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review 2018-08-23 16:29
An economy shaped by terror and war
The Industrialisation of Soviet Russia, Volume 7: The Soviet Economy and the Approach of War, 1937–1939 - Professor Mark Harrison,Stephen G. Wheatcroft,Oleg Khlevniuk,Robert William Davies

During the late 1930s life in the Soviet Union was defined by terror, as a series of purges orchestrated by Joseph Stalin and carried out by his secret police apparatus gutted the nation. More than a million people, from Communist Party leaders to government officials to wealthy peasants, were arrested and either imprisoned or executed. While the purges secured Stalin's domination of the country, it came at the cost of innumerable lives destroyed and the county's development hobbled in ways that nearly proved fatal during the Second World War.

The disruptive impact of the purges on the Soviet economy is a major theme of the final volume of the "Industrialisation of Soviet Russia" series. In it its authors — R. W. Davies, Mark Harrison, Oleg Khlevniuk, and Stephen Wheatcroft — analyze the effects of the arrest on a Soviet economy still processing the collectivization of Soviet agriculture and the efforts to develop the industrial sector. Though the commissars and other managers arrested may have lacked the stature of the Part leaders of the marshals of the Red Army, their removal measurably slowed the growth of the Soviet economy. In some areas this slowing actually had the effect of feeding the purges, as the decline in growth and the failure to achieve the targets set by economic planners was attributed to sabotage, requiring the identification and arrest of suitable scapegoats.

Yet the purpose of the authors' book is not to describe the impact of the purges on the Soviet economy, but the Soviet Union's overall economic development during this period. As they note, the purges played less of a role in agriculture, where factors such as the weather were more important in determining output. Even more important than environmental conditions, though, was the international political scene. Here the authors place their analysis of the Soviet economic policy into a broader context, showing how the wars in Spain and China, as well as the increasing tensions within central and eastern Europe forced economic planners to readjust their plans to focus more on developing light industry and increasing the production of consumer goods. The result was an economy that by the start of 1939 was already gearing up for war, with even the purges ended in the face of the growing threat.

This volume brings to an end a series that has its origins in Edward Hallett Carr's The Bolshevik Revolution first published nearly seven decades ago. It is a fitting point at which to conclude it, for as the authors explain in their final chapter, it was during this period that the basis of the economy that would defeat Nazi Germany and establish the Soviet Union as a superpower for the 45 years afterward was established. To understand how this was accomplished and the terrible cost paid for it by the Soviet people this book like its predecessor volumes is indispensable reading.

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review 2018-08-20 19:42
From Russia With Love / Ian Fleming
From Russia with Love - Ian Fleming

Every major foreign government has a file on James Bond, British secret agent. Now, Russia's deadly SMERSH organization has targeted him for elimination - they have the perfect bait in the irresistible Tatiana Romanova. Her mission is to lure Bond to Istanbul and seduce him while her superiors handle the rest.

 

***2018 Summer of Spies***

”At 7:30 on the morning of Thursday, August 12th, Bond awoke in his comfortable flat in the plane-tree’d square off the King’s Road and was disgusted to find that he was thoroughly bored with the prospect of the day ahead.”

Having just recently finished Lycett’s biography of Ian Fleming, the above passage sent me flipping through my notes about that author, where I found this quotation that I had noted:

”After his death his widow Ann put it in much the same way. “You must realize that Ian was entirely egocentric. His aim as long as I knew him was to avoid the dull, the humdrum the everyday demands of life that afflict ordinary people. He stood for working out a way of life that was not boring and he went where that led him. It ended with Bond.”


The conjunction of the two books made me smile. I’ve also recently finished reading Somerset Maugham’s spy novel, Ashenden. It also features a beautiful Russian woman—the protagonist spends a week with her to confirm their compatibility and instead finds her boring and demanding.

”But Ashenden saw himself eating scrambled eggs every morning for the rest of his life. When he had put her in a cab, he called another for himself, went to the Cunard office, and took a berth on the first ship that was going to America. No immigrant, eager for freedom and a new life, ever looked upon the statue of Liberty with more heartfelt thankfulness that did Ashenden, when on that bright and sunny morning his ship steamed into the harbour of New York.”


A wildly different response to the care and attention that Bond expends on Tatiana Romanova.

And wow, the first cliff hanger ending of the Bond series, showing how uncertain Fleming was about whether he would continue to write these adventures. Partly because of the criticism of conservative reviewers and the sniping of his wife’s circle of friends (which included Maugham). Ian became quite testy about his wife’s friends for this very reason. I think he would be pleased to know that Bond is still “a thing” even now in the 21st century.

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text 2018-08-17 20:32
Reading progress update: I've read 1 out of 259 pages.
From Russia with Love - Ian Fleming

 

Next book due at the public library!  Wish I could put if off a bit, because I just finished Diamonds Are Forever a little while ago.

 

On the other hand, perhaps its better just to forge onwards--that was what Fleming did, as he was losing his inspiration for Bond.  

 

 

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text 2018-08-09 16:09
TBR Thursday
Ashenden, or, The British Agent - William Somerset Maugham
In the Month of the Midnight Sun - Cecilia Ekbäck
Diamonds Are Forever - Ian Fleming
From Russia with Love - Ian Fleming
A Royal Pain - Rhys Bowen
The Gun Seller - Hugh Laurie
The Human Factor - Graham Greene

 

Okay, so I had to check my calendar to make sure this was actually Thursday.  It's the day before I start a week's vacation, a day before the When Words Collide conference.  Tomorrow, the temperature is supposed to reach 36 C (98 F), so I will be glad to spend most of it in an air conditioned hotel.  We have a weather inversion holding the hot weather over our city (and its also holding a lot of forest fire smoke, so I'll be glad to be out of that too).  Thankfully, we are supposed to get a break from this heat, starting Saturday.

 

So, I doubt I will get much reading done this weekend.  I'll be rubbing shoulders with authors instead.  Most of my planned reading now is for the Summer of Spies.  Clearing the decks to be ready for Halloween Bingo.

 

I'm too cheap to pay for internet at home, so I probably won't be posting much over the upcoming week.  I wish you all good reading, friends, and a great week.

 

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text 2018-07-18 05:58
Reading progress update: I've read 23 out of 512 pages.
The Industrialisation of Soviet Russia, Volume 1: The Socialist Offensive: The Collectivisation of Soviet Agriculture, 1929-1930 - Robert William Davies

I'm finding that the more history I read, the more I prefer works that draw interesting points from their analysis than those which relate a mass of details. Yet while the first volume of Davies's book is proving so far to be in the second category, I'm finding it to be a fascinating read. He begins the book by detailing the state of the agricultural economy in the Soviet Union in the 1920s, which had recovered from the effects of war, revolution, and civil war but was still underperforming due to a lack of mechanization and outdated agricultural techniques. I didn't know much about this, which is probably why I'm enjoying it as much as I am. 

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