Red Plenty
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Red Plenty

4.07 of 5 stars 4.07  ·  rating details  ·  986 ratings  ·  205 reviews
“Spufford cunningly maps out a literary genre of his own . . . Freewheeling and fabulous.” —The Times (London)

Strange as it may seem, the gray, oppressive USSR was founded on a fairy tale. It was built on the twentieth-century magic called “the planned economy,” which was going to gush forth an abundance of good things that the lands of capitalism could never match. And ju...more
ebook, 448 pages
Published February 14th 2012 by Graywolf Press (first published 2007)
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Doug
Easily my book of the year so far, this is a remarkably original and entertaining book.

This is a mixed fiction/non-fiction book about economics. Please don't let it put you off - this is not just a book for geeks and wonks (although they'll love it too), this is a story ultimately of people, and how people just won't do what they ought to, no matter what.

The unassailable position of Capitalism in it's current form is not due to the inherent greatness of Capitalism, but because of the manifest fa...more
Elf M.
Jan 31, 2013 Elf M. rated it 5 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommended to Elf by: Crooked Timber
Red Plenty is probably one of the finest, and saddest, books I have ever read. It's hard to tell what it is. The best description I've heard is that it's science fiction-- only the science is economics, and the fiction is entirely based on real history. Red Plenty is about the rise and fall of the Soviet Union, told in a series of stories-- anecdotes, in many cases-- of the lives of ordinary citizens, apparatchiks, and intelligenzia of the time.

Some of the vignettes feature an ordinary citizen w...more
Frank Stein
Another novel, and one of the strangest I've read in a long, long time.

It's a novel based on, of all things, the attempt to transform the Soviet economy using cybernetics and computers in the early 1960s, during Khruschev's cultural "thaw." The author describes the book as a fairy tale, albeit a heavily footnoted fairy tale based on real people, but its really more like a science fiction story, one set in a land not more advanced but still very distinct from any we've known.

The story essential...more
Lea
4.5 stars

Normally whenever I've decided to add a half star I give the book the lower star rating -- 4 stars for a 4.5 star book, for example. But the writing here was just sooooo good, I'm willing to give it a full 5 stars and then round down half a star.

Make sense? No? Oh well . . .

Let's see . . . I won this though a FirstReads giveaway -- thanks!

Okay, so I've read a lot of other reviews about this book, and I'm really glad I did. Most of them focus on the economics presented in this book -- o...more
Nicholas Whyte
This is a really interesting book, a light on an important period of history (the Soviet Union from 1959 to 1969) of which I knew much less than I had realised, looked at through the eyes of true believers in the economic system of Communism as it developed under Khrushchev, who were then bitterly disappointed as Brezhnev and Kosygin (and later Brezhnev alone) took over. I grew up at the tail end of the Brezhnev era, when the Soviet system seemed monolithic and permanent; subsequent events prove...more
Ernie.tedeschi
Red Plenty is a work of historical fiction that thoroughly blurs the line between "history" and "fiction" in a fascinating way. It recounts the attempts by the Soviet Union in the 1960s to engineer their economy into prosperity and dominance over the West (hence "red plenty"). Spufford follows several characters -- as varied as an academic economist and Nikita Kruschev himself -- through various disjointed episodes in which they plan, implement, and ultimately recognize the failure of their econ...more
Kane Faucher
These semi-connected vignettes are tied together by the occasionally well-meaning, but sometimes cruelly applied, ideals of planning the way to an abundant future where there are no more wants that cannot be satisfied. As cyberneticists scheme to introduce vaguely Western concepts of price-value into an automated and computerized economy free of human committee errors, all against a backdrop of the Khruschev "thaw," we also are privy to the everyday managers and intermediaries and apparatchiks t...more
Monica
This wonderfully strange – or strangely wonderful - book is a novel (with 60 some pages of endnotes and a 13 page bibliography) about the rise and fall of the planned economy of the USSR from the 1950s to the 1970s. This is one of the most peculiar books I have ever read. And it’s hard to believe that it’s hard to put down, but it is.

It was an incredibly ambitious utopian undertaking – to turn the country into a military superpower, an industrial giant and a thriving consumer society, all at on...more
Karol
I haven't been this impressed with a concept for a long time. It's hard to exactly describe what Red Plenty is like, but a decent starting-off point is the historical fiction trend of the last several years.

