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Vodka Politics: Alcohol, Autocracy, and the Secret History of the Russian State Hardcover – February 5, 2014
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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)
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"A gripping and original book." -Tyler Cowen, Marginal Revolution
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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!