I received a copy from the author as part of a Goodreads Giveaway.
After reading this book, one might be led to believe that for the last few centurie...more I received a copy from the author as part of a Goodreads Giveaway.
After reading this book, one might be led to believe that for the last few centuries, Russia has been ruled by shamelessly inebriated and despotic rulers, lording over an equally inebriated populace hurled into poverty, starvation, and oppression. According to this book, that assumption would be correct.
Vodka has been an integral part of Russian identity for as long as it has existed, and has permeated culture, society, and politics. Schrad’s book details how the early tsars used vodka as a political and economic tool, as well as a way to essentially sedate and control. His research turns up a few strange and entertaining stories such as Peter the Great’s vodka-fueled celebrations, Stalin’s late night dinners with the Presidium (basically drinking sessions) and also Yeltsin’s stumbling and bumbling in the 90s.
Throughout the book, Schrad never loses sight of the heart of his argument that vodka was and always will be an influence on politics in Russia. The way I read it is that vodka is somewhat comparable to oil in the US in a few ways. The two industries have considerable influence on the government and domestic policy, and they are both huge industries with significant economic impact. Both the dependence on vodka and oil can be used to control officials and the population, but that may be where the comparison ends.
Schrad also spends some time addressing vodka’s role in Russia’s declining health and population. If the statistics are accurate, it’s shocking how much vodka is consumed by Russians, and the number of deaths and decline in life expectancy is something seen only in times of large-scale conflicts like the 2nd World War. Aside from the obvious health issues, vodka actually creates a concern for the long-term survival of the Russian people.
Although Schrad is an assistant professor of political science, Vodka Politics is written in a way that’s accessible to a wider audience. He's the kind of writer who does a lot of research and can also tell a good story. If you are a regular reader of publications like The Economist or The New Yorker, you should read this book. If you’re interested in Russian politics of history, you should find this book and start reading right now.
I received an uncorrected proof from Crown Publishers as part of a Goodreads Giveaway. Available in the USA in July 2014.
Ben Macintyre's A Spy Among F...moreI received an uncorrected proof from Crown Publishers as part of a Goodreads Giveaway. Available in the USA in July 2014.
Ben Macintyre's A Spy Among Friends is exactly what you'd expect if you've ever read any of his other books. It's a meticulously researched and skillfully written account of Kim Philby, the ultimate deceiver who spied for the Soviet Union during World War II and the Cold War.
Philby was a master actor who managed to hide his true motives, and Macintyre does a great job of showing the duality of his personality and his life. Philby was quintessentially English, complete with a love of cricket and Worcestershire sauce, dressed in tweed and smoking a pipe. He was a husband and father, and a charming and charismatic man who surrounded himself with friends and trusted colleagues. At the very same time, he was a devoted communist, and was betraying his country and everyone close to him.
Macintyre describes a number of the big events in Philby's story: his recruitment into MI6 by Nick Elliott, his relationship with James Angleton, notable missions where his counterintelligence led to unsuccessful (and sometimes deadly) outcomes, and a few close calls that could have exposed him as a double agent. There are also some great descriptions of Philby’s colorful associates. Even though Philby’s story is already well-documented, Ben Macintyre has been given access to previously unavailable materials and he writes nonfiction in a style that’s informative, accessible, and entertaining.
Ultimately, the story is about Kim Philby and his friendship with Nick Elliott, who becomes his ultimate victim. Elliott stood by Philby’s side and defended him from suspicion and accusation, and helped his former friend when he was living in poverty and struggling with alcoholism. Eventually, Elliott was the one who confronted Philby face-to-face. Macintyre’s telling is the culmination of Philby’s struggle with his double life, where he is finally forced to make a choice.
I was one of the lucky ones to get an advance copy of the book for review, and I would certainly recommend picking this up in July when it’s released in the US. If you’re in the mood for double agent stories, I’s also recommend grabbing a copy of Macintyre’s Double Cross The True Story of the D-Day Spies, and while you’re at it get Operation Mincemeat as well. (less)
The Expats actually has a lot more to offer than most in the mystery/thriller/spy genre. The characters are fully developed people, which is not alway...more The Expats actually has a lot more to offer than most in the mystery/thriller/spy genre. The characters are fully developed people, which is not always the case for these kinds of plot-driven stories. There's also a genuine mystery to be solved that deeply affects the characters and tests their relationships with each other. As a first novel, I think Chris Pavone shows some promise in bridging the gap between mass-market spy thrillers and more literary mystery.
However, I think the story could have been told better if there was less telling and more showing. The last 40ish pages of the book is basically all the main characters sitting around a table and talking about the plot. Interesting stuff, but having that much exposition at the end of the book was anti-climactic and felt rushed.
Overall, it was a fast read and an entertaining book, and I'm interested enough to see what Pavone comes up with in the future.(less)
I've read a number of Bukowski's other books, and Hot Water Music just didn't appeal to me like the others. It's a collection of short stories that es...more I've read a number of Bukowski's other books, and Hot Water Music just didn't appeal to me like the others. It's a collection of short stories that essentially repeat the same formula over and over again. In fact, a lot of these stories could be inserted as chapters in Women, which in my opinion is the weakest of the Bukowski novels.
Even though it's just over 200 pages long, it was a tedious read, aside from a small handful of stories. If you're new to Bukowski, read Ham on Rye or Post Office, and skip this collection. (less)
There were a lot of really interesting ideas in this book, and there was a lot of historical fiction potential as well. This book was written at a tim...more
There were a lot of really interesting ideas in this book, and there was a lot of historical fiction potential as well. This book was written at a time before the internet of today, and Neal Stephenson's explorations in the realm of digital currency and how the internet works are actually still relevant in today's world, especially with the recent emergence of Bitcoin. However, cool ideas can only go so far.
As long as this book was, and for how many words there were devoted to telling the story, the characters were lacking. I found very little difference in the male characters, each being the smartest, bravest, wittiest, and awesomest dudes of all mankind. The female characters were nothing more than an afterthought and appeared mostly for the male characters to lust after every once in a while.
I don't complain about how long a book is, but I found Cryptonomicon to be longer than it needed to be. There were multiple long passages (or even whole chapters) that didn't do anything to reveal character or advance the plot, and added nothing to the story. It reminded me of a self-indulgent guitarist who endlessly noodles away on an extended solo, running up and down the fretboard and pulling faces, oblivious to the actual song.
Stephenson is probably one of the smartest and most talented writers alive today, but (in my opinion) I think with a little more discipline this book could have been better. I'm still looking forward to reading The Diamond Age, but I'm probably going to avoid any more 800-900+ page books by the author.(less)