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Vodka Politics: Alcohol, Autocracy, and the Secret History of the Russian State Hardcover – Illustrated, February 5, 2014
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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)
From the Back Cover
- Item Weight : 1.76 pounds
- Hardcover : 512 pages
- ISBN-10 : 9780199755592
- ISBN-13 : 978-0199755592
- Product Dimensions : 9.3 x 1.7 x 6.6 inches
- Publisher : Oxford University Press; Illustrated Edition (February 5, 2014)
- Language: : English
- ASIN : 0199755590
- Best Sellers Rank: #1,867,765 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
- Customer Reviews:
Top reviews from the United States
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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".
Just to give you an example: after Gorbachev announced a crackdown on the sales or production of vodka, which claimed the lives of tens of millions (mind you, this is no mistake), the most hard of drinkers turned to alcohol surrogates; from mouthwash, eau-de-cologne and perfumed to gasoline, cockroach poison, brake fluid, medical adhesives and even shoe polish on a slice of bread.
Another example: "Soldiers in the Soviet Army would offer their last piece of bread to their comrades in order to get vodka and they drank everything just as during the Civil War: aftershave lotions, medicines and liquids containing poisons".
Alcoholism runs like a red thread throughout Dostoyevsky's novel "Crime and Punishment" and Marmeladov is only the first noteworthy drunkard. Tolstoy suggested that it was alcohol that clouded Raskolnikov's judgment and led to his inhuman axe murders. The pervasive drunkenness of the Russian soldiers contributed to the military defeat of Russia in the Crimean War during the nineteenth century. Forty-four percent of all military deaths were attributable to alcohol. One can conclude that the chief contributory cause of the Bolshevik Revolution was the prohibition in 1914 of the sale of spiritous liquors.
As stated by its author, this book does not pretend to say that vodka was/is everything in Russian history, thus it it not a monocausal explanation of Russian history and culture, but "vodka politics means a lot and it is an alternative lens through which Russia's complex politics and development is seen".
By using newly dicovered documents hitherto classified and by integrating them with an in-depth examination of secondary sources, by incorporating studies from many fields such as sociology, political science, literature, memories and various diaries, anthropology, letters as well as demographic studies, Professor Schrad has managed to write a book of twenty-four chapters (overpacked with many details and anecdotes in addition to excellent analyses) which is both a masterpiece and will definitely become a classic of its kind. This book is more than highly recommended for anyone who would like to enjoy reading about an original idea, examined almost microscopically, leaving no stone unturned . And in addition, it is also a great read!
Top reviews from other countries
The Book tells us about Russian history from Ivan the terrible right up until 2012. The Focus is on how vodka and vodka politics have formed Russia and the Russians. I would guess that a lot of people have a hard time accepting the writings of Professor Schrad since the truth is very hard to take in. But what he is writing is both history as its best but also the horrible truth. I have worked with and in the eastern Slavic countries for more than 25 years and have spent more parties and dinners with Russians than my liver ought to be able to handle and I agree 100% with Professor Schrad's writings. I have even participated in dinners with Victor Chernomyrdin and my impression of him is the same as Professor Schrads.
The Book is very well written. The amount of information and details are astonishing and just by reading it you will have material for dinner conversations for a very long time.
There are just two observations that I like to add. The First is that using Sweden as an example and pointing out the "Gothenburg method" is making it a little to simple. In fact there were a number of factors that helped in reducing alcohol dependence in Sweden. The Rise of several free Christian churches outside of the state church is one and the rise of powerful trade unions is another.
The Other observation is that the book is copyright 2014 but it actually ends in 2012. It would have been interesting to hear Professor Schrad's comments to Putin's second period as president and the ongoing process of transforming a pseudo democracy to a rule of semi dictatorship including the war against Ukraine. Vodka has a role in this too.
Russia is stuck in a tragic and horrible situation as the book so well describes. Unfortunately for the Russians there are no grass roots movements in Russia. There is no green movement, no feminists movement, no independent trade unions etc. Everything is decided from above. So how to get out of their tragedy has to be decided in the Kreml. The Track record of the Kreml of doing the right thing is not impressive, to say the least.
If you have never worked with Russians but are about to or are going to send people to work with them, I recommend this book as a tool to inoculate them against what they are going to experience. If you are interested in Eastern Europe and would like to know more this is also for you. In the future, whenever you are going to have a glass of vodka, you will send a thought to the people in the east. They might be able to save themselves from this problem but the odds are against them.
Vodka politics is essential in the field of Russian studies.