Thursday, January 17, 2008
Wednesday, January 16, 2008
Expansive but Lacking Critical Detail
This book could be what you are looking, but could be not. It all depends on how much you know about the history of Soviet Union and the facts of life of the protagonist. One of the book's stonger parts is the description of peasant life in Russia prior to the Bolshevik coup d'etat of 1917. The topic is well-researched and the verbal imagery created by the author is quite vivid. This is followed by a fairly comprehensive analysis of industrial workers' life in the years between the turn of the previous century and 1917. From here on out the quality of research plummets to long meandering paragraphs strung together by the author as a substitute for factual accounts of what had -- or likely had -- taken place. Some of the most tremendous and tragic events which happened during Khrushchev's time and by which he doubtless would have been affected, as well as the people of his inner circle are mentioned here in passing. One of these events is the Great Famine of 1932-33 which devasted Ukraine and which -- many argue -- was instigated by the Stalin government as a reprisal against the rebellious Ukrainian peasants who at the time were fighting off forced collectivization. The Great Famine -- granted the status of genocide by the Ukrainian Parliament in 2006 -- was one of the most barbaric incidents of recent history to which Khrushchev was privy, in one way or the other. An event of this magnitude and Khrushchev's participation in it and knowledge of such did not merit in this book much more than a facile treatment. Khrushchev's amazing ability to dodge the various waves of purges is also understated and underanalyzed. His WW2 years and the speech at the 20th congress of the CPSU follow suit. The problem with writing a quality review of this book is that it is not objectively substandard, and yet it does not add much to the scholarship on the issue. Truth be known, I would recommend this volume over Roy Medvedev's work on the same topic, as Taubman's piece, for all its other frailties, seems to be more impartial and less apologetic.
It is not all bad, though. There are certain parts of the book that -- although do not contain new information and a new way of presentation of old information -- are instructive as they remind us of certain aspects of social etiquette. Thank-you letters is one such aspect. Remembering people's birthdays is another. These are very simple and widely known forms of social etiquette which sometimes, unfortunately, escape people's attention. There are a few other things that can be picked up on the way.
Considering the cost of time that takes to read this book and the benefit one can attain, I recommend you get it on audio and listen to it in your car where there is little else to do. Do not treat this book as a revelation, though. There is no hidden message and Ferrazzi does not know much more about "connectivity" than most of you unless of course you accept his version of "persistence". The greatness value of this book, though, is how entertaining it is and how fun it is to watch Ferrazzi "connect to people" in what most would consider as humiliating ways.