Thursday, April 27, 2023

Review of The Gulag Archipelago [Volume 1]: An Experiment in Literary Investigation by Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn

This book review was written by Eugene Kernes   

Book can be found in: 
Genre = History
Collection = The Gulag Archipelago
Book Club Event = Book List (10/07/2023)
Intriguing Connections = 1) The Persecuted and The Persecutors

Watch Short Review


“During a daylight arrest there is always that brief and unique moment when they are leading you, either inconspicuously, on the basis of a cowardly deal you have made, or else quite openly, their pistols unholstered, through a crowd of hundreds of just such doomed innocents as yourself.  You aren’t gagged.  You really can and you really ought to cry out – to cry out that you are being arrested!  That villains in disguise are trapping people!  That arrests are being made on the strength of false denunciations!  That millions are being subjected to silent reprisals!” – Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, Part I: The Prison Industry: Chapter 1: Arrest, Page 29

“However, sending these officers to the Archipelago did not end the problem but only set it in motion.  After all, their mothers, wives, and children were still at liberty.  With the help of unerring social analysis it was easy to see what kind of mood they were in after the heads of their households had been arrested.  And thus they simply compelled their own arrest too!  And one more wave was set rolling.” – Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, Part I: The Prison Industry: Chapter 2: The History of Our Sewage Disposal System, Page 52

“I could have told tales too.  I would even have liked to.  But no, I didn’t really want to any more.  Like a cow, the war had licked away four of my years.  I no longer believed that it had all actually happened and I didn’t want to remember it.  Two years here, two years in the Archipelago, had dimmed in my mind all the roads of the front, all the comradeship of the front line, had totally darkened them.” – Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, Part II: Perpetual Motion: Chapter 4: From Island to Island, Page 577



The Soviet Russian authorities were brutal persecutors of their people.  Those who fall into the gaze of the authority, are persecuted.  None are spared.  The arrested innocent cannot do anything except remain silent.  Not even a pregnant woman’s life was spared when found to have committed criminal behavior.  Even religious sites were plundered to hasten cultural change.   When political plans conflicted with each other, any type of behavior, or work effort did not meet expectations, they quickly discovered people to blame.  People were shot dead when they did not have enough faith in socialist physical structures, for the authorities refused to consider that enthusiasm of the personal was not enough.  Persecuting people to destroy their power. 

Fear and betrayal were ubiquitous.  Death or the Gulag are the outcomes of anyone who the authorities choose as their enemy.  As problems kept arising, they kept expanding the people who were to be blamed for the problems.  The authorities were trained, to persecute and torture defenseless victims.    The persecutors were not some fictitious evil people who know that they are evil.  In reality, these people believe they were doing good.  Justified in their actions by ideology that makes their acts appear beyond reproach.  Terrible acts that are rewarded, supported by the silence of their opponents.  Silence perpetuates evil, as people learn that the terrible acts are not going to be punished. 


More Details On Persecutions:

Interrogators were able to game the system that they supported.  Interrogators tortured people during the night, because they would be paid more.  They even claimed more torture hours than they actually did.  Confessors were rewarded with cigarettes. 

The persecutions were happening during wars. During wars, the Red Army was not allowed to surrender.  The soldier was meant to die, while those who asked them to die keep living.  Should the soldier come back alive, no matter their state, they will be convicted.  The only legal option for the soldier was to die. 

There was a famine, in which people would think only about getting more food, no matter the source.  Willing to have just a little bit of food, even if it meant death shortly after. 

Truth and history are being forgotten.  Overridden with lies repeated by public announcements.  War and the Gulag dispel any joy of telling stories.  No longer wanting to remember the stories, to not think about the trauma associated with the times. 


History Of The Book:

The Gulag Archipelago was a famous and infamous book.  It was the first and last book about the Gulag to be published by official Russian authorities.  Popularity of the book rose, with its official ban.  The book gained international fame after the author was expelled from the USSR.

Unlike other books which hide the repressions, Solzhenitsyn’s books directly relate the ways that the people have been repressed.  This book represents the 1st attempt to put together the history of Gulag, using various sources.  Even autobiographical details of the Gulag. 



The book can be very difficult to read.  Topics change quickly, and with poor transitions.  Organized around various examples, without much systematic analysis.

The experiences during this era were traumatic.  The author does not avoid or find ways to dampen the traumatic experiences.  The reader needs to come emotionally prepared to handle the experiences.

There is a history of the USSR erasing and manipulating data, making this book a valuable source of information.  This book brings with it a diverse set of sources, but not many official reports because they could not be accessed or were destroyed.  Sources include law, history, interviews, and an autobiographical account. 

Questions to Consider while Reading the Book

•What is the raison d’etre of the book?  For what purpose did the author write the book?  Why do people read this book?
•What are some limitations of the book?
•To whom would you suggest this book?
•What is a Gulag?
•Why were people persecuted?
•How were people tortured?
•Why betray other people?
•How were terrible acts thought about by the persecutors?
•How does silence impact society?
•How did the law change as the law matured?
•Who are the kulaks?  
•What is the cult of personality?   
•How are the prisoners transported? 

