Nav@1ny is a master of modern media, but does it matter?

The eFBeeKay’s most recent video, produced while the group’s leader was still in Germany but released upon his return to Moscow, is a marvel of investigative reporting. And it was a perfectly timed response to his all-hands-on-deck-arrest and arraignment. Is it eligible for an Oscar? You can watch it here.  Like his earlier videos, N@va7ne’s tale of corruption makes for gripping and convincing viewing, in this case about the construction of an over-the-top palace for Russia’s leader. The question is whether his detailed revelations of widespread corruption by government officials and leading businesspeople will change public opinion, business practices, or …

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Price discovery, Soviet Russia, and artistry

The elevator pitch to a book editor and movie producer that never happened: “the early 1960s Soviet experiment of loosening price controls would make for a great work of historical fiction and a high-end movie drama.”  No one in their right mind, right? And yet, it did. Francis Spufford’s Red Plenty came out in 2010. It is simply the best Western work of historical fiction about the post-war Soviet period. Spufford is not a trained Soviet specialist, but every professional historian of the Soviet Union secretly (and not so secretly) wants to have written that book. I know of what …

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At the intersection of the Random Book Project & lockdown: War & Peace.

#6: Leo Tolstoy, War & Peace, in two volumes. (Leningrad: Lenizdat, 1984, originally published in 1865). Marked 3 rubles, 70 kopeeks, but with a Beriozka sticker indicating 5.55.  Exchange rate at the time was $1.26 per 1.00 ruble so the set cost $7.00 How did I get it? Bought it when I spent a semester in Moscow my junior year in 1984. Others went to London or Florence.  For reasons that still elude me, I went to the Soviet Union. Who does that? Why? While the book is timeless, my copy of it is not. The mass produced, acid-paper Soviet …

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Markets are everywhere, even where they are strictly forbidden….

Markets are everywhere, including where they strictly forbidden. This excellent research by Jim Heinzen on the Soviet second economy just came out in Slavic Review. The full article is behind a paywall but should be accessible via universities and libraries.  Link is here. Below is the abstract from the Slavic Review site. Soviet Entrepreneurs in the Late Socialist Shadow Economy: The Case of the Kyrgyz Affair James Heinzen Supported by new archival material, this article delves deeply into one landmark criminal case to explore key aspects of the social, economic, and cultural history of illegal production and markets in the …

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NBN Interview with Vadim Shneyder: Russia’s Capitalist Realism

Vadim Shneyder’s new book, Russia’s Capitalist Realism: Tolstoy, Dostoevsky, and Chekhov (Northwestern, 2020) examines how the literary tradition that produced the great works of Leo Tolstoy, Fyodor Dostoevsky, and Anton Chekhov responded to the dangers and possibilities posed by Russia’s industrial revolution. During Russia’s first tumultuous transition to capitalism, social problems became issues of literary form for writers trying to make sense of economic change. The new environments created by industry, such as giant factories and mills, demanded some kind of response from writers but defied all existing forms of language. Prepare yourself for an innovative perspective on Anna Karenina, The Idiot and other 19th-century …

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NBN Interview with Jonathan Schneer: The Lockhart Plot

History in the making can be messy. As a tale told years later by historians, it is usually a clean narrative, with a beginning, a middle, and a mostly logical and foreordained end. Much of that messiness gets lost. Not in Jonathan Schneer’s new book, The Lockhart Plot: Love Betrayal, Assassination and Counter-Revolution in Lenin’s Russia (Oxford UP, 2020). Schneer’s recounts the story of a young British diplomat, Bruce Lockhart, sent to Soviet Russia soon after the October Revolution in 1917. Initially seeking some sort of accommodation with the Bolsheviks, Lockhart ends up plotting to overthrow the regime. The plot–set for …

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NBN Interview with James Pearce: The weaponization of history in Russia.

History matters in Russia. It really matters, so much so that the state has a “historical policy” to help legitimize itself and support its policy agenda. In The Use of History in Putin’s Russia (Vernon Press, 2020), James C. Pearce examines how the past is perceived in contemporary Russia and analyses the ways in which the Russian state uses history to create a broad social consensus and forge a national identity. Listen to the NBN interview here.

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Are the Generals fighting the last war?

In Dealing with the Russians (Polity, 2019), Andrew Monaghan argues that Western policy makers are using an outdated Cold War model of ideology, language and institutions, which is wholly unsuited for understanding, engaging, and countering where necessary Russia in the 21st century. One of England’s leading experts on Russia, Monaghan argues Western policy makers need to let go of the past Cold War rhetoric and come up with modern tools to manage the current stage of the three-century long “Russia and the West” policy conundrum. Listen to the New Books Network interview here.  

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“Go East, Mr. Douglas….”

Bill Douglas needed money. He always needed money. And now, reeling from a very expensive divorce, and with a new wife, he needed even more money. Douglas had come from a modest upbringing, the son of an itinerant preacher who had ended up in the Pacific northwest. He worked his way through a local college—after getting the first year free on a scholarship—and then crossed the country to New York, where he worked his way through law school. Douglas advanced very quickly in the legal profession, but his expenses regularly outstripped his income. He borrowed. He did one-off writing jobs. …

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