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The Rise & Fall of Great Powers

3.65  ·  Rating details ·  7,006 ratings  ·  1,107 reviews
The Rise & Fall of Great Powers begins in a dusty bookshop. What follows is an abduction, heated political debate, glimpses into strangers’ homes, and travel around the globe. It’s a novel of curious personalities, mystery, and lots of books: volumes that the characters collect, covet, steal.

Tooly Zylberberg, owner of a bookshop in the Welsh countryside, spends most of
Hardcover, 384 pages
Published June 10th 2014 by The Dial Press (first published 2014)
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Lainie Yes, and I found it annoying. I don't see how it added to the story. For me, it seemed like a gimmicky device that missed the mark.
Lisa D. I listened to the audio book and didn't find it too hard to follow; at each time shift, the year was mentioned. Granted, you have to be paying…moreI listened to the audio book and didn't find it too hard to follow; at each time shift, the year was mentioned. Granted, you have to be paying attention to catch it.(less)

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Average rating 3.65  · 
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(4.5) A novel that requires – and rewards – patience. The story of plucky bibliophile Tooly Zylberberg and her cast of wildly unsuitable parental figures, spanning more than two decades and ranging from Brooklyn to Bangkok (with stop-offs at a musty bookshop in rural Wales), takes its time revealing major secrets. We don’t learn who her real parents are until over two-thirds of the way through, for instance.

The fact that her parentage is just by the by, though, forms a central point of the book:
Jun 13, 2014 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: Those looking for truth within themselves
Shelves: fictional-novels, arc
“He allowed himself to be swayed by his conviction that human beings are not born once and for all on the day their mothers give birth to them, but that life obliges them over and over again to give birth to themselves.”
―Gabriel García Márquez

And indeed life has been this constant making and remaking of who we are, it is, the uncompromising search of meaning and truth. We all go out in the world, frantically searching for something, something we may feel only in vague stirrings, and
Angela M
May 12, 2014 rated it it was amazing

How can you not love someone named Tooly Zylberberg, who loves to read and won't finish a book because she doesn't want the people she meets in books to end with "a blank space at the bottom of the final page”? We first meet Tooly when she is in her early 30’s and is the owner of a failing bookshop in in Caerfenog ,Wales
The novel takes place in three different decades and we get to know Tooly at 9, in her early 20’s as well as in the present day. We follow Tooly around the world to Sydney,
Look! STARS! Five of them, no less.

This may well be my book of the year. I wondered, after The Imperfectionists, I wondered how Mr. Rachman would follow that, where he would go from there. He went EVERYWHERE. A quarter century of this planet's history, an intriguing puzzle to be solved, narrated through characters that steal your heart, told with wit and laugh-out-loud funny dialogue, built in a dizzying architectural marvel that follows the dictate of the fonction fabulatrice referenced
Diane S ☔
May 19, 2014 rated it liked it
This book has some of the best characters in it, one could look far and wide and never find such an interesting character as Humphrey. He quite won me over, wish I knew a person just like him. I would spend hours with him, drinking instant coffee, which I do not like but he did, discussing thoughts and philosophers with him. Playing chess and ping pong. This story though is about Tooley, we meet her when she is nine, and then in alternating chapters, when she is nineteen and then when she is ...more
Apr 12, 2014 rated it liked it
Shelves: 2014
You know that thing that happens when you love a writer's first effort -- a debut novel or maybe short stories -- and you look forward with great anticipation to what he or she will do next only to be disappointed? Yeah, that.

"The Imperfectionists" was a delight -- wry, witty, tightly and cleverly constructed. "The Rise & Fall of Great Powers," Tom Rachman's second novel, is more ambitious, a lot longer and a lot flabbier. Tooly Zylberberg is called to New York from her quaint, failing
Shelby *trains flying monkeys*
I hate giving up on a book. HATE it. My eyes keep glazing over reading this one though. I should love it. I mean Tooley owns a bookstore! Which I haven't heard her mention much of yet in the book.
I think this might be one of those love or hate books and of course here I am hating. I can't figure out what the hell is going on in it.
DNF at 30%

But look! I'm using Brad it's not all bad.

I received an ARC copy of this book from Netgalley in exchange for an honest review.
Patrice Hoffman
May 27, 2014 rated it really liked it
The Rise & Fall of Great Powers by Tom Rachman, can be summed up entirely by stating it's a great read. For most, that simple statement isn't enough so... here's my review:

Tooly Zylberberg has found it much easier to live in a world of solidarity with the characters she meets along the way in the many books she's read. It's only befitting that she owns a bookstore where she can cultivate this love of the written word. She has little interaction with any outsiders besides Fogg, her employee,
Julie Christine
Three and a half stars.

"... the other side of original is gimmicky. As much as I enjoyed this clever, sharp debut, I hope the next trick Rachman pulls out of his pen is completely different. The magic works only the first time."

Is it odd to quote oneself in a book review? Odd or not, I just did. This was the closing comment to my review of Tom Rachman's novel, The Imperfectionists. Did the magic work a second time?

