Category Archives: books

[b] Wittgenstein’s Poker (David Edmonds, John Eidinow, 2001)

Wittgenstein’s Poker is a reconstruction of events in the history of philosophy involving Karl Popper and Ludwig Wittgenstein that lead to a confrontation between them at the Cambridge Moral Sciences Club in 1946. More broadly, it’s a careful and comprehensive look into both of those great philosophers, their lives and works, and their uncertain, but definite relation.

The book is pretty well-written, I can’t deny that (the translation into Russian is also good, not that it matters very much), but I felt like it’s too voluminous at times, which is normal, I guess, considering that this is philosophy we’re talking about, but it still could have been more laconic – to my taste. It is well expiated with quality content, though: insights into both Wittgenstein’s and Popper’s lives and writings, is a great way to catch up with what these thinkers are about, without actually having to read through their works, which can be a bummer, especially when it comes to Wittgenstein. The informational side of the book feels pretty great: it has multiple references, like a proper popular research, and it seems carefully weighted in conclusions.

On the other hand, while reading it, I couldn’t help but think that all those philosophizings (meaning, life work of W. and P. both) are not worth very much in terms of real life. I myself am totally pro-Popper, he is just more rational than Wittgenstein, and therefore makes much more sense (I’d prefer the concept of falsifiability to meaningless attempts at solving superfluous puzzles any day of the week), but ultimately, they both make philosophy seem like a pointless mumbo-jumbo that is of no interest to me whatsoever. Maybe it was this book that made me realize how much I really dislike it.

Be that as it may, the book is a really good work, and it’s also a really good reason to ask yourself what you really think of philosophy, and maybe just settle this matter for the time being within the framework of your own mind.

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[b] Pirates, Corsairs, Raiders / Piraty, korsary, reidery (Igor Mozheiko, 1994)

Piraty, korsary, reidery is a series of essays dedicated to various sides of maritime piracy. It concentrates mostly on the times when Spain, Portugal, and later England started to gain more and more sea power, but also touches upon pirates in ancient times, as well as retraces signs of piracy up to about late 1980s. The book is written by Igor Mozheiko, also known as Kir Bulychev, famous soviet science fiction writer.

The author has chosen a method of leaps: to describe the development of the phenomenon he selects some vivid personalities and tells about their lives sometimes deviating into explanation of related things. Where impossible (like with most of XX century), he simply retells the general state of affairs. His writing style is clear and simple; he is obviously passionate about the subject and spent a lot of time researching it. Although, there is no list of literaterary sources used, sometimes he mentions where the information was taken from, and all those books are primary, meaning they were written my immediate participants or at least witnesses to the events. Also, Kir Bylychev has a very strong reputation as a devotee of scientific method, and I personally have no reason whatsoever to doubt his professionalism. Along with realistic, non-romantic narrative, it makes the book very credible.

I learned new things from this work, and I enjoyed reading it, – all in all, the journey was interesting and worthwhile.

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[b] Hallucinations (Oliver Sacks, 2012)

Hallucinations by Oliver Sacks is a valuable and careful account of current scientific knowledge concerning various kinds of – obviously – hallucinations.

The book is parted into several chapters, each dedicated to a certain condition that may cause, under some specific circumstances, auditory, visual, or other sort of sensory delusion. Every chapter is built around case studies relevant to the condition in question; these could be taken from fiction literature, from medical documents and earlier studies of the subject, as well as from dr. Sacks’s correspondence, and his personal practice and experience. The author does offer some conclusions, but they all are always careful and never definitive; he realizes very well how evidence-based medicine works, and he has a knack for transforming that knowledge into a clear and understandable text. It is quite well-written, and interesting from beginning to end. More imporatantly, it’s extremely informative – I learned a bunch of new things, and clarified my general understanding of the matter. I highly recommend this book to anyone who’s interested in how it really works.

