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  • E.G. Maladroit

‘The Soviet Union During the Brezhnev Era’ – I want my £2 back (Charles River Editor)

From the very beginning, ‘The Soviet Union During the Brezhnev Era’ sets a tone of historical incompetence. It manages to carry this on until the very end, and it makes for perhaps the worst book I have read this year. Note for the audiobook: the narrator matches the incompetence of the author and manages to pronounce Mao as ‘Mayo’ throughout – which is often. This is accompanied by frequent weird pronunciations of everything else, also. It's only upside is its length - around 2 hours - as it's possible to finish easily in an evening, as I did.

Beginning with an annoyingly long recounting of all the soviets preceding Brezhnev, the book hardly even talks about its namesake before its end. One of the opening lines, ‘as bad as Vladimir Lenin seemed […] Joseph Stalin was so much worse’, is one of the most amusingly cliche sentences I’d ever heard, and for it to be included in a serious historical work is almost obscene. It continues with a slew of misinformation, of which I shall bullet point a few examples for ease:

· The mistranslation of Khrushchev’s ‘we will bury you’ and label of it as aggressive, when the accurate translation is not at all, being more similar to ‘we will stand peacefully by your graveside’

· He confuses the idea of the revolutionary vanguard with the concept of the dictatorship of the proletariat (DOTP) – the vanguard is Lenin’s idea that an elite set of workers must complete revolution on behalf of the other workers, as the majority were not ready or educated enough to do so themselves. Editor confuses this with the Dictatorship of the Proletariat, which is actually close to a democracy – just only including workers, and intending to destroy all the other classes, and ends up saying the latter means the former.

· Lenin’s testament is somewhat misrepresented – only focusing on the critic of Stalin, not mentioning that Trotsky was also insulted in it, and then implying Trotsky simply let it get buried out of naivety – almost the whole politburo was insulted in it, and that was why it was buried

· More of just pure stupidity than a mistake, but the line that Beria opened up the gulags and released prisoners ‘for reasons that are still unclear’ is idiotic – it is entirely clear and straightforward that this was a ploy for Beria to gain power, to win over popular opinion. Editor actually goes on to talk about the power struggle almost immediately after, so how he failed to connect the dots is beyond me.

When it finally gets to Brezhnev, the book is interesting enough – but incredibly brief considering the amount of time which is spent on other Soviet Leaders, who all seem to give very little necessary context. It is entirely not worth it, and I feel cheated out of the £2 I spent on it. There is not much to conclude, so I shall just summarise here what is obvious: I do not recommend this book.


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