Book Details
Ancillary Author: Anne Applebaum
Translator:            Thomas P. Whitney
Edition:                 Digital Edition
Publisher:             Name
Edition ISBN:      9780062941633
Pages to read:       673
Publication:          2020
1st Edition:           1973
Format:                 eBook 

Ratings out of 5:
Readability    2
Content          2
Overall          2

Sunday, April 23, 2023

Review of The Wizard and the Prophet: Two Remarkable Scientists and Their Dueling Visions to Shape Tomorrow's World by Charles C. Mann

This book review was written by Eugene Kernes   

Book can be found in: 
Genre = Science
Book Club Event = Book List (08/12/2023)
Intriguing Connections = 1) Biographies: Auto, Memoir, and Other Types

Watch Short Review


“Prophets look at the world as finite, and people as constrained by their environment.  Wizards see possibilities as inexhaustible, and humans as wily managers of the planet.  One views growth and development as the lot and blessing of our species; others regard stability and preservation as our future and our goal.  Wizards regard Earth as a toolbox, its contents freely available for use; Prophets think of the natural world as embodying an overarching order that should not casually be disturbed.” – Charles C. Mann, Prologue, Page 16

“The basis for arguing for action on climate change is the belief that we have a moral responsibility to people in the future.  But this is asking one group of people to make wrenching changes to help a completely different set of people to whom they have no tangible connection.  Indeed, this other set of people doesn’t exist.  When one tries to make plans for nonexistent people, the result is an intellectual quagmire, because there is no way to know what those hypothetical future people will want.” – Charles C. Mann, Chapter 7: Air: Climate Change, Page 334

“The intensive fertilization mandated by the Green Revolution has heavily contributed to nitrogen problems on land and water.  Pesticides have wreaked havoc on agricultural ecosystems and sometimes poisoned sources of drinking water.  Poorly constructed and managed irrigation systems have drained aquifers.  Soils have become waterlogged or, worse, loaded with salts when irrigation water evaporated.  Possibly most worrisome, the energy costs of agriculture, mainly from making fertilizer, have soared.” – Charles C. Mann, Chapter 9: The Wizard, Page 464



A growing population requires more resources.  The problem is obtaining the resources, without destroying everything else.  With a higher population, there is increased competition for resources within the ecosystem.  Species that exhaust their resources, fall to catastrophe.  Humans are part of an ecosystem, with natural cycles that need to be maintained.  William Vogt and Norman Borlaug provided two different ways on how to use the environment, and resources.  Vogt represents the Prophets, who see resources as finite which constrains humans.  Borlaug represents the Wizards who see environmental opportunities through innovation to better manage the environment. 

Prophets focus on the resource constraints, asking for humans to use less resources to prevent exhausting them.  Wizards focus on resolving environmental problems with technical solutions.  Prophets seek small-scale production operations, while Wizards seek large-scale production methods to meet human needs.  The different views generate different policies on how to obtain food, water, energy, and clean up the pollution.  The paths conflict with each other, but there are options which incorporate those different visions.

Wizards and prophets have animosity towards each other.  Wizards do not support a retrogression of society that would follow Prophets plans.  Prophets do not support the ecocide that would follow Wizards plans.


How Do The Prophets Think About The Environment?

Agriculture got a boost from guano banks, as they contained nutrients that facilitate crop growth.   Early in the 20th century, guano-birds declined.  The policy was introduced was to make the surrounding areas as a sanctuary, to protect the bird’s feed.  It worked temporary, but the decline in birds continued.  A problem Vogt was assigned to resolve.

Vogt represents the Prophets, proclaiming environmental disaster without a reduction in consumption.  To not overwhelmed the ecosystems.  Prosperity has the problem of extracting more from the planet than it can give.  Using less resources is their solution, to eating lower down the food chain.  Eating less meat, means more space for food available for human consumption.  Putting less pressure on the ecosystem. 

A Malthus logic, that while human population grows geometrically, food supply grows arithmetically.  The population will outgrow its ability to supply enough food, causing a catastrophe.  Malthus saw checks on the population, but many of the checks are not popular.  Without voluntary checks to population growth, there will be violent reprisals. 

No species can overcome the ecological carrying capacity.  The problem with carrying capacity, is that it is hard to measure.  Carrying capacity came from shipping, which placed a limit on the cargo weight that a ship could transport.  A global carrying capacity is more complicated, in which the carrying capacity is potentially not static.  Hard to tell whether the carrying capacity is an ecological limit, or could be influenced by people.

The Prophets have an elitist tendency, and eugenics.  Excerpt governance of resource is no different to them then cleaning up the human gene pool. 


How Do The Wizards Think About The Environment?

Borlaug grew up on a farm, that became much more productive due to mechanization.  A tractor was more efficient than draft animals who needed more maintenance.  The changes allowed Henry Borlaug to go to school rather than work on the farm.

On a work assignment, Borlaug was able to crossbreed various seeds to make them rust-resistant and more productive.  Crossbreeding is always a temporary solution, because agricultural diseases mutate and overcome the resistant seeds.  