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[b] Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind (Yuval Harari, 2011~14)

Yuval Harari’s Sapiens is basically what it says in the title – a brief history of humankind. He reviews the whole period of our species’ existence, and points out the most crucial landmarks of the humanity development, namely the cognitive, the agricultural, and the scientific revolutions. He argues that the dominating role was earned by humans because of the ability to cooperate, which in its turn comes from the ability to believe in things that don’t really exist in physical reality, such as money, gods, nations, state borders, etc.

Besides that main line, Harari also gives a multitude of interesting observations and conclusions, among which the most curious for me was the indissoluble link between capitalism, empire and religion, as well as the intricacy of the happiness issue (are we any happier today than people were 500 years ago? what about 5 000 years ago?), and, most importantly, – incomprehensibleness of our future, as we might become god-like creatures just as likely as destroy our habitat and ourselves irreversibly.

Some of the ideas suggested by the author may be up for discussion, but he doesn’t claim to be holding the ultimate truth about everything, and he’s also a human, meaning he’s just as likely to be mistaken about stuff as everybody else (except, he’s much smarter than the most), so the worst thing that can happen is that reading this book would stir up the spirit of debate in you, which, you know, isn’t bad at all.

The English translation (I think it was made by the author himself, although I’m not sure) is very nicely written – I enjoyed reading it, and it does seem very thorough.

All in all, I’m really glad I came upon this book – I learned a lot of new, interesting stuff, and also, Harari’s summaries and conclusions changed the way I look at the world – probably just a tiny bit, but who knows what it may lead to in the future. Highly recommended.

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[b] SuperFreakonomics (Steven D. Levitt, Stephen J. Dubner, 2009)

SuperFreakonomics is a direct continuation of Freakonomics authored by the same 2 guys. It brings up different issues, and sets forth different statistics and data, but all those are the manifestation of the same exact approach applied in the first book. In fact, both of them are just the sets of more or less complete episodes taken from the same collection, which advances a thought that there could be potentially limitless number of them patterned after the first two. This structural typification is not a bad thing, though; just an observation.

This second book too includes some controversial topics, including prostitution and global warming, with the latter one becoming a stumbling block for many researches in the field. Apparently, some of the solutions offered are questionable, and some of the quotes are slightly distorted (without much damage to the meaning, though). Other than that, it’s all the same – exposure of hidden side of things using various methods of economical and statistical analysis.

Just like before, the language is not hard; it’s quite pleasant to read the book, and it’s interesting, too. All in all, it seems significant enough, even though the message is just the same as in the first book, but the specifics, the details are different, and that’s more important. But merging the 2 texts into a single book would make perfect sense.

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[b] Blink: The Power of Thinking Without Thinking (Malcolm Gladwell, 2005)

Malcolm Gladwell’s Blink is dedicated to snap judgements, or thin-slicing as the author calles it, focusing on both positive aspects of the technique (and, consequently, ways it can be used), and the negative ones (and how their influence can be if not excluded altogether then at least minimized). It is written well enough and easy to read;  the author’s viewpoint is stated clearly through-out – he surely knows how to draw up argumentation in support of his ideas and bring it to the reader’s notice. The book includes multiple references to research studies and generally produces an impression of a thorough and well-grounded work.

Although, as I said, deficiencies of thin-slicing is just as valid subject of the book as the advantages of it, certain people tend to ignore those parts of the book for some reason, so it is very important to remember that one should not rely exclusively on this method. It is not a substitute for critical analysis, – but it may be a useful addition to it. Of course, some work is required to conciliate these 2 very different approaches, as they seem to contradict each other, but human being is built on conflicting ideas and processes, so ultimatelly there’s nothing impossible here.

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[b] Freakonomics: A Rogue Economist Explores the Hidden Side of Everything (Steven D. Levitt, Stephen J. Dubner, 2005)

Freakonomics has a subtitle (A Rogue Economist Explores the Hidden Side of Everything) that describes its essence quite precisely; other pieces of self-description occuring in the text from time to time seem to be correct as well, primarily the one that defines the book as something devoid of a unifying idea. It is indeed a set of unconnected, random even, episodes that have only one thing in common – a hidden side (unique for each case, of course), a number of unobvious traits and impact agents that have more influence on a given outcome than we can acknowledge or, sometimes, accept.