The author did an immense amount of research on historical figures (from a scorned biologist in Akademgorodok to Khrushchev himself), through biographies and their personal stories, and constructed small narratives that each provide a facet of a greater one. In effect, Spufford set out to de...more
Ian Smith
Simply phenomenal. History told through fiction is always entertainingly instructive, but Red Plenty is light years away from the classic historical novel. This is the Soviet Union in the 1960s; while the West wrestles with pop culture and the Cold War, the USSR grapples with maintaining an immense centrally planned economy. The gradual and inevitable slide into irrelevance and inefficiency is documented with riveting detail. Perhaps what makes this so compelling is that author didn't start out...more
Liam Kofi
Here is the blurb:

"Strange as it may seem, the gray, opppressive USSR was founded on a fairy tale. It was built on the twentieth century magica called "the planned economy", which was going to gush forth an abundance of good things taht the lands of capitalism could never match. And just for a little while, in the heady years of the late 1950s, the magic seemed to be working.

Red plenty is about that moment in hisotry, and how it came, and how it went way; about the brief era when, under the rash...more
Iain
A fictionalized history of Soviet Union economics. Absolutely terrific read, especially in the light of the current financial crisis.

If you've ever wondered how the USSR functioned day-to-day, this is the book for you. Spend a few hundred pages in the heads of Spufford's large cast of characters and it will all start to make a certain twisted sense, so much so that you may begin to wonder how Western-style capitalism can possibly function. As one character asks, "but who tells you how much bread...more
Shanthanu
How can you not like a novel which begins : ``This is not a novel. It has too much to explain, to be one of those. But it is not a history either, for it does its explaining in the form of a story; only the story is the story of an idea, first of all, and only afterwards, glimpsed through the chinks of the idea’s fate, the story of the people involved. The idea is the hero.''

Of course, as some others have pointed out this is hardly reason to not call it a novel, after all, there have always been...more
Andy
extraordinary blend of historical fact and fiction, real life people (including presidents, scientists and economists in USSR) and fictional characters.
details the idealistic socialist goal of building an economic system to allow USSR to overtake USA standard of living without recourse to capatilism and market forces and the potential to achieve this through early applications of computing technology and linear dynamics.
fascinating chapter on cancer in a character presented as a tense, probabili...more
Tudor Ciocarlie
Brilliant book about the scientists of Soviet Russia that tried to make the "planned economy" work. You know that you are in the presence of something special when you read non-fiction, science-(non)fiction, historical-(non)fiction, realistic-fiction and biography all at the same time.
Mihai
"Comrades, let's optimize!"

Coming from an operations research background, the mere idea of having a fiction book on dual prices had me drooling since I've first heard about it. To actually get several features on Kantorovich and mentions to both Danzig and Koopmans is just the icing on the cake.

So, what's going on here? It's a history of failed central planning in the USSR. However, it is a very humorous one, filled with good ol' Eastern European humor ("How do you call Khruschev's latest hairdo...more
Paul
Actual rating: 3.5 stars.

Not exactly a historical novel, more a novelized approach to writing history. The distinction is a real one. The history in question is that of the Soviet Union during the time of Khrushchev, Brezhnev, and Kosygin, and it's a specific slice of history: the USSR's drive, from the late 1950s through the 1970s, to create a society of abundance equal to or surpassing the USA. This is what Khrushchev meant when he said "we will bury you": he wasn't talking about military migh...more
Kriegslok
The post-war years in both east and west were a time of great hope for the future. Rebuilding a better world free of fascism and full of good things for everyone caught the imagination of scientists, writers, pokiticians and people hungry for a better future. Even my own childhood of the late 60's/70's was still full of images of an exciting future in which work would be done by machines and we would have so much leisure time we'd be at a loss as to what to do.

So it didn't quite happen as planne...more
Seth Gordon
tl;dr It has geeks and Communists? How could I not like it?

Red Plenty is a historical novel—the style, indeed, reminds me of Elsa Morante’s History: A Novel—about the Soviet mathematicians, economists, and computer programmers in the 1950s who believed that they could make socialism work. As you have probably noticed, they failed, but RP, like any good tragedy, lets you feel the exhilarating rise before the depressing collapse, even as you know the collapse is inevitable. It takes you back to th...more
Chris
My impulse in reading this was equal parts self-improving and perverse. "That's right!" I thought. "A novel about Soviet Five Year Plans!" Actually, it's funny, insightful, and dosed with all kinds of the appropriate moral clarity (this is no apology for Khrushchev, nor indictment either). The Crooked Timber seminar was what first drew this to my attention, so I was expecting something a bit more distinctly SFnal. Some of that craft is there (and it's excellent, comparable to Kim Stanley Robinso...more
Marin Popa
People need hope and after years and years of suffering it seemed that the communism would became more human and things can get better. So everybody, scientists included, started to dream ways to improve the system and their lives.

