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Vodka Politics: Alcohol, Autocracy, and the Secret History of the Russian State

3.9  ·  Rating details ·  212 Ratings  ·  34 Reviews
Russia is famous for its vodka, and its culture of extreme intoxication. But just as vodka is central to the lives of many Russians, it is also central to understanding Russian history and politics.

In Vodka Politics, Mark Lawrence Schrad argues that debilitating societal alcoholism is not hard-wired into Russians' genetic code, but rather their autocratic political system,
Hardcover, 492 pages
Published February 5th 2014 by Oxford University Press, USA (first published December 19th 2013)
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Jan 30, 2018 rated it it was ok
Wide-ranging, anecdotal, well-written, but not entirely convincing history of the relationship between vodka and the Russian state. Schrad's argument is that a series of Russian autocracies used vodka to keep the people constantly drunk, and yet profited from it due to tax collection or state-ownership.

Schrad finds many fascinating stories - Stalin's drinking bouts or Yeltsin's stupors, say - but unfortunately does not bring these into a wider perspective. How much else did, say, Scandinavians
Apr 18, 2015 rated it liked it
On Stalin’s style of keeping his inner circle in a drunken stupor:

Either in the Kremlin or at Stalin’s dacha, political decisions were made over drinking games and toasts of Russian vodka, Crimean champagne, Armenian brandy, and Georgian wine, beginning with the late-evening dinner and ending only with the dawn…Milovan Djilas ruminated after his Kremlin visits: ”it was at these dinners that the destiny of the vast Russian land, of the newly acquired territories, and, to a considerable degree, of
Margaret Sankey
Oct 30, 2013 rated it really liked it
Americans associate taverns and alcohol with rebelliousness and freedom. In Russia, from the earliest distillation, alcohol was a tool of the Muscovite state to generate revenue and control the population--tavern keepers were informers, Orthodox clergy had to barter in vodka to get things done and rulers counted on inebriated troops to place them on the throne. By the 19th century, vodka brought in more than a third of imperial revenue, reason enough to overlook the social ills and vast corrupti ...more
John M.

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 polit
Jul 17, 2014 rated it really liked it
Shelves: first-reads
I was excited and surprised to win a copy of this book on Goodreads. I don't read much non fiction, but the history of Russia and the Soviet Union is a topic I am particularly interested in. And this book made for a very compelling read. Schrad puts forward a very credible argument for his thesis that vodka has played a central role in Russian and Soviet politics and economy as far back as the 16th century. In doing so, he does a very skilful and readable review of the history of Russia -- looki ...more
Mark Hiser
This summer I decided to register for Program 60 at The Ohio State University. For my first experience with the program, I had a list of about 40 classes that I wanted to take but eventually decided on Russian 2355.99: Russians and their Vodka. This course (and book, Vodka Politics) was about the role vodka plays in the politics and culture of Russia.

The author’s thesis is that vodka has long served as a tool of statecraft that allowed an autocratic government to remain in place. Russian leader
Jan 15, 2017 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: read-history
Available as an 18-plus hour audio download, and well worth your time on the treadmill or driving to work, now that we are as a nation preparing to cuddle up to the Russians.

Thesis (at audiobook chapter 8, time 10:15): "... I argue that the widespread problematic drinking habits of today are actually the product of political decisions made during the formation of the modern Russians state over four centuries ago."

And also (audiobook chapter 24, time 33:50): "... if there is one constant across t
Luke Meehan
Apr 24, 2014 rated it it was amazing
Superb modern history from a public policy perspective. Firstly, Schrad delivers a readable and coherent history of medieval-to-modern Russia, albeit through the ubiquitous lens of vodka. Secondly, Schrad attempts to re-analyse the causal drift of modern Russian history as some function of policy-encouraged vodka. Both facets of the book are fascinating, well-sourced and persuasive.
Few histories have made me catch my breath as this did: to have done so with relatively raw data is triply impress
Paul Michael
Jan 19, 2014 rated it it was amazing
Utterly fascinating!
Jan 16, 2014 rated it it was amazing
Interesting view on a highly controversial country! Great book for any reader!
Adam Orford
Dec 21, 2017 rated it really liked it
Shelves: russia
As a recovering alcoholic, I know how tetchy people can get about pointing to alcohol as a causal or contributing factor to any given problem. It is likely to trigger a diverse range of defensive and justificatory responses from anybody within earshot. Now, imagine trying to do this not in the context of one individual, but of an entire culture. Imagine further doing so in straightforward fashion without hiding behind jargon, statistics, academic opacity, or moralism.