The book shows quite definitively that pretty much any event or phenomenon, especially a complex one, has such a side, and that it can be revealed if need be. It reaffirms the value of statistics as one of the means of conducting such exposure. It also confirms high importance of basic power of observation, to which the ability to see patterns is a sort of superstructure. It teaches to identify the clues that might turn out to be indicators of hidden tendencies, and not just separately by themselves, but the clusters of them, too. In theory, the book might cause worsening of apophenia symptoms, but for a healthy mind it would become a bearing pulley, a pillar of thinking and understanding.

It is written in high-quality English, nicely structured and worded, all of which makes it comfortably comprehensible. It’s interesting and important and well-done, all at the same time. Highly recommended for any curious mind.
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[b] Conquest of the Incas (John Hemming, 1970 [2009])

Conquest of the Incas is a rather extensive work on the Conquista of XV-XVI centuries and subsequent events in the region of modern Peru. It takes into account multiple sources, including written testimonies of direct participants, works of the XX century explorers, and archeological evidence. Author concentrates mostly on early years, up until ancient Vilcabamba’s fall, touches upon the fates of those few royal blood Incas left after it, and then recounts the short history of modern attempts to explore the land scientifically. Hemming’s approach is quite solid, he really tries to look at things objectively, like any good scholar should, and always substantiates his conclusions with evidence, – all of which makes him trustworthy. It’s quite nicely written, too, – save for the imperfections of the translation, there’s nothing to complain about narration-wise, it’s all pretty interesting. The translation (into Russian), though, is not all bad, just flabby and kinda careless, but still readable. I think, I learned a thing or two from this book, and that’s pretty much all I was looking for.

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[b] Destructive Psychotechniques / Technologies for Alteration of Consiousness in Destructive Cults (Irina Mitrofanova, 2002)

This book is a little strange. On the one hand, it’s packed with interesting and very useful information, on the other – it really seems to be a forgery: it claims to be a translation of a Timothy Leary work, but he doesn’t have any works by that title (or even remotely close); it also claims somebody named M. Stewart as a co-author, but I failed to find out who that is. Most likely, it was written by Irina Mitrofanova, who is reckoned as a translator and sometimes as a complier, on the basis of her own knowledge and extracts from the Leary works (with Leary being fairly named as the author of those pieces). I don’t know, why did the publishers have to conceal the real authorship, because, as I said, the book is worthy and helpful.

It contains a great deal of information about cults, technologies used to lure and retain cult members, as well as advices how to free people from destructive cults and how to overcome consequences of their minds alterations. I haven’t noticed any dirty tricks in the text – it all seems to be genuine, or at least written by a somebody with strong scientific approach. The writing style is mostly academic, but quite easy to comprehend; some bits are real-life stories, their style is correspondigly different. In general, the book produces an impression of a rather integral work, very decent and smart. One of the most important ideas it’s pedaling is that nobody is safe: no matter how strong you believe your mind to be, you still can be tricked, so it’d be better to avoid this kind of contant at all, – and it gives advice as to how such hidden attacks can be recognized, too.

It’s one of the best works on the subject of destrictive cults I’ve seen, and it’s the only one that’s not just descriptions of different sects. It can help people whose loved ones became trapped in that kind of organization, and also would be effective for those who seek understanding like me.

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[b] Spook: Science Tackles the Afterlife (Mary Roach, 2005)

The author aims to tell about historical milestones on the road of possible variants of afterlife research. She covers reincarnation, attempts to communicate with the dead, as well as weight or measure in some other way if anything is left after human personality dies physically. She gives a fair amount of attention to all of the more or less noticeable theories, and really applies time and effort to researching them; she obviously has a lot of energy to spend, and she does so with pleasure and vigour. Her aspiration to understand seems genuine.

Her writing style, in comparison with classic non-fiction (something that is expected by default), lacks laconic brevity; instead, it is filled with humorous, entertaining passages aimed at facilitation of the written for the reader’s sake. Can’t say I oppose this kind of approach, – it has every right to exist, I believe, – but it does irritate a little as the reading becomes unreasonably light.

