Paperback)
When I was young, say around 1960, it did seem as if the Russians were ten feet tall. They were ahead in the space race. It was said, not least by presidential candidate John Kennedy, that they were ahead in the arms race. The Soviet Union had made enormous economic progress, to add to its military triumphs in 1945. Communism was gradually taking over most of the world's population and resources. It was widely thought that there was some kind of 'convergence' going on, which moderated its excesses. Sooner or later, we would all end up as communists of some sort. The world-wide triumph of socialism, if not full-blown communism, was something that many politicians, historians and philosophers in the West said they were in favour of, or could probably learn to live with. People nowadays forget how prevalent this feeling was.

This novel - for, surprisingly, that is what it is - is a brilliant explanation of why the world viewed the Soviet Union as it did in 1960. In particular, it explains how the Soviet Union was thought to be not merely a fairer society (rather than just a tyranny) but also how it was economically superior, and its economy was inevitably bound to be more productive than capitalism. The command economy was rooted in 'scientific' socialism; and its eventual success could be predicted mathematically, because it was all in the plan(s).

But Marxism-Leninism was not a coherent philosophy, it was an apology for dictatorship; the science was pseudo-science; and the statistics were all damned lies. When Gorbachev declined to fight a second battle for Berlin, the wall came a-tumbling down.

Perhaps we should be equally sceptical of the prediction that China will inevitably become the world's greatest power. The Russians were not ten feet tall, after all. Are the Chinese?

Stephen Cooper
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2 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars At last an explanation for soviet communism in the 50's/60's, 22 Mar 2011
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This review is from: Red Plenty (Kindle Edition)
An absolutely fascinating book. As an economist I have always been incredulous that anyone could have seriously believed in communism as a form of efficient economic organisation. This book gives one an understanding of just how apparently intelligent people could be hoodwinked into believing in such a system. A great read.
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2 of 4 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Life and fate in the USSR, 9 Jan 2011
By 
Dr. G. SPORTON "groggery1" (Birmingham UK) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: Red Plenty (Hardcover)
Spufford's fictionalised account of that key moment in Soviet history, the late fifties when it looked possible that a centralized economy might actually deliver material benefits for Soviet citizens, is written with sufficient anticipation that the reader is almost inclined to wonder if they might just make it. In the end, the historical forces so key to Marxism and its weird variation in Soviet Communism did for it, and Spufford is more or less true to the prevailing wisdom that by substituting Khrushkev's dynamism for Brezhnev's stagnation the Soviet state sealed its own fate, albeit one that took another generation to realize. Yet, despite its meticulous research, it lacks the very thing that fiction ought to provide the story in spades. The human factor, and its disregard by the brutal authorities of Soviet times, provides some of the best material for contrasting personal experience with the deterministic view of communist ideologues. Whilst Spufford makes a stab at it, it remains only a stab in that there is never enough focus on an individual or family for long enough for us to feel sympathy for them beyond the immediate situation. The tragedy of Soviet times was that injustices and distortions, small or large, lasted for lifetimes, sometimes across generations, and broke the capacity of many a great mind.

Most of the victims here have done rather well out of the USSR, and their human potential is more fulfilled than the majority. Perhaps that is Spufford's intention, modelled as this book appears to be on 'Life and Fate' which does far more to represent the human dilemma of those caught up in the Soviet system than this one. The major difference is Grossman's connection between characters, and one wishes there was a way to draw Spufford's together even in the failure of their joint (and disjointed) enterprise. The collective failure was the Soviets alone, but an understanding of the personal implications remains indistinct in this account.
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8 of 26 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars Disappointing, 1 Nov 2010
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This review is from: Red Plenty (Hardcover)
This book wanders around and never really gives you a chance to get into the history. The style of writing, attempting to mix (some) fact with what was to me, fairly dreary fiction, meant I never bothered finishing it. A big let down.
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0 of 5 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Promising, but disappointing, 7 Mar 2011
This review is from: Red Plenty (Hardcover)
Was never able to fully get into this book as it jumped around. By the end, it was possible to discern the message andpoint of the book, but it remained too obscure.
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Red Plenty
Red Plenty by Francis Spufford (Paperback - 7 July 2011)
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