Professor Schrad has perform
Jun 26, 2017 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
This is how you write if you have a passion for one theme or idea. You collect lots of interesting facts and tell about them from one perspective even if this perspective would be considerate as marginal in a wholesome discourse when talking about specific themes. I wouldn't see a problem in this if the main idea (alcohol as a mean for authoritarian regime to control Russian society) would be weaker. Even though the Author in some pages says otherwise, the whole book suggests that without vodka ...more
Kevin Moynihan
Was not too sure of this in the early chapters. Lots of anecdotes, starting way back, all involving vodka. (Peter the Great’s entourage left unpaid bar bills across Europe. Who knew?) But the initial premise that the tail wags the dog is never close to proven. I thought the book improved with each chapter and I found it interesting when the author didn’t reach for overarching conclusions and stuck to a narrative involving the common thread of vodka. The section on tax farms and bribery were very ...more
Петър Стойков
Всички знаем, че руснаците обичат да пият, но само човек който е живял в Русия може да осъзнае колко много. Средната продължителност на живот на мъжете в Русия е 65 години, което я нарежда на 110 място в света по този показател, в съседство с Габон, Сенегал и Пакистан и причината за това е основно в ширещия се алкохолизъм. Самият Путин нееднократно в речите си обръща внимание на този проблем, но той далеч не е от вчера.

Книгата обръща внимание на консумацията на алкохол, свързана с управлението
Karla Winick-Ford
Aug 18, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Informative. I was flabbergasted at Russian history not taught when I was in school. From Ivan the terrible, Peter the great, Nicholas the drunk (and sober) to Yeltsin... and the Imperial Russian Army under an influence was just staggering. The infrastructure which supported these actions, while intolerable poverty occurred is just unfathomable. The bloodthirsty leaders who often were paranoid due to lack of clarity was often romanticized. I had to look deeper into samogon poisoning, as I had th ...more
Jocelyn mel
Sep 26, 2017 rated it really liked it
Really interesting material and well researched. It explains so much about Russian economy and history. Exemplary job of stitching together facts and figures. This book should be discussed a lot more. His thesis is unpopular in any country, let alone Russia. But it's a critical topic to surface in the light of day. With data.
Massimo  Gioffre
Russians drink a lot of vodka. During the Russian history there've been few attempts to mitigate this attitude. This might be true, well.. maybe it's true. Nevertheless to say that there's been a constant politic ment to transform the entire population of Russia in drunkards it seems sci-fi
Miro Adamy
Jun 23, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Deprimujuce ale rozhodne sa oplati precitat. Vela veci dava po precitani zmysel
Jun 03, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Wow, having written an MA on Japanese history and politics that touched on the Russo-Japanese War, this book was eye-opening.
Sep 23, 2017 rated it it was ok
too long and too scattered
Andrew Tollemache
Aug 03, 2015 rated it it was amazing
An eye opening book that was thoroughly entertaining and informative. Mark Schrad seeks to show that ever since vodka came to Russia from Poland about 500 years ago it has had an astounding influence on Russian governance and society.
At its core is the discussion of how Russia, whether under the czars, the Soviets or beyond has faced a cruel dilemma. The state's reliance on excise taxes on vodka for anywhere between 10 and 40% of its revenues, is the driving force behind the astounding amounts
Nov 20, 2013 rated it really liked it
Shelves: russia
Vodka is an iconic Russian product; drunkenness a stereotypical Russian vice. This book explores the socio-economic context for Russian drinking, and particularly the vodka trade. The author is an academic historian, but does a very good job of curbing the bad habits of academic writing. There are summaries of previous works, but these are kept reasonably contained and there is no heavy-handed methodological apparatus.