In her conclusions the author decides to keep an open mind notwithstanding that there was zero evidence to support any of the considered hypotheses. I don’t know – in my opinion, it’s like examining all the proof of evolution, agree with it, and still leave room for possibility of intelligent design – i.e. it doesn’t make much sense. But, of course, it’s the author’s write and choice; the fact that she is vigorously pro scientific approach and critical thinking, and has all the ability to keep herself from slipping into mystics, – it’s more than enough for me.

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[b] The Birth of Europe \ L’Europe est-elle née au Moyen Âge ? (Jacques Le Goff, 2003)

Traditionally historical process (especially in the textbooks) is presented parted into certain periods, which is kinda ridiculous, because there are no definitive borders, there are no lines that would separate one period from another – it’s just a conventionality introduced to bring some structure into generally chaotic flow that became a thing on itself with time. Which is why it is important to read books such as this one, – because they give a better understanding of what was going on, and how, and the connections between entities, and so on.

The Birth of Europe is based on hard historical data, it is nicely written and therefore quite enjoyable, and it creates the image of consistent development. In his work Le Goff is looking for those elements of modern European culture that we now deem the core ones, and tries to figure out when and how, and why did they emerge. He finds them scattered all over the so-called Middle Ages thus planting the comprehension that the birth wasn’t (and couldn’t have been) a single event but rather a forward movement. And even though there are plenty of lacunae regarding questions that naturally come to mind, the author manages to compensate them with his perspicacity.

Now that I’ve finished the book, I can say that I know more, and understand better, so for anybody who’s interested in the subject it’s highly recommended.

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[b] Upgrade For a Monkey. Big Story Of a Small Singularity / Apgreid obezyany. Bolshaya istoriya malenkoy singulyarnosti (Aleksandr Nikonov, 2004)

This work is an attempt to create a universal starter book for people looking to actually begin using their intellectual baggage. There is a number of issues that the author deems important, so he tries to tell about them from the position of popular science using language of journalism. First weak spot in this scheme is the selection of topics, obviously: even at the moment of first publishing some of them looked a little weird (UFO coverage, for example), and by now some others became obsolete while it’s been only few years. But there’s still plenty of useful information that might get a thinking person started. Besides, as some of the issues become less important, and others come to the surface, the selection of subjects changes with time anyway (not in the book, of course, but generally speaking).

Second weak spot is the author’s style. Say what you want, but sometimes it’s just too unceremonious and even pushy, which might cause some people to reject the author completely. As far as I understood, such places aren’t the attempts to deceit the reader, but rather to cut off certain corners; and I agree, – without explanation this doesn’t look so good, but impudence is less of sin than ignorance, I believe.

Is this book good enough to be translated into English? Considering that popularization of science in the english-speaking world happens at a much faster pace than in the russian-speaking world, I really doubt such a decision would have any sense – there are better written books on the same problems that include more relevant and complete data. I don’t think, there’s anything in the Nikonov’s work that is unique in comparison with other popular science works of general purpose. Moreover, anybody who thrives for knowledge for more or less enduring period of time won’t find much new info here, – this book is more like the beginners stuff.

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[b] Tambov Rebellion of 1918-1921, and Disintegration of the Russian Peasant Class in 1929-1933 (B. Sennikov, 2004)

This is not a large book, more like a monograph. Author makes an attempt to re-establish the events of the Tambov uprising through surviving documents of the epoch, wich doesn’t play out that well, because there’s too few of them left. The gaps formed as a result of this documentary insufficiency are filled with unnecessary and excessive details of personal stories, religious affiliations, and so on, which undermines the value of this work as a scientific research. Critical view on the bolsheviks’ policies and actions author combines with unexacting perception of the pre-revolutionary Russian Empire, that can be seen not only through the selection of witnesses, but also through vocabulary used – there are a lot of judgemental terms and expressions (positive for the defenders of peasantry, negative for bolsheviks; biased in both cases).