I knew it wasn't to be, but the author brought the period to us so vividly I could not put the book down until I finished it.

The author is a great storyteller, the characters are full of life and the stories are moving. I was sorry it ended - I would have liked to fol...more
JT
A novelized account of the early, halcyon days of the Soviet Union -- when overtaking the West seemed not just possible, but probable. It uses fictionalized versions of major historical figures (Kantorovich, the discoverer of linear programming, among them) and little-known (in the West) events that illustrate and drove the development and downfall of the USSR.

The book also gives a good overview of life in academia and in the Party as they try to run an economy along political, rather than econo...more
Pedro
It has a very impressive start, but something is missing at the end. As the author confesses, his lack of knowledge of the Russian language might have been a handicap to make the novel realistic enough, but it's nevertheless very entertaining.
Mike
This is the first book I've reviewed that I awarded a star for a single passage. In this case it is for the most compelling description I've ever read about what smoking does to your lungs. It begins:
A cell. A lung cell. Tobacco smoke swirls by in the spired and foliated channel the cell faces. Its job is to take in oxygen from breath and keep out everything else, and on the whole it does well filtering the usual impurities in air: but this is not a designed mechanism, put together for a functio
...more
Anicka
The book starts out a little slow, or maybe it just takes some time to get used to the style. But eventually it becomes really engrossing. The scientists' excitement about (view spoiler) was quite palpable and infectious. My husband says that he wouldn't trust anyone who is not Russian to capture the atmosphere in communist Russia, but I think Spufford did a good job, despite not speaking any Russian, and thus relying on translations and interpr...more
Jake
Fascinating novel about the Kruschev years in the Soviet Union when a lot of Soviet folks, especially intellectuals, really believed that Communism was finally going to deliver prosperity and plenty. - Marx's promise of hunting in the morning and fishing in the afternoon. The terror and want of Stalinsim and the war were in the rearview and good times were coming. The book is structured like the Stalin-era novel Life and Fate - it follows six or seven unrelated characters, mostly economists, ove...more
Eliza
one of the most amazing books I have read in the last few years. part fiction, part history, part my own memories of moments I have never truly lived. this booked probably is read best by a those who at least in their childhood years experienced some form of the communist realities.
Aharon
If this year you read just one episodic novelization of the development and dissolution of Soviet economic planning in the 1950s and 60s--well, first of all, shame on you, what are you doing with the rest of your time, watching Rock of Love reruns?--this should be it.
Kaj Peters
Knap geschreven mengeling van fictie en non-fictie waarbij het verhaal wordt verteld van de Sovjet-Unie en de kortstondige economische groei die het doormaakte na het Stalinisme. Belangrijke personages zijn allemaal figuren uit de wetenschap of de culturele elite, die zich op de één of andere manier verhouden tot hoe de maatschappij vorm wordt gegeven. Zij zijn óf de dromers die vooruitgang zien, óf zij belichamen de mensen die de onontkoombare rafelrandjes waarnemen. Het schetst het beeld van h...more
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Spufford specializes in works of non-fiction. Among his books are I May Be Some Time, The Child That Books Built, and Backroom Boys. He has also edited two volumes of polar literature. His first book I May Be Some Time: Ice and the English Imagination won literary prizes including the Sunday Times Young Writer of the Year Award, Writers Guild Award for Best Non-Fiction Book of the Year, and the So...more
More about Francis Spufford...
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“Seen from that future time, when every commodity the human mind could imagine would flow from the industrial horn of plenty in dizzy abundance, this would seem a scanty, shoddy, cramped moment indeed, choked with shadows, redeemed only by what it caused to be created.

Seen from plenty, now would be hard to imagine. It would seem not quite real, an absurd time when, for no apparent reason, human beings went without things easily within the power of humanity to supply and lives did not flower as it was obvious they could.”
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“He too had plans... he wasn't embarrassed by the idea of carefully thinking through what would be necessary to achieve them. You made a picture of the life you wanted to have, and then you worked back from there to the present.” 0 likes
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