Once again, Rachman upends conventional structure with a novel that flings
Jun 08, 2014 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
All of life is a search for the truth of ourselves. Each of us undertakes this quest in his/her own way. Tooly has quite a unique odyssey which becomes more engrossing as the pages pass. The story is told in multiple parts --- 1988, 1999 and 2011 ---as Tooly moves in and out of various "lives" from the time she is 10 years old. Her childhood, her life, in fact, is not the stuff of everyday reading. We readers wonder along with her.

But enough about that. Too much said would be too spoil the
Jenny (Reading Envy)
I knew if this book was anything like The Imperfectionists, which I loved, that I would read it quickly. I did read this in under 24 hours, at least a fourth between 3 and 6 am when I couldn't sleep. It is fast paced and contains a mystery that the different stories and time periods intertwine to expose by the end of the book, so that kept me reading, but the author didn't make me feel the deep compassion I had for the characters in The Imperfectionists. Some, but not all, in fact I felt more ...more
Ron Charles
May 13, 2014 rated it liked it
In 2010, Tom Rachman published a witty novel about a failing newspaper based in Rome that charmed a great number of people, particularly journalists, who wished their failing newspapers were based in Rome. Proving himself a clever ringmaster of quirky, ink-stained hacks, Rachman constructed “The Imperfectionists” as a series of character studies intricately snapped together to produce unexpected moments of tragicomedy.

His new novel, “The Rise & Fall of Great Powers,” is weightier, more
May 30, 2015 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Fun, but Contrived and Cutesy-Poo

Some people are just gonna love this book. I'm afraid I'm not one of them, although I did find the story and characters engaging and entertaining at times.

Besides, it was yet another novel that's a love story to books, book stores, and readers. How could I resist?

The book was something of a mashup. It was a sort of contrived, pseudo-postmodern crazy quilt. Ok, I'm exaggerating. There was a method to this madness. It was planned (sort of). It just didn't entirely
switterbug (Betsey)
Apr 12, 2014 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: favorites
There are unforgettable female protagonists in novels, such as Anna Karenina, Jo March, and Scarlett O’Hara, distinguished figures of fiction. Regarding more recent novels (of the 21st century), no heroine has enchanted me quite so much as Teresita Urrea of THE HUMMINGBIRD’S DAUGHTER (even if she is from a different century). That is, until Rachman’s Tooly Zylberberg. All my favorite fictional females are inimitable, and destined to be copied by later writers —iconoclasts that in later years ...more
May 23, 2014 rated it really liked it
Shelves: 2014, netgalley

That reveal...that poor heart. This is such a beautifully written novel, although I am not sure if I loved it or hated it to be honest. I spent majority of the novel completely confused as to what was happening and I hated all of the characters. This sentiment might make you think that this leans me more towards disliking this but...I don't know! If anything can be gleamed about this novel from my sorry ramblings be it that this novel is a cruel beauty.

Note: I received this book for
Debbie "DJ"
Feb 14, 2014 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: fiction, netgalley
I received this early copy from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.
Thank you NetGalley!

I loved the way this book was written. It follows the main character, Tooley, in three different time periods. First from a child beginning around age six, then into her pre-teen and teen years, and lastly into her current life, early to mid twenty's. Just as I was getting completely enthralled in one time period, the author would switch to another. Each chapter gave me a little slice of her life,
Apr 28, 2014 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Matilda (Tooly) Zylberberg runs a small bookshop in Wales, spending much of her time attending various evening classes, while her only employee, Fogg, tidies the shelves and goes to fetch coffee. However, this quiet and bookish way of life is not representative of most of Tooly’s experience. When an old acquaintance, Duncan McGrory, contacts her from New York to say that he urgently needs to talk to her about her ‘father,’ she is forced to reconsider her past.

It is difficult to really explain
Mar 12, 2014 rated it it was ok
This was originally published here.

Sad to say, since I received this for free from Goodreads, but this is just not a very good book. The characters are two-bit stereotypes, the sense of place and setting is unconvincing, the writing is dull, and I came to find myself zoning out on the bus, listening in to other peoples’ conversations — addiction, rental prices, who’s dating who — rather than return to this novel’s overpowering blandness.

Tooly, an American running a nigh-insolvent bookstore in
May 31, 2014 rated it liked it
Shelves: first-reads
1988, 2000, and 2011. Three different times in Tooly Zylerberg's life that we the reader go through over and over again.

At first the structuring of the chapters in that way was confusing and hard to follow, then I recognized the pattern, and it became easier to figure out. Tooly grew up with the weirdest life I've ever heard about. For this creativity alone, it's worth a read. You read this book, constantly trying to figure out what's real and what is made up. My favorite parts of this were of
Here is a book that flips between three different times 1988 (Tooly is nine), 1999-2000(Tooly is twenty and then twenty-one) and finally 2011. Here finally is a book that profits from time-switches, a modern fad typical of so many contemporary books. This construction turns the story into a mystery. It couldn't and shouldn't be written any differently. This book is perfect for you, if you want to solve a puzzle. You will solve that puzzle along with Tooly, the main character. Tooly is in her ...more
Roger Brunyate
Jul 14, 2016 rated it it was amazing
Life Stories

Captured instantly by the delicious opening chapter of this book, with its warm characters and intelligent humor, I wanted nothing more than to plunge into the rest. It says something that my interest never flagged, even though circumstances forced me to spread it out over six days. Indeed, I may even have benefited by having time to let the intriguing protagonist get into my bloodstream, and ponder the gradually unfolding mystery of her life story.