Second part of the book is about the later events of 1929-1933, when the famine roared the country (and this region in particular), which was a direct result of the bolsheviks’ economic policy. There are nearly no documents remained about those times, so the book consists mostly of the witness stories (told many years after the actual events), and a little bit – of the circumstantial statistics.

Consequently, the documentary foundation for the work leaves much to be desired, but there are objective reasons for this, as the majority of possible information sources was destroyed without any hope for recovery. Still, those sources that are still within our reach were used correctly, and notwithstanding author’s imcomprehensible admiration for the Russian monarchy supporters, the work in general seems earnest enough. However, I do think that the material presented would be sufficient for a large, serious article, but not for a book.

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[b] History of Russian Mafia, 1995-2003. Big Cover / Istoriya russkoy mafii 1995-2003. Bolshaya krysha (Valery Karyshev, 2004)

This is the second part of the overview on the history of Russian organized crime after the fall of the USSR. Unfortunately this is way worse than the first part. Only about 10% of the content is about the facts, events and so forth, and even this body of materials is just a collection of random pieces of information without any attempt to systematize it – these are extracts from the newspaper articles, press releases, and very rarely author’s personal input (he was a laywer to many notorious felons, including Sasha Makedonskiy – Alexander Solonik, a hitman). The rest 90% is a bunch of very badly written reconstructions, through which Karyshev presented his understanding of different aspects of criminal life. Trying to make the book as lengthy as possible (was he paid for volume? I don’t know) he even duplicated some of the reconstructions from the fist book, which is extremely lame. At the same time, notwithstanding numerous shortcomings of this work, it still creates the comprehension of changes through which the criminal community went during those years alongside with the society in general. But that maybe only because I’m within the general context of this life; it probably won’t have the same effect on an outsider.
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[b] History of Russian Mafia, 1988-1994. Big Huddle / Istoriya russkoy mafii 1988-1994. Bolshaya strelka (Valery Karyshev, 2004)

During the 90-s the author was lawyering for some of the notorious criminal personalities, and later qutie often put his memories into words – he published several essays on specific people, as well as trying to cover complete history of the phenomenon. This book belongs to the latter category; it’s dedicated to the period of origination of new russian criminal culture.

I can totally tell that he is really trying to be thorough, unbiassed and captivating all at the same time, but at certain points those aspirations come into an opposition with each other. Instances of dry account of events alternate with fiction-like reconstructions of supposedly real incidents and direct citations from the media about certain celebrated cases. I said the author is thorough, and while this is generally true, I should specify also that sometimes one episode is described several times with slightly different words, – i.e. he put citations into the text without bothering to consolidate them with everything else.

In the beginning the text seemed very solid, but as it was getting closer to the ending, the mass fraction of “reconstructions” bits started to grow and eventually there were more of them than those of substantative, meaningful text. The author is quite good at collecting, rewriting and recombining stuff, but there’s nothing creative about this book – even seemingly fictional reconstructions are definetely cribbed from questionaries, police reports, testimonies etc.

I suppose, short verdict would be: this is the kind of book that some later published better work would be based on.

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[b] Gangster USSR. The Most Impressive Criminal Cases / Banditskiy SSSR. Samye yarkie ugolovnie dela (Andrei Kolesnik, 2011)

The book is carelessly written; the selection of cases is chaotic, there doesn’t seem to be any strict criteria to it (I can judge from the section about maniac murderers which subject I know a little deeper: some quite celebrated cases were completely missed); the elucidation of cases is shallow and sloppy; author’s language is full of epithets and speech turns that are totally needless in a non-fiction work; there is no evident labour behind the text of this book whatsoever.

For the most part the book was very irritating, but some places still managed to attract my attention; namely, the pages about ecomonical crimes, and the last chapter, dedicated to the establishment of the theives’ movement; – but even those were not very informative – they only stirred up my interest, if anything at all. Not recommended.

