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Red Plenty Paperback – February 14, 2012

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Editorial Reviews


"A marvel... a work, by turns learned and lyrical, that grows by degree, accreting into something lasting: a replica in miniature of a world of ideas never visible to most, and now gone." -- Andrew Meier, New York Times Book Review 

"At the end of the first chapter... I printed a nerdy but heartfelt word: 'Bravo'.  I felt like giving the author a little bow, or maybe a one-man standing O." -- Dwight Garner, The New York Times

"An engrossing, and at times deeply moving historical drama." -- Max McGuinness, The Daily Beast

“A hammer-and-sickle version of Altman’s Nashville, with central committees replacing country music . . . [Spufford] has one of the most original minds in contemporary literature.” —Nick Hornby, The Believer

“A thrilling book that all enthusiasts of the Big State should read.” —Michael Burleigh, The Sunday Telegraph

About the Author

Francis Spufford is the author of The Child That Books Built and two other books. In 2007 he was elected a Fellow of the Royal Society of Literature. He teaches writing at Goldsmiths College and lives near Cambridge.


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Product Details

  • Paperback: 448 pages
  • Publisher: Graywolf Press; Original edition (February 14, 2012)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 9781555976040
  • ISBN-13: 978-1555976040
  • ASIN: 1555976042
  • Product Dimensions: 5.6 x 1.3 x 8.3 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.2 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (60 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #302,289 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

I'm a writer of non-fiction who is creeping up gradually on writing novels. I write slowly and I always move to new subject-matter with each book, because I want to be learning something fresh every time, both in terms of encountering history and people and thinking which are new to me, and also in the sense of trying out a new way of writing. My idea of a good project is one that I can only just manage. I've written a memoir of my childhood as a compulsive reader, an analysis of the British obsession with polar exploration, a book about engineers which is also a stealth history of Britain since 1945, and a fusion of history with novel called "Red Plenty", about the USSR in the early 1960s. My next book will complete my slow crabwise crawl into fiction by being an honest-to-goodness entirely made-up story, without a footnote in sight. But before that, I have out a short polemic about religion called "Unapologetic". Despite the impression given by some of the reactions to it, it isn't, in fact, an attack on atheism, a position I have no trouble at all respecting. I am a little rude and a little mocking to the likes of Richard Dawkins - but it seems to me that when it comes to the lived experience of faith, Dawkins and co. are, as they say, not even wrong. So, though the book begins at the familiar address where the bust-up over religion has been going on for a decade now, it then goes entirely elsewhere, to try to convey to readers of all persuasions what Christianity feels like from the inside: actual Christianity, rather than the conjectural caricature currently in circulation. The book isn't an argument than Christianity is true, because how could anyone know that? It's only an attempt to show that it is recognisable, in ordinary human terms - made up of the shared emotions of ordinary adult life, rather than taking place in some special and simple-minded zoo. There is a tumblr for the book at

(Oh, biography. I was born in 1964, I'm married with a seven-year-old daughter, and I teach on the MA in Creative and Life Writing at Goldsmiths College, London.)

Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

44 of 44 people found the following review helpful By Graham on January 17, 2011
Format: Hardcover
This is a novel of an economic concept, The Central Plan, set in the Soviet Union of the 50's and 60s. But it is a novel that uses semi-fictional characters to tell some real economic history. It is amusing and very readable, but it also comes with 50 page of explanatory notes and references, and with multi-page chapter introductions gently explaining Soviet dreams, hopes and economics.

It does an excellent job of explaining one of the central tragedies of the USSR, showing how an idealistic economic dream for making the world a better place foundered so dramatically. It seemed so obvious at the time: a planned economy, optimally coordinating all resources and production would clearly be so much more efficient than the chaos of capitalism. It would build a better, rosier world for everyone. Except...

Spufford uses fluid fictional scenes to gently tease out the hopes and contradictions of the period. We see the initial genuine utopian fervor that centralized planning is the Right Answer; then the defensive cunning of plant managers in manipulating the system; the hopeful attempts at mathematical optimizations; the desire to have some kind of pricing mechanism to drive rational decision making; the fear of the authorities of the social unrest caused by price swings; the slow drift from Khrushchev's brash wild optimism and even wilder plans, to the slow acceptance of defeat and stagnation under Brezhnev.

Spufford writes well and is often very amusing as he explores the foibles and hypocrisies of Soviet life. Yes, the central thread is all about economics, but fear not, it is cleverly told, with short vivid episodes exploring Soviet life as well as gently exposing the dreams and tragedies as idealized economics encounters the real world.
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31 of 31 people found the following review helpful By Ruslan Moskalenko on March 20, 2013
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
I happened to grew up in Soviet Union and actually met some of the people mentioned in this book ...

This book is totally mind blowing ... It's unbelievable how a foreigner who doesn't even speak Russian could capture the spirit of that time with the littlest details and at the same time summarize the grandest historic forces shaping up the superpowers of the XX century.

The book shows what people of that time were thinking about, how they lived their daily lives, but it also goes very deep into exposing the fundamental conflicts of the non market economy.

I've read a lot about Soviet Union, both in Russian and English, and most of the Russian books have strong prejudgement and they are either showing socialism in a very positive or a very negative light. The English sources might be more or less objective, but their lack of understanding of the culture sometimes make them simply laughable.

Mr. Spufford managed to keep his point of view very objective and filled the book with the finest very authentic details.

So if you want to learn about life in Soviet Union in 1950s-1970s, understand how that Superpower was ruled and what socialism was about and why it ultimately lost the historic race - I can't think of any better single source.

Just one more note. This books is a peculiar mixture of some very accurately presented historic facts with some fiction and they are blended together so it might be not clear which is which. The author is not trying to distort your perception, it's actually opposite, by filling in some fictional details, he is giving you a better idea of what it was, just like some careful restoration can give you a better idea of what the artist intention was.
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25 of 26 people found the following review helpful By Maximzodal on October 18, 2010
Format: Kindle Edition
This review pertains to the hardback book which is not available from Amazon.

It never occurred to me, even into adulthood, that I would ever see the collapse of the Soviet Union in my lifetime. That it happened so quickly was a shock. How this happened has piqued my curiosity for twenty years. It is common knowledge today that the collapse of the Soviet economy was hugely instrumental in the collapse of that system but, knowing that and understanding how and why had not been clear to me. At university, economics was reputed to have the ability to anesthetize whole classrooms. But, with Francis Spufford's "Red Plenty", there is definitely no threat of anesthesia. Economics never bogs the reader down. Spufford's technique of combining fiction with some very intricate history and economics brings the subject alive to the extent that I could hardly put the book down. Who or what is killing the Soviet economy? How is it happening? The ways people and industries cope with the flawed economic system and the effort to try to build a new one are never contrived or unbelievable and always informative. The people, both fictional and real, are both sympathetic and believable. The book revolves around the effort to build a central planning system that would reputedly rival the economies of the west without resorting to capitalism. The inherent flaws in the Soviet model and the human foibles that continuously undermine the old economy and the new effort is just fascinating. Definitely one of the best books I've read this year. Highly recommended.
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