When we first meet her, Tooly
May 08, 2014 rated it really liked it
Shelves: best-of-2014
So many authors now use the gimmick of jumping back and forth in time in their narrative. I don’t have a strong opinion either way, as long as the technique doesn’t diminish from the flow of the story. Most of the time, it seems to be a wash – I think that the story could have been equally effective told in a linear fashion. Once in a while, though, an author uses the alternating timelines so masterfully that I can’t imagine the story unfolding in any other way – this is one of those books.

Jun 25, 2014 rated it it was ok
“Fogg, it’s pointless. The only person in there who’s relevant is someone I’m not dealing with. If I trusted her to say anything useful, I’d have tried ages ago.”

“Go on—give us a name.”

“Even if you got her, she’s never saying anything by phone. And I’m not taking a pilgrimage to wherever she is now. She’d make me, for sure. Keep in mind that whatever I spend on travel comes straight out of World’s End—you know that, right? Its funds are mine. If I go broke, that’s it for the shop. This isn’t
Larry H
May 26, 2014 rated it it was ok
Shelves: netgalley
I'd rate this 2.5 stars.

Full disclosure: I received an advance readers copy of this book from NetGalley in exchange for an unbiased review.

Matilda "Tooly" Zylberberg is an American living in Wales, the owner of a struggling bookshop. She lives a relatively solitary life, as her only companion (since the shop has so few customers) is Fogg, the rumpled employee she inherited when she bought the store. In 2011, Tooly is a bit of an anachronism, as she lacks the desire or the means to connect with
May 21, 2014 rated it it was amazing
This is a hard book to review. Why is it so much harder to discuss a book that strikes you down so unexpectedly? Within the first two pages I knew I was going to like, maybe even love, this one. It just had that effect almost instantly. And it turned out to be love.

Tooly Zylberberg is an inspired protagonist. Already worldly by her early thirties, she's nearly settled in Wales with a small used bookshop that she runs with her one associate, Fogg. But as we learn more about her vague history,
Feb 27, 2014 rated it it was ok
I was excited to receive an advance copy of this novel and really wanted to love it but it unfortunately it did not live up to my expectations. It took me more than half of the novel to figure out a part of the plot and a few of the characters and by then I didn't even much care. I wanted to be able to follow characters enough to care what happened and never got to that stage. There was so much happening in the late twentieth century more history would have at least given me a blueprint to ...more
Dec 14, 2014 rated it did not like it
I wanted to like this book because it's about a woman who owns a bookshop in Wales, and the person who recommended it was very enthusiastic and made it sound really interesting. However, it goes downhill from there. One of my creative writing professors once told the class, "If no one cares about your characters, your story has failed." That pretty much sums
up this waste of a tree. After the first couple chapters I was waiting for a reason to care, after 100 pages, 200 pages, end of the book -
Apr 23, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: life-stories
I did not read the back cover when I picked up this book. After 2 hours, I was enthralled. Miraculous story-telling to be topped off with a great narrator!! This novel was interesting, relatable, happy, suspicious, se la vie, suspenseful, sad, politically infused, historically infused, funny, misted with forgiveness, international, cute, and sincere! I will read more of this author.
Maya Panika
May 20, 2014 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
A strange, mysterious story about a lost child's wanderings in the world; a girl who grows up loved, but at a distance; who doesn't like to finish a book because "it was dispiriting to witness her printed companions concluding their lives with a blank space at the bottom of the final page", but who finally learns that to love and accept love, and to see a relationship through to its natural end, is the only way to truly live.
The storyline is broken into three distinct periods of Tooley's life,
Blaine DeSantis
Apr 03, 2018 rated it liked it
What a tough review to write. I so enjoyed The Imperfectionists by this author and was really looking forward to this book. It was very well written, but unlike some of my Goodreads friends I have to differ as to this books ratings. First of all there are very few decent characters. What a bunch of horrid people live in this book. We have so much to deal with as our heroine, Tooly, tries to figure out her past. It takes almost 300 pages to finally get to that point. I found the beginning ...more
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Tom Rachman is the author of four works of fiction: his bestselling debut, The Imperfectionists (2010), which was translated into 25 languages; the critically acclaimed follow-up, The Rise & Fall of Great Powers (2014); a satirical audiobook-in-stories Basket of Deplorables (2017); and an upcoming novel set in the art world, The Italian Teacher (March 2018).

Born in London and raised in
“Books," he said, "are like mushrooms. They grow when you are not looking. Books increase by rule of compound interest: one interest leads to another interest, and this compounds into third. Next, you have so much interest there is no space in closet.” 55 likes
“People kept their books, she thought, not because they were likely to read them again but because these objects contained the past--the texture of being oneself at a particular place, at a particular time, each volume a piece of one's intellect, whether the work itself had been loved or despised or had induced a snooze on page forty.” 29 likes
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