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Red Plenty Paperback – February 14, 2012

4.3 out of 5 stars 68 customer reviews

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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: 4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (68 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #30,029 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

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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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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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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