The book is arranged partly thematically, partly chronologically. This works r
Apr 01, 2015 rated it it was amazing
I thought I knew something about Russian history, but this book offers quite a novel perspective and great insight!

For example, both Tsarist & Soviet Russia ended after prohibition or state enforced temperance . Whereas, for much of Russian history, vodka was used by the state both as an instrument of revenue and subjugation. In wars, Vodka transformed soldiers at times into "heroes", while other times into fools (like during Russo-Japanese war)

In the end you may even agree that had it no
Danielle Spalenka
Aug 30, 2014 rated it really liked it
I enjoyed this concise review of Russian history and the unique perspective how vodka consumption has shaped this country's history. The intimate details of drinking in the inner circles of Soviet Russia were really fascinating. What was particularly intriguing was learning how vodka became the drink of Russia and how the government-owned taverns really dominated how the country was run. Seeing how vodka has shaped nearly every major event in Russian history as really insightful and was backed b ...more
Rawda Hejazy
Sep 05, 2015 rated it it was amazing
This was such a fascinating and an eye-opening read. This book presents an insightful, accessible overview of Russian political history, through the lens of alcohol. Vodka Politics by Schrad is one of those books you just have to read if you want to to understand Russia, Belarus and Ukraine. Schrad relies in equal measure on anecdotes and statistics to demonstrate that the extent of vodka’s influence across the history of the empire has been utterly tragic. Russians and vodka are nearly insepara ...more
Dec 23, 2013 rated it liked it
May 10, 2014
I've given up and just skimmed through the rest of the book. It's well-written, and clearly thoroughly researched, and is a fantastic perspective on Russia, it's just not for sitting down and reading for fun. If I ever write a research paper on some aspect of Russian history though, this will be the first book I reach for.

Dec 23, 2013
I won this book through Gooodreads, and I'm making very slow progress. It's interesting, but it's SO LONG and I have lots of homework. My minor is hist
Andy Wilkins
May 02, 2015 rated it really liked it
I found this book informative and shocking in equal measure. It's hard to believe such a society exists in which alcohol permeates through society so pervasively. Much as I liked the book, I thought it was quite repetitious in places, with various statistics needlessly inserted several times as was the phrase "vodka politics". Nevertheless I feel that I learned a grey deal about a country's culture and history that I hadn't known much about previously.
Mar 07, 2014 rated it liked it
Neat idea and an interesting book. The beginning was sort of poorly organized and it took a little while for it to slip into a chronology. The most annoying part was the author dropping the title into every chapter multiple times. "That's vodka politics..." "Another case of vodka politics..." "The Russians vodka politics..." And other cutesy ways of trying to drop it in became increasing grating as I read.
Delson Roche
Feb 12, 2015 rated it liked it
Shelves: history
A very interesting book, and may have even deserved 4 stars. I gave it 3 because, I felt that there was a lack of flow in the stories. The book can be best enjoyed if one atleast has a passing knowledge of Russian and European history. Filled with interesting anecdotes and truly enjoyable if you are a history buff.
Mazen Alloujami
May 22, 2016 rated it really liked it
An impressive history of Vodka and it's role in the politics of one of the most corrupted countries, Russia.
Une impressionnante histoire du Vodka et son role dans la politique de l'un des payes les plus corrompu du monde, la Russie
كتاب رائع في تاريخ مشروب الفودكا ودوره في سياسة أحد أكثر بلاد العالم فساداً عبر التاريخ
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Goodreads Librari...: Alter Author Name 3 29 Sep 30, 2013 09:54PM  
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Happily married with three kids, Mark Lawrence Schrad is an assistant professor of political science at Villanova University near Philadelphia, where he teaches graduate and undergraduate courses on Russian politics and history, post-communist democratization, comparative politics, international law, international organizations, and globalization. He holds a Ph.D. in political science from the Uni ...more