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28 of 42 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars The author's incompetence is staggering, 9 Aug 2010
This review is from: The Oligarchs: Wealth and Power in the New Russia (Paperback)
This book tells you about a half dozen men of various backgrounds who have one thing in common: they succeeded in using the major political disruptions in the Soviet Union and became incredibly rich and powerful in the new Russia - the so-called oligarchs.

I find this subject extremely interesting, as well as puzzling. In spite of close historic ties Russia has to my country, some things about it are still quite mysterious to me. Among other things, I'd really like to understand what that oligarch thing is all about.

Unfortunately, this book is extremely incompetent and badly written.

Let's talk about the style first. In the communist-ruled Eastern Europe, they often published propaganda stories about the supposedly miserable life in the capitalist West. Like how the unemployed John Smith drew the lapels of his holey coat tighter in the freezing New York winter and walked on, going from trash can to trash can, hoping to find some food remains.
This book reminds me of that red propaganda crap from my childhood. It's anti-red, of course, but the style is the same. The author just paints everything black, criticises everything indiscriminately, even things that have nothing to do with politics.
The last thing I want to do is to defend the communists. The Soviet Union was horrible and inhuman, which I know better than any American possibly could. But I just hate ignorant Western authors who whine about everything without really having a clue. For example, Mr. Hoffman meditates over Soviet people using the verb "to get" or "to take" when they meant "to buy", and how that is supposed to be reflecting the Soviet reality where many wares were in short supply. That is outright idiotic because expressions like "I'm gonna get myself a new bike" (in the meaning of "I'm gonna buy myself a new bike") or "I'll take it" (in the meaning of "I'll buy this") are routinely being used in English, in the democratic, capitalist USA as well.
Another striking example of Mr. Hoffman's style that any communist newspaper editor would be proud of is about the drink vending machines on the streets. Mr. Hoffman tells us sneeringly how the machine was as big as a refrigerator. Well, let me tell you that I was in the Western Germany in early 90's, and guess what? The drink vending machines there, although different, were just as large. It's simply practical that you make a machine like that approximately of a human's height, so that it's comfortable for human beings to use. But for Mr. Hoffman, the size of the machine is naturally just another manifestation of Soviet ineptitude. As if that wasn't ridiculous enough, he makes even the colour of the drink vending machines appear like a symbol of totalitarian oppression.
And so Mr. Hoffman goes on like an arrogant spoiled Western tourist, telling us how the apple juice was of poor quality and the label was ugly. That is so retarded. I don't think he has ever seen that label or tasted that apple juice. If Mr. Hoffman were British, he would probably lament how the Communist Party forced the people to drive on the right side of the road.

Apart from that silly yellow-press writing style, Mr. Hoffman has quite a wrong idea of people's sentiments in the old Soviet Union. His ignorant and stereotyped attempt of describing the ordinary people's life in Moscow in 1985 makes you think that everybody hated the communist rule and dreamed of parliamentary democracy. While that may seem plausible to an average North American or West European, it wasn't like that in reality. Yes, there was severe ethnic enmity in non-Russian parts of Soviet Union, and there was genuine anti-communist sentiment in certain border areas where people watched foreign television broadcasts, but it was amazing how people who lived just 100-200 km further away from the border (not to mention in Central Russia) had a completely different attitude. They had no truthful picture of the free world and, critical as they might have been of the shortcomings in their everyday life, they honestly believed that the West with its unemployment and mafia and lack of social guarantees would be an even worse place to be. As many people were old enough to remember the (relative) economic prosperity about 20 years earlier, the prevailing mentality (especially in Russia proper, about which Mr. Hoffman is writing) was that the present rulers were stupid. They were far from realising that the Soviet Union itself was rotten to the core. Even today, when I travel in Russia, I'm routinely asked by quite decent and intelligent people: "Why did you have to secede from the Soviet Union, we lived so happily together until that Gorbachov destroyed everything." Or at least they tell me what a pity it is that the Soviet Union is no more, and I keep my mouth shut - there's no point offending them by telling them the truth they still don't want to hear.

The way Mr. Hoffman describes the last years of the Soviet Union, he proves clearly that he is nothing more than a clueless sensation-hungry journalist. I don't think you can learn anything useful from that fool, or rely on any of his "research" to have much in common with reality.
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Showing 1-1 of 1 posts in this discussion
Initial post: 18 Mar 2013 01:54:53 GMT
Sam Malone says:
I found your review quite hysterical. Hoffman's style is balanced.

He doesn't, in truth, spend much time bashing your beloved Soviet Union (he doesn't need to - the economic facts speak for themselves). Most of the picture he paints of the dying days of the U.S.S.R. is derived from the memories and anecdotes of the people he interviewed for the book.

This book clearly touched a raw nerve with you but you are misguided in referring to the author as "retarded" or as a "fool". He is clearly a very competent reporter and I recommend this book to anyone (without a chip on their shoulder, like this reviewer) who is interested in the subject.
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