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[b] Ballaciner (J. M. G. Le Clézio, 2003)

A collection of essays about films, film directors and cinema in general. I don’t really know what I was looking for here. I guess – some new approaches to writing about this stuff, but Le Clézio’s style has nothing to do with how I do it, so I didn’t derived anything from his work. It wasn’t that interesting either, at least to me. But I did pick up several names and titles that went right into my watching list, mostly from Iranian and Korean cinema. I’ll see about them when the time comes, and meanwhile, I think, I’m done with essays. Too much water.

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[b] The Coming of the Third Reich (Richard J. Evans, 2003)

In this book Rochard J. Evans provides a full-blooded, vivid picture of the Weimar republic, early years of nazism up to 1933 when they finally reached power. I always wondered, if that rise of theirs really was that “legal” as they say in the history books, and mr. Evans shows without any doubt that it actually wasn’t, it just looked like that from a very far distance. A little glance closer, and it’s obvious that the whole thing was accompanied by various acts of arbitrary rule and violence against nazi’s political enemies (like communists and such), as well as jews, which makes it a travesty of democracy. It was a very interesting period in humanity’s history, very dramatic, extremes all over. This book tells about it in quite a vital style, and in great detail. By the last page I worked out a solid understanding of the time and space. And it was interesting from the beginning to the end.

P.S.: Boris Kobritsov’s translation into Russian is pretty much flawless.

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The Structure of Scientific Revolutions (Thomas Kuhn, 1962)

It was sort of a challenge for me, as the book is pretty difficult. But I wanted to learn about paradigms for a long time now, and Thomas Kuhn is one of the first ones who tried to systematize that stratum of information that is called history of science. He found certain regularities and did not fail to elucidate them on the pages of his book. There is also a subsequent addition in the form of answers to some of the critisism aimed at his theory after the book was first published. It creates an impression, though, that the discussion completely stopped after those answers, which I’m pretty sure is not at all the fact. I wonder, if there are any other summarizing papers on this subject that include analysis of the new theories that appeared after the Kuhn’s work saw the day of light (like the string theory in physics). On the other hand, I doubt there would be anything different in essence, so basically The Structure of Scientific Revolutions, as much outdated as it seems, contains the most important information about how the science develops, and about signs of its crisis too.

P.S.: Russian translation by I. Naletov is very good, and made the concept much easier to understand.

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The Guns of August (Barbara Tuchman, 1962)

Extremely interesting book, and nicely written. Gives a graphic picture of historical preconditions that called forth the war, and why it went the way it went. I learned a lot about people who tried to influence the progress of events – most of them I’ve never heard about before. Before I was taught about this period strictly from the Russian’s (and soviet’s) point of view, which (and I had to read this book to realize it) is terribly and utterly narrow. That approach was all about the Eastern battlefront events, only occasionally remembering that there were also some Antanta fellows, who kinda fought Germany too. This book, on the other hand, gave me a complete mental map of those few weeks in the beginning from all the sides including german. Well, maybe Austria was left out. But they always were sort of satellite to germans, so who really cares. I think, the work of Barbara Tuchman gave me a solid basis for any future WWI study – it would be easier for me to understand who all those people are, and what the hell are they doing (and why). Highly recommended.

P.S.: This early Russian translation that I read might be supplied with the commentaries from the editor or something, – well, keep in mind that those comments are trivial, ignorant and full of soviet propaganda. It may be better to skip them or even remove them completely before reading.

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Stalin: The Court of the Red Tsar (Simon Sebag Montefiore, 2004)

Very thorough and serious work that concentrates not so much on Stalin himself as on his magnates and people close to him. Montefiore uses a great deal of different sources, including documents just recently declassified and memoirs never even published. As a true scholar should, he doesn’t offer his own conclusion, but rather provides a reader with the means to understand the people and the epoch. He does not justify bolshevik atrocities, but he also does not spend a lot of time weeping over their victims, which might seem harsh to some people, but I think it’s just a sing of an honest and fair thinker. Indeed, a very strong book.

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(207) – Diaries 1914-1917 (Mikhail Prishvin)

0. Prishvin is more or less famous russian writer who wrote mostly about nature and countryside life. He lived a long life and left richly written diary covering almost half a century. This book is just one of the many.

