History of the USSR: An Outline of Socialist Construction

I found this history to be an overall enjoyable read. It was an excellent translation and as far as my history with histories go, this was the best of the bunch. What is it about some country histories that I have found so crushingly boring? Since I started to write and publish book reviews in 2010, I have had a string of bad luck in finding good books about countries I have visited or would like to visit. For example, the first national history review I posted was History of Iceland: From the Settlement to the Present Day. While it wasn’t a genuinely hopeless case I nonetheless awarded it the highest rating of the bunch, at three out of five stars. It would all go downhill from there. Luxembourg: The Clog-Shaped Duchy: A Chronological History of Luxembourg from the Celts to the Present Day was a sad two-star read; A Short History of Lesotho: From the Late Stone Age Until the 1993 Elections another two-star read and A History of Finland a loathsome single star. Granted, a fennophile like myself had already read many excellent books about Finland prior to when I first started posting book reviews, but my record over the last ten years has shown some real duds. Thus I was pleasantly surprised to enjoy History of the USSR: An Outline of Socialist Construction by Yu. Kukushkin (translated by Yuri Sviridov) from 1981.  

I was expecting a poor dogma-heavy translation. Instead I read an enticing history from the time of the Great October Socialist Revolution (referred to every time by this grandiose capitalized mouthful) to the year of publication. It was not a dry history, but read like a transcription of a Soviet propaganda film. This is not a judgement of the contents of the book, since the reader couldn’t help but get excited by all the enthusiasm in watching the mighty USSR grow from the seeds of peasants and labourers. The workers were often overcome with “socialist emulation” and worked like supermen, crashing beyond quotas and shaving time off the five-year plans. Stories were told of workers persuading entire teams to stay overtime and offering their services voluntarily during subbotniks. I got the impression that millions of people always generously gave their time for unpaid labour for the support of their new proletariat paradise. Stalin was glossed over, acknowledging his “mistakes” but not mentioning what they were (like the Holodomor). And throughout the book the USSR was painted as a nation striving for peace, so obviously no mention of the Hungarian Revolution of 1956 or the Soviet-Afghan War. I realistically didn’t expect to read anything but good news, and the section on the space program–beating the Americans to it–was very informative. 

This book rates four out of five stars and is thus the best national history I have read and reviewed so far. 

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