There are two important things to keep in mind if you are planning on purchasing this book. This first one being that the author is not a historian. He is a BBC correspondent. The second thing to know is that the entire book is centered on a single idea. That idea being his theory, which is shared by many people, that Russia's default position is always authoritarian rule. Their history has destined them to always be under an authoritarian government.
This idea is not completely unfounded, but it spoils the entire story. The author picks events and aspects that support his thesis and speeds past everything else. It seems like every five minutes or so he reminds the listener of his theory. He picks events in Russia's history, portrays them in a way that supports his views, and then say, "I told you so". If you are looking for this kind of thing then I guess that is fine, but if you are searching for an unbiased, all-around look at the History of Russia then this book is comically bad.
Sixsmith's version of Russian history is a classic example of western bias when it comes to telling the history of an eastern country. Here is an affluent British man viewing the history of an eastern land through the lens of his current time and place. He does not compare Russia to other countries of it's time, no, instead he compares it with the western democracies of today and he never hesitates to criticize it. His criticism can be summed up in one sentence, "Russia simply isn't enough like US to ever be as good as US".
Many Russians have said that the west will never understand them and if works like Sixsmith's is anything to go by they might end up being right.
I would also like to point out that it is painfully obvious that for the revolutionary period Sixsmith rips off the work of Trotsky's A History of the Russian Revolution. This is hilarious because while Sixsmith rightfully accuses the Communist Party of misrepresenting history he, at the same time, takes Trotsky's work, removes his voice, and cherry picks bits and pieces of it to satisfy his own views.
Writing a review about an iconic classic like The Great Gatsby seems a little silly. You probably know it, and if you don't you should. Perhaps a little overrated, but still a great story.
The recording and narrator are fine. If you are looking at a more expensive version, as I was, you won't be disappointed in this cheaper one, I promise. Save a bit of money and go with this one.
Taibbi proved himself to be one of the best journalist to cover the 2008 collapse. This is particularly amazing when you consider that he wasn't really an economics/financial guy before that. He learned as he went along, and learned fairly well. Or maybe it's more of a condemnation of the mainstream press, I'm not sure.
Either way, Taibbi has a razor sharp whit and covers this mess with good clarity. It would be more funny if it wasn't so maddening. There are quite a few books on this subject, but Taibbi does a great job of breaking down complex financial follies into language that you can understand and putting the whole thing in perspective.
The best chapter in the book has to be the Greenspan chapter. Absolutely hilarious.
This text is first and foremost an argument based on history. That is not to say it isn't valid, however. Chang does an excellent job reminding us how the "rich countries" got that way and he cites example after example of countries that have developed remarkably well doing exactly the opposite of what neo-liberalism prescribes.
Most importantly Chang rightfully exposes the track record of neo-liberal policies and points out what very few in the mainstream press are willing to point out. That the disasters caused by these economic policies far outnumbers the few moderate success stories. Free Market thinkers talk a big game, but essentially have nothing to show for their policies.
If you are looking for an in-depth look at the world economy today this probably isn't the book for you, but if you want a break from the neo-liberal revisionist histories and gain some insight on how economic policies have shifted then this book is definitely worth it.
I especially like the last chapter where Chang discusses the perception of different cultures and how that affects and distorts our opinions of poor countries.
His personal experiences of growing up in an impoverished Korea and witnessing it's rapid ascent into economic success is very powerful, and rare to hear coming from an economic intellectual.
The biggest weakness of the book is repetitiveness. Chang is keen on making his point with many examples and case studies, which is understandable, but at times it can seem like he is repeating the same things over and over. I wouldn't listen to this book in one sitting or in large chunks. Keep the listening to around 1-2 hours at a time and the repetitiveness doesn't seem so bad.
The first parts of the book are quite excellent. The author conveys the build up of nuclear war, it's unfolding, and it's aftermath very vividly. The first third of the book is very enjoyable, but that enjoyment did not last for me.
Everything that happens after that is very predictable and has all the melodrama of a soap opera. The characters become completely one-dimensional as does the story. The antagonist are pure evil and the protagonist are benevolent forces for good. Of course there is a showdown between the two and supposedly the protagonist have their backs against the wall and it seems like evil will prevail. It doesn't, of course, and you never have a feeling that it might because halfway through the book you realize exactly what kind of story this is......one that you've read and seen a million times. The protagonist are able to defeat the "bad guys" at the last second (literally) through the power of love, magic, faith, and god. Everybody lives happily ever after.
Been there, done that, nothing to see here, move along.
The production was good and the narrator does a great job for the most part. The only problem I had with the narration was the voice he used for one of the main characters. It sounds like a Jerky Boys character and gets incredibly annoying to listen to. I found myself hoping that character would die so I wouldn't have to listen to that voice anymore. :)
Overall the story has some great moments in it, but they can't make up for the fact that in the broader sense of the story the overall plot is just another good vs. evil melodrama.
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