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The Siberian Curse: How Communist Planners Left Russia Out in the Cold Paperback – November 4, 2003


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Product Details

  • Paperback: 240 pages
  • Publisher: Brookings Institution Press; First Printing edition (November 4, 2003)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0815736452
  • ISBN-13: 978-0815736455
  • Product Dimensions: 6 x 0.7 x 9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 14.4 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.1 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (8 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #690,762 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

From The New Yorker

Solzhenitsyn once noted that Siberia offers "plenty of room in which to correct all our idiocies." For centuries, the vast expanse east of the Urals has been a place of mythic promise and peril, its frigid terrain and unending horizons essential to Russia's sense of itself. This incisive polemic, however, argues that if Russians hope to attain prosperity they should abandon their eastern territories, where not a single settlement is economically viable. Of all the political pathologies to emerge from the Soviet experiment, none were so grandiose and manifestly disastrous as the attempt to fashion an industrial utopia in the Siberian wasteland. The policy left nearly a third of Russia's hundred and forty-five million inhabitants stranded in places where even basic survival requires a constant and costly stream of supplies. The authors make their case vigorously, but they recognize that the bureaucratic barriers to leaving remain severe, and that national myths are potent.
Copyright © 2005 The New Yorker

Review

"As a result, according to The Siberian Curse: How Communist Planners Left Russia Out in the Cold, 23 of the world's 25 coldest cities with populations over 500,000 are in Russia. The maintenance of the massive Soviet misallocation of people and industrial plant constitutes an enormous tax on the Russian economy today." —Kim Iskyan, Slate



"Russia is the wrong shape. Too big, far too long, flat for much of the way and accursedly mountainous in between; but above all, as Fiona Hill and Clifford Gaddy show in this fascinating study, the wrong shape economically.... " — The Economist



"Fiona Hill and Clifford Gaddy focus only upon one example, that of Russia over the past two centuries (especially in its Soviet phase); but it may have more general implications about the complex relationship between geography, history and human society. Even if their study only applies to Russia, it upsets most previous thinking about the sources of national power.... Hill and Gaddy make an interesting point. Economic power and prosperity are measured, not by sheer landmass, but by the number and efficiency of the transactions taking place within them.... But what seems clear after reading 'The Siberian Curse' is that you won't get far in nation-building if you set up shop in places where even high-carbon steels quickly succumb to the cold." —Paul Kennedy, Yale University, Tribune Media Services



"This incisive polemic, however, argues that if Russians hope to attain prosperity they should abandon their eastern territories, where not a single settlement is economically viable. Of all the political pathologies to emerge from the Soviet experiment, none were so grandiose and manifestly disastrous as the attempt to fashion an industrial utopia in the Siberian wasteland." — The New Yorker



"The disastrous impact of Soviet planning on the geography of the Russian economy is a hitherto neglected but vital subject. Those still wondering why market reforms have achieved only limited success in Russia since the collapse of Communism cannot afford to overlook this timely and original book." —Niall Ferguson, Senior Research Fellow, Jesus College, Oxford University



"As Brookings Institution scholars Fiona Hill and Clifford Gaddy have recognized in their unusual and rich new book The Siberian Curse: How Communist Planners Left Russia Out in the Cold, the famous extremity of Russia's climate has as much to do with political history as with nature.... The Siberian Curse aims at nothing less than to demythologize the Siberian cold through a persuasive, engagingly written, economically and historically grounded argument.... Full of compelling arguments and practical recommendations, The Siberian Curse is also engagingly hopeful in its conception." —Christine Evans, The Moscow Times



"The authors' diagnosis is sound and their prognosis grim. But, assert Hill and Gaddy, recovery is possible. Russia must downsize its cold cities and encourage a mass migration of the population westward, to concentrate the country's workforce and brainpower in European Russia." — Russian Life



