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Condition: Used: Good
Comment: Ex-library book. The item shows wear from consistent use, but it remains in good condition and works perfectly. All pages and cover are intact (including the dust cover, if applicable). Spine may show signs of wear. Pages may include limited notes and highlighting.
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The Rise & Fall of Great Powers: A Novel Hardcover – June 10, 2014

3.7 out of 5 stars 197 customer reviews

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 400 pages
  • Publisher: The Dial Press; First Edition edition (June 10, 2014)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0679643656
  • ISBN-13: 978-0679643654
  • Product Dimensions: 6.5 x 1.2 x 9.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.4 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 3.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (197 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #416,333 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By Roger Brunyate TOP 500 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on April 11, 2014
Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
Captured instantly by the delicious opening chapter of this book, with its warm characters and intelligent humor, I wanted nothing more than to plunge into the rest. It says something that my interest never flagged, even though circumstances forced me to spread it out over six days. Indeed, I may even have benefitted by having time to let the intriguing protagonist get into my bloodstream, and ponder the gradually unfolding mystery of her life story.

When we first meet her, Tooly Zylberberg is the owner of a run-down second-hand bookstore in the Black Mountains of Wales, hoping to profit from spillover trade from nearby Hay-on-Wye. It is clear that this is never going to be a money-making proposition, but her book-inspired conversations with her impulsive young assistant Fogg seem compensation enough. At this point, we know little of Tooly, save that she is in her early thirties and bought the bookstore on a whim. The year is 2011.

The rest of the novel will flip between short chapters set in three periods: 1988, when Tooly is a child in Bangkok, 1999-2000, which sees her as a young adult in New York, and 2011, which has a number of other settings as well as Wales. We will meet her in the company of at least three men, any one of whom might be her father, although none quite seems to fill the bill, and in occasional contact with one charismatic but unstable woman who may or may not be her mother. What IS her family background? Has she perhaps been abducted? Who is paying the admittedly small amounts necessary for her to live her lifestyle as a questing free spirit? We discover the truth only gradually, each chapter in one decade providing a nugget of information to illuminate our reading of the next.
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Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
1: Take one obscure, allusive title -- it doesn't need to mean anything.
2: Stir together three plot strands set in separate time periods -- but be careful not to over-egg the mixture by having much happen in any of those plots.
3: Blend in a main character with a carefully quirky name -- Tooly Zylberberg, for example -- while keeping her emotions muted, her desires obscure, and her appeal mysterious.
4: Sift until every important moment and detail is concentrated in the last fifty pages.
4: Top in advance-reader form with a fawning letter from an executive invested in the success of the book and garland with quotes for the author's previous book.

Tom Rachman's first novel, The Imperfectionists, was a marvel: the story of a mediocre European-based English-language newspaper, through the voices of a dozen staffers and hangers-on, covering decades and containing many meaningful revelations large and small. It was rightfully hailed as one of the best books of 2010. Four years later, Rachman is back with THE RISE & FALL OF GREAT POWERS, which I'm sorry to say validates all of the cliches about second novels: it takes the things that were good about IMPERFECTIONISTS and presents them in smaller, attenuated form, while straining hard in the direction of generic literary weight and importance.

The core problem with GREAT POWERS comes from Rachman's decision -- presumably when planning the novel -- to focus his plot (such as it is) on the details of Tooly's history and to keep those details deliberately obscure until the end of the book. This wouldn't be so bad, if he told the story of a present-day Tooly trying to find out those secrets.
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Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
The Rise & Fall of Great Powers is the second novel by Tom Rachman. His first novel, The Imperfectionists: A Novel, was a New York Times bestseller and I enjoyed reading it very much. This book is organized in self-contained blocks of time that have an intricate but seamless structure. The time periods are related to three decades in the life of Tooly Zyberberg: childhood, young adulthood, and full personhood. The calendar anchors are 1988, 2000, and 2011, and the reader falls in love with the developing Tooly in the context of economic hardship, the Millennium, and social evolution.

Tooly's first two decades of life are periods of unique experience and learning that are guided by Paul, Sarah, Venn, and Humphrey. Paul is a globe-trotting computer consultant, an introvert who anxiously obeys rules and consistently anticipates social problems, largely avoiding people. Sarah travels the continents with money from an undisclosed source disregarding customs of behavior and engaging in eccentric self-indulgent behavior. Venn is a tough character always looking for an angle to use people to enhance his personal power and financial independence. Humphrey is an old impoverished curmudgeon who also travels, reveres books, plays chess, talks about his friends in books with a Russian accent, and relies on himself for freedom of thought and behavior. All four of these characters interact with Tooly on an intermittent and apparently random basis making it difficult for her to understand her place in the world. They seem to possess her for a time, then abandon her.
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