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Hammer and Tickle: A History of Communism Told Through Communist Jokes Hardcover – May 29, 2008

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 368 pages
  • Publisher: Weidenfeld & Nicolson (May 29, 2008)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0297853546
  • ISBN-13: 978-0297853541
  • Product Dimensions: 7.9 x 5.3 x 1.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.1 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 3.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (6 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #2,266,800 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews


'marvellously original... a fine tribute to the joyous, humane anarchy of laughter, whose nearest political analgoue is that ramshackle, chaotic system of political wishful thinking called democracy.' And their favourite joke? 'What stage comes between socialism and communism? Alcoholism.' -- CHRISTOPHER HART SUNDAY TIMES "entertaining and thoughtful study." -- GEORGE WALDEN EVENING STANDARD "we find at long last the jokes only communism could produce. And while they may not have brought it down, they can still tell us something important about why it fell" SUNDAY TELEGRAPH "wonderful... this isn't just a joke book. Instead, Lewis embarks on a deeply scholarly examination and analysis of the communist joke... an excellent job." -- MARTIN ROWSON NEW STATESMAN "an excellent anthology of anecdotes knowledgeably linked into the history of the Soviet period... very enjoyable to read" -- ELAINE FEINSTEIN DAILY TELEGRAPH "This book gives a good flavour of that socialist-era humour." MORNING STAR "explores the wealth of subversive humour during the long, bleak decades of communism." IRISH INDEPENDENT "Ben Lewis's grimly entertaining study is no mere joke compendium." -- GEORGE WALDEN THE SCOTSMAN "charming, highly original, elegantly written and valuable piece of cultural history... This is very funny book. Like the best Communist jokes, it is funniest when it is grimmest." -- Victor Sebestyen THE SPECTATOR "a fascinating attempt to get to grips with communism's rise and fall in Europe through its funny bone... their cultural significance shouldn't be underestimated." METRO - LONDON, LEEDS, NORTH EAST, N WEST,MIDLANDS

About the Author

Ben Lewis' award-winning film HAMMER AND TICKLE was broadcast on BBC4 in 2006. His article on Communist jokes for PROSPECT magazine, received the greatest number of hits on their website for any article last year.

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

8 of 9 people found the following review helpful By Mensan on August 3, 2010
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
Ben Lewis merely poached communist jokes from several Eastern European countries and filled the rest of the space with the following:
1) some historical background (acceptable)
2) his own half-baked theories and clumsy interviews (enough said)
3) relationship issues with his girlfriend (?)
I am not sorry I bought the book because of the jokes, which there are plenty in the book.
It is a pitty that such a worthy subject did not get an author it deserves.
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Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
Like other reviewers, I bought this volume looking for an anthology of communist jokes. Instead, it is a history of humor in the communist world, or perhaps a history of communism seen through the prism of its humor.

Other reviewers have noted that the book weaves together several rather incongruous threads. There is a history of the author's romance with a woman from the former East Germany, juxtaposing her unrepentant affection for communism, flaws and all, with his humorous, or perhaps cynical irreverence about everything in general and communism in particular. Then there is a history of the Soviet Union and of communism, played out in interviews with the likes of Lech Walesa. There is a history of official humor as a propaganda vehicle, and finally, the stuff we were looking for, the underground jokes that poked fun at communism.

An author should begin a book with a notion of who his readership might be. Lewis'book lacks that focus. He has parts for people who are just looking for jokes, historians and philosophers. Assessing each thread separately, I would say that he doesn't do a bad job with any of them. But just as you would not buy a single book to teach you how to cook and drywall, neither would I expect many people will be interested in the full range of Lewis' interests.

The book does have its bright points. First, he has edited the jokes fairly well. In any anthology of 1000 jokes the reader starts to gag after about 50 of them, wondering where the good ones are. In this book the jokes are sparse enough that when you come across one, you generally laugh. The strength of the joke is in the telling. Like any author, Lewis has taken liberties to structure the jokes optimally.
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Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
Twain, of course, was spot on, when he wrote, "against the assult of laughter, nothing can stand." It was therefore with great interest that I picked up Lewis' book, having long been a fan of Soviet humor. What a disappointment, then, to find such a mish-mash of personal anecdotes intertwined with the ostensible subject of the book. The historical context Lewis provides is both necessecary (for those not familiar with events and personalities parodied) and well-written; this was a real strength of the book. The jokes were great (and brought many a smile to my face). The personal stories Lewis inexplicably included, however, were something I could have done without. For this I hold the editor equally at fault as Lewis, both of whom should have known better. If you can manage to skip to the "good stuff" - the self-depreciating (and cutting) humor, there is much to like here. Getting to it takes some effort. My recommendation, prior to picking this up, is Soviet Humor: The Best of Krokodil - the flavor is very similar without the author getting in the way.
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