"Many scholars have written on the influence of the cold and the problems of distance in Russia. In The Siberian Curse, Fiona Hill and Clifford Gaddy seek to bring new rigor to the task.... Provides a new way to look at Russian reform.... Hill and Gaddy show us that Siberia's development did not make sense." —Cristina Chuen, Monterey Institute of International Studies, Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists



"This book is a fascinating study that brings together historical analysis with statistical measurements, and points out the path-dependence of transitional economies and regional economic devleopment." —Hiroki Nogami, The Developing Economies



"In The Siberian Curse, Fiona Hill and Clifford Gaddy, scholars at the Brookings Institution, offer a refreshing, well-documented addition to the literature on post-Soviet Russia." —Andrew Meier, The Wilson Quarterly



"Original and provocative Hill and Gaddy frame the problems of Siberia more clearly, and offer policy recommendations which are more concrete and coherent, than any previous analyses of Siberia from Russian or foreign sources of which I am aware." —Robert Cottrell, Central Europe Correspondent for The Economist, New York Review of Books



"This book is a fascinating study that brings together historical analysis with statistical measurements, and points out the path-dependence of transitional economies and regional economic development.... This new study will also be important in offering suggestions for researchers working on regional policy in countries like China or India which have had a history of planned economics." —Hiroki Nogami, The Developing Economies



"An in-depth study of the urbanization of Siberia and a thorough investigation of the economic problems created by past mistakes for contemporary Russian government." — Utopian Studies



"...the author's approach to Russia's geographical features, both in historical and economic terms, is original and well researched. Although recent literature on productivity and economic growth normally treats geography as the only exogeneous variable, Hill and Gaddy argye that the allocation of human and physical capital across Russia was not an accident of nature's making." —Victoria Levin, World Bank, Demokratizatsiya



"Economically speaking, this book makes a very powerful statement about the development of Siberia in the twentieth century.... this book provides a very compelling reflection on an important and interesting topic and should be essential reading for anyone wishing to understand the political economy of contemporary Russia." —Gary N. Wilson, University of Northern British Columbia, Canadian Slavonic Papers



"This is a welcome and important contribution to the burgeoning literature on how physical geography contributes to economic development or retrogression....This book adds important new insights into the continuing debates over Russia's economic past and future." —Jeffrey Sachs, Director of the Earth Institute, Columbia University



"This book by Fiona Hill and Clifford Gaddy puts geography right where it belongs, in the middle of the picture. Had more academic economists in the 1990s been willing to temper fashionable theorising by taking the occasional look at a map, Russia's unique problems in coping with 'transition' might have been appreciated better." —Dominic Lieven, Professor of Russian Government and History, London School of Economics



" The Siberian Curse is a highly original as well as persuasive account of recurrent Russian economic problems due...Russia's current government would do well to heed the admonitions of the book's American authors." —Richard Pipes, Professor of History, Emeritus, Harvard University



"The book's conclusion about the ominous future of Siberia casts an important new perspective on Russia's geopolitical dilemmas." —Zbigniew Brzezinski, Counselor and Trustee, Center for Strategic and International Studies


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Customer Reviews

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Any reader should also be aware that the Notes provide much additional understanding.
Walter J. Moore
It is a readable book and a must read for those interested in Russian history and how much geography has played a major role in its development.
Taylor Neely
Certainly the effort required to access these resources now represents an investment that will yield great rewards in the future.
Stephen Neely

