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Customer Review

36 of 39 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Enjoyable, Eccentric and Economic Fun!!!!, 19 Sept. 2010
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This review is from: Red Plenty (Hardcover)
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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Showing 1-3 of 3 posts in this discussion
Initial post: 4 Nov 2010 11:23:33 GMT
But of course the Soviet Union didn't beat the US to the punch with the ICBM! Khrushchev claimed to be "turning them out like sausages" when in fact at the time of the Cuban missile crisis he only had a few liquid-fueled missiles that took days to prepare and launch. The US had 18 missiles that could go up in hours and a huge fleet of strategic bombers. Khrushchev knew this and that one reason why he ultimately sought a peaceful solution to the crisis.

The soviets did beat the US into space with the first satellite but that rocket was singularly unsuitable for military application.

In reply to an earlier post on 9 Nov 2010 10:30:24 GMT
Kuma says:
The comment was more about the USSR successfully testing the R-7 IN 1957, having the first ICBM a full two years before the US Atlas D in 1959. The fact that the Soviet Union held a technological lead was significant even if they were unable to exploit it.

In reply to an earlier post on 9 Nov 2010 15:02:47 GMT
Thanks for the reply.

Thinking some more about your review, you point out that in hind-sight some historians argue that the West could have just waited. To no small degree that's what the West did in following the advice George Kennan offered in his "long telegram" from Moscow. Specifically, it would have been easy to escalate the Berlin crisis into a new war in Europe. The Hungarian uprising and the Cuban missile crisis as well. Many politicians were scathingly critical of Truman in his instigation of the Berlin Airlift, a costly, long and by no means guaranteed means of breaking the Soviet embargo on Berlin which they described as an act or unwarranted aggression that could have justified our finishing off the Soviet threat once and for all. Likewise Eisenhower was roundly attacked for first encouraging the Hungarian revolt then backing away from helping directly which would have meant head to head confrontation with the Soviets in Eastern Europe. And, certainly in Cuba the unanimous recommendation of the Joint Chiefs of Staff was to invade the island. Advice Kennedy fortunately chose not to accept. Korea and Vietnam? Both deliberately fought in "limited" fashion so as not to drag in Russia in the first case and China in the second.

At any rate, your review convinced me to read the book!
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