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on 29 August 2016
I bought it as a present for a friend of mine because someone had recommended it to me. My friend absolutely loved it and carried it everywhere he went.
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on 15 June 2017
Best book I ever bought one I will always cherish. Appeals to my love of history and stories. lovingly crafted
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on 11 November 2014
A fascinating and enjoyable read summarising cultural aspects of an era that still seems very much off limits. Intriguing structure too.
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on 10 May 2015
Excellent! An informative, and entertaining account of the weaknesses of one of the ideas underlying communist "economics"
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on 4 August 2015
Great enlightening book and fun to read
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on 13 September 2010
A truly amazing, brilliant book. It covers the post-Stalin period in the Soviet Union and the utopian dream of creating rapidly a socialist "era of plenty". At the centre are the mathematicians who developed the theories that should have allowed the dream to come true by means of scientific planning, as well as the politicians, particularly Khrushchev, who pushed them forward. It sounds as a very technical and even abstruse subject, only of interest to specialists. However, the author has developed it as a series of fictionalised episodes, based on real persons and events (as documented in the notes) that transform the book into almost a thriller that the reader simply cannot put down ! You learn a lot and enjoy even more. Not to be missed !
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on 21 October 2010
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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on 19 September 2010
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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on 22 March 2011
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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on 15 November 2016
This is the story of the beginning of the end of fairytale - the fairytale of 1917. It begins with the death of Stalin. Khrushchev wanted to create a better kind of USSR. He believed the aim of Socialism in One Country was obsolete - because socialism had been achieved. Now they were ready to advance to Communism – or Red Plenty. Faith in the proletariat was transferred to science, particularly the newly emerging discipline of cybernetics. Computers would do for the socialist economy what the market did for capitalism.

It did not and could not succeed. By 1964 Khrushchev had gone, Brezhnev now talked of “developed socialism” and sent the Warsaw Pact into Prague.

The author relates the tragedy of those years, and tells it as a tragedy should be told, at the level of the personal and the individual. There are chapters of real history and detailed references and footnotes. But these fill the spaces between personal stories mixing fact and fiction.

The narrative is organized around a diverse cast – the economist, the hustler, the mathematician, the party hack, the geneticist, the singer, the office worker, the policeman and the planner and the First Secretary himself. We see life begin and life end; we witness domestic violence, attend the politburo meetings, stand with striking workers and go for a midnight swim in the waters of the super city of Soviet science, Akademgorodok.

Most are real people, others closely modelled on real people. The author exercises a certain license with dates and places, to make a point more dramatic. All the stories have a twist and an edge – he tells a good tale.

I learnt a lot about this forgotten period, about Soviet economics, of trying to make the system work, and what life was like in the way life is really lived, far from output data and input sets. This is a great read.
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