Russia is famous for its vodka, and its culture of extreme intoxication. But just as vodka is central to the lives of many Russians, it is also central to understanding Russian history and politics.
In Vodka Politics, Mark Lawrence Schrad argues that debilitating societal alcoholism is not hard-wired into Russians' genetic code, but rather their autocratic political system, which has long wielded vodka as a tool of statecraft. Through a series of historical investigations stretching from Ivan the Terrible through Vladimir Putin, Vodka Politics presents the secret history of the Russian state itself - a history that is drenched in liquor. Scrutinizing (rather than dismissing) the role of alcohol in Russian politics yields a more nuanced understanding of Russian history itself: from palace intrigues under the tsars to the drunken antics of Soviet and post-Soviet leadership, vodka is there in abundance.
Beyond vivid anecdotes, Schrad scours original documents and archival evidence to answer provocative historical questions. How have Russia's rulers used alcohol to solidify their autocratic rule? What role did alcohol play in tsarist coups? Was Nicholas II's ill-fated prohibition a catalyst for the Bolshevik Revolution? Could the Soviet Union have become a world power without liquor? How did vodka politics contribute to the collapse of both communism and public health in the 1990s? How can the Kremlin overcome vodka's hurdles to produce greater social well-being, prosperity, and democracy into the future?
Viewing Russian history through the bottom of the vodka bottle helps us to understand why the "liquor question" remains important to Russian high politics even today - almost a century after the issue had been put to bed in most every other modern state. Indeed, recognizing and confronting vodka's devastating political legacies may be the greatest political challenge for this generation of Russia's leadership, as well as the next.
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Look Natasha! Moose and Squirrel are drunk!
Mark Schrad's book tells the story of Russia's crippling dependency on vodka and the cynical manipulation of that dependency by Russia's leaders: imperial, soviet and modern. It is truly heartbreaking to hear Schrad's description of vodka's role in Russia's disintegrating social fabric. It is a thoughtful and serious work which is marred by the reader Noah Levine's performance.
Although nominally a good narrator Mr Levine completely compromises the integrity of this work by reading every Russian quote in an inane Boris Badonov accent. I presume this was done to give a more `authentic' feel to the narration but it just sounds ridiculous. Levine even gifts this accent to well known Slavs like Katherine the Great (Sophie von Anhalt-Zerbst-Dornburg) and Peter III (Karl von Holstein-Gottorp). Levine doesn't stop there; French, German, Swedish and English accents are included as well as cringe worthy recreations of Churchill, Nixon and Clinton.
In defense of Mr. Levine he may have been submitting to the audio book producer's insistence. Sadly this is an actual Audible production!
The declining (current) Russian health statistics, due in part to vodka consumption, are startling.
Just about anybody (including Mr. Levine himself) as long as they had the nerve to say "No. I won't read parts in accents because it's stupid."
It certainly made me cry (with frustration) at many points.
Multiple voices in audio books is certainly valid. They can really enhance a production in the right place. But this was not the right place. The producers owe Mr. Schrad (and me) an apology.
- The Crunge
A repetitive mediocrity
Another narrator without a fake Russian accent that makes it at time impossible to hear as he mumbles
Stop repeating the same anecdotes again and again
A promising topic a thoroughly tedious and amateurish execution.
I really want y money back!