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Vodka Politics: Alcohol, Autocracy, and the Secret History of the Russian State Hardcover – February 5, 2014

4.3 out of 5 stars 19 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

Review

In this extensive but accessible account, Schrad (The Political Power of Bad Ideas) argues that throughout history the Russian (and Soviet) autocracy has been intrinsically--and often tragically--linked to vodka. ... In the post-Soviet era, the Russian Federation's own reliance on vodka has overseen a demographic disaster, in which rampant alcoholism has sunk Russian life expectancy to the lowest in Europe. As Schrad puts it, "the single greatest obstacle to a normal, healthy, and wealthy Russia" is the predominance of "the state's own vodka politics." -Publisher's Weekly

Overall, Schrad's strong research and analysis of economic policies and their social impact carry his argument. Social and economics historians or activists seeking to understand or tackle the ongoing Russian dependence upon vodka will find this work compelling.--Elizabeth Zeitz, Otterbein Univ. Lib., Westerville, OH (Library Journal)

a powerful critique of the effect of the levels of vodka consumption and of government policy ... this book has real value ... [which] principally lies in its laying bare the effects of excessive vodka drinking on the course of development of Russian society and the responsibility of the Russian state in allowing this to develop Graeme Gill, Australian Journal of Politics and History Schrad is an engaging writer. He ranges across Russian history with ease, zeroing in on countless striking anecdotes and developing his story within a competent and well-researched narrative. The author brings to bear vast scholarly literature as well as published and unpublished (including archival) primary sources ... Vodka Politics draws upon vast research, tells a lot of great stories, and advances a provocative thesis. Jonathan Daly, American Historical Review

From the Back Cover

"A gripping and original book." -Tyler Cowen, Marginal Revolution
  
"Vodka Politics retells the history of the Russian state as a startling, almost Grand-Guignol narrative of spiritous excess, with one autocratic regime after another using drink to befuddle its courtiers, pacify its masses, stoke its imperial ambitions, and keep its treasury full." -David Courtwright, author of Forces of Habit: Drugs and the Making of the Modern World
  
"Written in a lively and entertaining fashion, Vodka Politics details the enduring link between autocracy and alcohol across the expanse of Russian history. In this impressive interpretive history, Mark Schrad leaves no stone unturned in laying out how vodka became intertwined with governance in Russia and the tragic consequences that this has had for Russian society." -Mark Beissinger, Princeton University, author of Nationalist Mobilization and the Collapse of the Soviet State
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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 512 pages
  • Publisher: Oxford University Press; 1 edition (February 5, 2014)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0199755590
  • ISBN-13: 978-0199755592
  • Product Dimensions: 9.3 x 1.7 x 6.6 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 2 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (19 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #528,104 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Top Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Sometimes you may have to wait quite a long time in order to read such a masterful book like Professor's Schrad gripping book. It is about the way in which vodka and other spirits have influenced the long, rich and arduous history of Russia.
His main thesis is that since the days of the Vladimir the Great of Kiev, alcohol has been used to make the Russians happy. The traditional drinks of Russia were naturally fermented beers, ales, meads and kvas. The imposition of the more potent artificial, distilled spirits came only with the imposition of the modern autocratic state, which used vodka to siphon off society's wealth into the treasury, making this drink the central pillar of Russian autocratic statecraft. Vodka, corruption and autocracy have been intertwined in Russia ever since.
Its secondary thesis is that, in a way, Russian rules conducted a kind of controlled schizophrenic policy vis-av-vis vodka: on the oned hand there were those who encouraged the masses to drink(Stalin being one of them) and on the other hand there were those who were against it(Lenin who was really paranoic about it, and Gorbachev). The reason: vodka was a powerful tool to control the masses and also served as a principal source of income for the state.
What is great about this book is the vivid style of writing, demonstrating again that only some people belonging to the academia can also write not only for their peers but also for the history buff as well. The author demonstrates that since its inception, Russia was drenched in alcohol. This fact created the tragic consequences for the Russian society. It hastened the demise of the Soviet Union itself and caused what Professor Schrad calls "the literal demodernization of a twentieth century country".
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Format: Hardcover
This is probably one of the best books on Russian history ever written. It starts out a little stilted (because it is technically a scholarly work), but it gets interesting pretty quickly. It becomes a page turner, if not a drunken ramble, with each chapter going off on a new tangent. Somehow the author manages to gather all the tangents together to support his thesis. It's impressive, and fun, too.

There are drunken toddlers, soldiers called in to keep people from becoming sober, and a midget wedding (possibly dwarves). What other history book can offer that?
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Format: Hardcover
For those with a casual interest in Russia, this book presents an insightful, accessible overview of Russian political history, through the lens of alcohol. For those who are already familiar with Russian history and politics, the book is a fascinating examination of how the peculiar relationship between citizen and state in Russia has played out in-- and been influenced by-- this particular arena.

The book is eminently readable, well researched, and moreover manages to deal seriously with something that has become a cliche, without resorting to stereotypes or platitudes. Recommended.
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Format: Kindle Edition
As a lover of Russian history I think this book covers a big variable in key events that has been underweighted by even the best historians. The book is fun and comprehensive while providing a lot of new material.
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Format: Kindle Edition
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 impressive.
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Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
Cheap alcohol as a way to control the population— who would have thought. Schrad is the kind of writer the latem great Paul Fussell fretted was disappearing— an academic who writes popular history that can be read by the hoi-poloi like me. I look forward to more form him.
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Format: Hardcover
This is a surprisingly interesting book! In fact, I came up here to see how much it would cost to buy it for my class. I do agree, having listened to the audio book, that the fake Russian accents are wearing, and detract from the serious nature of the subject.
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Format: Hardcover
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 not been for Vodka determental effects, Russia would have been as prosperous & healthy as its Scandinavian neighbors. (Who in not so distant past also suffered under Vodka politics but overcame it)
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