1. The good thing is that you can actually taste the epoch. There are lots of reasonings (they are boring), and between those reasonings there are often small but vivid pictures of the everyday life, through which a giagantic picture of the Great Shift is showing. The bad thing is that you have to process a shitload of ore to get what turns out to be quite a small amount of impressions.

2. So, I got a little bored, a little tired of the genre, so to say, and decided that the next book I read will be a better structured one. Maybe I will come back to these series one day, but right now I don’t think it’s gonna be anytime soon.

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(206) – The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat (Oliver Sacks)

I didn’t have that many opportunities to read these couple of months, so this small enough book took me a lot of time. What can I say? Cases described are pretty interesting, some of them suggested me few interesting ideas, which maybe someday will take shape in one of my writings. One of those ideas, for example: a system of communication that exists only for an exremely selective group of people, and a person with the heart of explorer, who had learnt that system all by himself thus making it possible for him to join the group, at least for some limited time. All in all, however, the book didn’t produce that strong of impression on me. Nice, interesting (again), but not great.

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(205) – Blowing Up Russia: Terror from Within \ FSB vzryvaet Rossiyu (Alexander Litvinenko, Yury Felshtinsky)

0. The book is build on the assumption that the bombings of 1999 in several Russian cities were organized not be the Chechens, but by the Russian special services to have a pretext to begin the Second Chechen War. Major part of the work is dedicated to the prevented terract in Ryazan  (which later was claimed some kind of war games by the secret service), but the explosions that actually happened were touched also upon, though not in as much detail as one would hope. Final chapters are about secret service establishing out-of-staff action groups to use as hitmen and for other special missions.

1. Things the book tries to tell about relate to the contemporary history, so there’s obvious and understandable lack of documental proof. This gives the reason for some of the reviewers to brush the book aside, as something that may never be confirmed (owning to the well-known habit of the Russian secret services employees to clean out the archives from time to time), but I think, that the authors managed to use the circumstantial evidence available to them most efficiently – at least, the picture emerging in front of the reader’s eyes is very logical and life-like (especially, if you know a thing or two about the previous history of the russian secret service). All in all, the authors raise the unresolved issues of those events, which can barely be explained within the framework of the official version, but  fit in their version pretty nicely.

2. Sometimes hard to read (because of the overload of names and numbers – rather good thing then bad), the book in general produces an impression of good and solid journalistic investigation. Of course, it can all be fake. But I will give this probability no more then 20%.

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(204) – Mysteries of Life and Death: Stalin (Edvard Radzinsky)

0. This biography of Stalin claims to be the first based on the newly declassified documents from various archives. And it does offer some interesting provision I never knew about before, but almost all of them concern minor matters that can only introduce some clarity but not overthrow the established views. And lets not forget, that the most interesting documents were destroyed (or maybe still are classified, who knows), so all the author is dealing with is circumstantial evidence. Of course, in most cases it’s just enough to make some conclusions, but still…

1. Radzinsky’s style is very much informal, which has its good sides (easy to read, easy to understand), but in the same time irritates a little bit, as it is pretty far from being scientific. Complete absence of any references also makes its contribution into the book being perceived as an amateur work more than a professional. The author allows himself to use evaluating terms and judgements, and I very much dislike it.

2. As I understand, there are not so many sources on the Stalin’s private life, especially on the period after he gained the power. This may be the reason why Radzinsky sometimes deviates from the biographical line into the history of the state (also, Stalin’s life in the latter period was interlaced with his work as a statesman very much). I wish, we knew about it more… But, I guess, it’s just impossible. Sad, but true.

3. Considering all the drawbacks, the book is still very interesting – and the conclusions the author comes to are really hard to argue with, notwithstanding even his disputable style. If the book creates a solid image of Stalin’s life I don’t know – too little time has passed since I’ve finished it. I have to sleep on it a couple more nights. In any case, I have no regrets about spending time on it. But in the future I would prefer different kind of literature – more science-like.

Names and figures

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