/ Pratik Mallya

Personal Book Review: Vodka Politics

Before starting the actual review, I want to devote at least some space to describe the author: who is Mark Schrad? What authority does he have to talk about politics in Russia?

It appears that the author was one of the students of Murray Fesbach, who apparently, as far as I can gather, was and American who was the Tycho Brahe for human development statistics for Soviet Russia. It seems that the Russian statistics on human development indicators were either inaccurate or omitted entirely, and Feshbach was one of those eccentric statisticians who used other statistics to deduce the true level of human development indices in Soviet Russia. Mr. Schrad himself seems to currently be a professor at an obscure university, but from the quality of his writing, I do predict a much rosier future, if he continues to produce such works.

Now the book itself is an incredibly witty and funny read, and I rather enjoyed reading it, which is not something I can say about most books written by academics, who usually have a rather dry, humorless style. Sometimes, an attempt at humor will be made which seems incredibly desperate, rendering the effort pathetic and, ultimately completely devoid of humor. But this book felt like it conveyed a very important analysis while keeping the tone light hearted…and I absolutely loved it. For armchair Russophiles or amateur historians interested in learning a more complete picture of Russian history, I would highly recommend this book. Also, most of the important facts have footnotes and further references… the mark of a true academic, and something which is absolutely necessary for a work to be considered a true analysis.

To provide the briefest summary, the book is chiefly concerned with showing the supreme importance and influence that one drink, the infamous Russian Vodka, had on shaping the course of Russian history and politics. Vodka is revealed as the tool that enabled the creation and maintenance of an autocratic state, first under the Tsars, and then under the Soviets. Revenues from a centralized vodka monopoly are shown not only as the most lucrative and important source of revenue for the expansionist Tsarist empire, but as a tool used by autocratic leaders to keep Russian society forever in a state of dangerous insobriety. This Vodka fueled alcoholism is shown to be, not a natural tendency of the Russian people, but a forced, acquired and encouraged coping mechanism of a miserable peasantry, and then working class, which felt completely powerless under the yoke of their Autocratic hegemons. This itself was quite revealing to me personally, as the impression I had of the Russian people was as a society plagued by inimical alcoholics. Overall, the book paints an incredibly sad picture of the Russian people and the toll that alcoholism has taken on the Russian demographic is shown as huge and perhaps irreversible. The population of Russia is falling and without people to replenish the country, the outlook looks rather bleak.

Note: To be continued. There is a lot of interesting finding from the book that I want to do justice to by pointing them out, but currently I find myself lacking both the time and the will to make that happen. Besides, I wanted to put something out there instead of letting yet another article die due to later disinterest.