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

11 of 14 people found the following review helpful By saskatoonguy on February 29, 2004
Format: Paperback
The authors' main theme is that the Soviets' determination to create cities in Siberia has created an albatross that will hold back Russian economic development forever. Most of the cities of Siberia have no economic justification for existence, and by any standard, should not have been created in the first place. Even where there are large mineral or oil deposits, the cost of maintaining huge cities in the Arctic outweighs any possible profit. Getting these people to move to warmer parts of Russia would be beneficial all round, but is difficult due to housing shortages in the more desirable parts of Russia. The authors argue that Russians need to abandon their notion that settlement of Siberia is the destiny of the Russian people and will make Russia an economic powerhouse.
If there is a flaw here, it is that the authors keep hammering away at their main point, creating a repetitive tone toward the end of the book. Throughout the book there are short articles from various periodicals in gray boxes, which serve to illustrate the authors' theoretical arguments.
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6 of 7 people found the following review helpful By Taylor Neely on December 30, 2003
Format: Paperback
This thought provoking book proposes a challenge to the Russian people. The curse of Siberia is its severe cold and the vast distances between towns and cities. Although there are large valuable resources, the cost of developing these resources make them almost unavailable. The book is well documented and rings of truth.
While reading I could not help, but hope that somr Russian officials read it and try to sell the Russian government on its thesis. It is a readable book and a must read for those interested in Russian history and how much geography has played a major role in its development. I highly recommend it and commend the authors for their contribution to world understanding. Taylor Neely, Carson City, Nevada
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7 of 9 people found the following review helpful By Stephen Neely on January 2, 2004
Format: Hardcover
Everyone knows that Siberia is a very cold place. This book explains how the coldness of Siberia presents one of the greatest impediments to future development of the Russian economy. Under the best of circumstances, developing strategies for dealing with a large, unbearably cold place like Siberia presents tremendous challenges. The Soviets made the situation much worse by ignoring the cost of the cold. With an ample supply of forced labor provided by the GULAG prison system and a total disregard for the profitability of industrial endeavors, the Soviets put people and resources in places that made no sense economically. It is tempting to think of Siberia as a treasure chest containing vast quantities of natural resources just waiting to be exploited. Certainly the effort required to access these resources now represents an investment that will yield great rewards in the future. Hill and Gaddy expose the fallacy of this point of view using quantitative economic methods to support their detailed arguments. The cost of supporting people and factories in extremely cold places currently outweighs any benefit to the Russian economy. This book is written in a style that is both scholarly and accessible to the average reader. Not only does the book provide insight into why the Soviet economy failed, it provides clear-cut policy recommendations for economically sound ways that Russia can deal with the Siberian challenge now and in the future. According to economic considerations, Siberia is now enormously over populated and the people currently living there should be encouraged to move to warmer places. The treasures of Siberia should be kept in cold storage until technologies are developed to extract these resources profitably, without damaging the Siberian ecology.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful By Jorge Reyes on May 2, 2009
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
The authors propose a number of policy solutions to the demographic question in Siberia. They argue that many of the Siberian cities with more than a million souls (of which there are many: Novosibirsk, Omsk, Tomsk, Yekaterinburg...) have no economic reason to exist. Communist planners 'strategically' situated them in the middle of nowhere, far away from today's centers of economical and financial activity.

Among many other policy recommendations, they suggest that Russia become more 'Canadian'. (Canada concentrates the majority of its population along the US borders, thus benefiting from proximity to centers of trade). In other words, huge numbers of population would have to be transferred from cities in Siberia to 'warmer' European Russia.

The authors paint a very realistic picture. They concede that such a population transfer is an enormous task, and very unlikely to happen (for a number of cultural, economic and political reasons that are explored in the book -for instance, the lack of a social safety net for Siberian migrants moving to Russia).

However, it seems to me that the authors are pushing the Canadian analogy too far. Russia does not precisely have a border with Western Europe -It shares a border with Poland, the Baltic countries, Moldova, Ukraine, etcetera, and these countries are by no means comparable to the United States. Another critic is that the authors are relying on too many Western or American sources (it appears as though they understand Russian, as they cite a number of Russian authors) and make too many comparisons with the United States (a country which is also cold, but not as cold as Russia).

The overall balance is positive. The authors have very well documented their case and have made a particularly resourceful use of statistics to back their conclusions (like the Temperature-per-capita or TPC measure, which makes cold countries comparable on this scale).
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