Borlaug represents the wizards, proclaiming that science and technology can overcome environmental dilemmas.  More prosperity comes from knowledge on how to develop high-yield crops.  Innovations have enabled higher-yielding crop, to produce more food using less space. 


How Do We Get Enough Food? 

Plants need nutrients in the soil to grow, especially nitrogen.  Within the soil, nitrogen is made by microorganisms breaking down organic matter.  Fertilizer generally adds nitrogen into the soil.  There is even a process to develop artificial nitrogen, chemical fertilizers.  Even a little bit of nitrogen can drastically increase agricultural outcome.  The problem with intensive fertilization are the pollution consequences on the land and water.

Animal feed can take the form of grazing or scraps, but industrial farms requires many pounds of feed to produce the meat. 

Wizards claims that the more productive the farms the better.  What matters to them is useable energy per acre.  Prophets see the ecological consequences of production such as soil erosion, habitat loss, watershed degradation, pesticide, and other risks. 


How Do We Get Enough Water?

Much of water is undrinkable.  A Wizard solution is to desalinate seawater.  But desalination has consequences for marine life, and produces pollution.  Prophets want operations for water capture, recycling, and better management. 


How Do We Get Enough Energy?

Human society has become dependent on an energy supply.  Civilization comes to a crash without an energy supply.  Various regions prospered when they discovered supplies of energy, such Pithole city, but then quickly collapsed when the energy has run out. 

Initially, wood was used as a fuel source.  Even grass and dung.  Regions that had run out of forest, used coal.  Regions with easy access to coal made a quicker transition.  The British used coal since the 13th century, which caused a lot of pollution.  The British did not have much access to other fuel sources.  Many have switched to oil when it became available, because oil is far more efficient than coal, as oil is more energy dense.

Food and water are a flow, a volume to be maintained. Fossil fuels are a stock, a fixed amount.  Flow resources could be interrupted.  While stock resources continuously declines.  Many nations feared running out of their stock of energy resources, causing them to go to war to obtain supplies.  But, new supplies of fuel are being found continuously.  With more fuel being found, the problem is abundance. 

Petroleum is not a uniform substance, but composed of various compounds.  There can be various rocks that prevent petroleum from seeping to the surface.  The amount of fuel that can be extracted depends on the processes used.  Especially if the price justifies the costs of extraction.  The amount of petroleum depends of technological developments.

Sunlight might be plentiful and free, but it is not a reliable energy source.  Those energy supplies are only useful on sunny days.  Windfarms are only useful during windy days.  The equipment itself is costly. 


How Do We Deal With Pollution?

Geological processes are unfathomable on the human scale.  There is a responsibility to consider the people of the future.  A hypothetical future people, with indeterminant values and wants.

There are far more damaging pollutants than carbon dioxide, such as methane.  Although methane stays in the atmosphere for a decade or two, carbon dioxide lasts in the atmosphere for centuries or millennia. 

Pollution has an aspect of property rights.  Pollution is no different than taking over someone else’s resources.

Renewable energy supplies are not yet economical reliable.  Another alternative is nuclear power.  Nuclear power plants are expensive to build but cheap to maintain.  Nuclear power does produce high-level waste.

Wealthy counties develop a tendency for environmental responsibility.  To make their energy use more efficient and less environmentally damaging.  The problem is that wealthy countries do not actually reduce the energy use, just export the environmental destruction to other regions. 

Claiming something as eco-friendly depends on the weights assigned to pollution or land use.  Spending money increases statistics about economic activity, but they have different outcomes.  What matters is not just how many people, but what they are doing.



The book provides detailed explanations on the claims made by the various perspectives.  Sometimes getting lost in the scientific details, which can make it more difficult to understand the implications of the details.  Which can make the book more difficult to read.  

Questions to Consider while Reading the Book

•What is the raison d’etre of the book?  For what purpose did the author write the book?  Why do people read this book?
•What are some limitations of the book?
•To whom would you suggest this book?
•What demands are there for resources?
•What is William Vogt’s history?
•How do Prophets think about the environment?
•What is Norman Borlaug’s history?
•How do Wizards think about the environment?
•How to use the land?
•How is fertilizer used?
•How to use the water?
•How to get energy?
•What are flow resources, and stock resources? 
•How to clean the pollution?  
•What is the Malthusian logic?
•What renewable energy sources?
•How do wealthy countries respond to the environment?
•What determines if something is considered eco-friendly?  
•What is NIMBY (Not In My Back Yard)?
•What are the planetary boundaries?  

Book Details
Publisher:             Borzoi Book [Penguin Random House]
Edition ISBN:      9780307961709
Pages to read:       495
Publication:          2018
1st Edition:           2018
Format:                 eBook 

Ratings out of 5:
Readability    4
Content          4
Overall          4

Wednesday, April 19, 2023

Review of Meditations by Marcus Aurelius

This book review was written by Eugene Kernes   

Book can be found in: 
Genre = Philosophy
Book Club Event = Book List (12/30/2023)

Watch Short Review


“To be easy and ready to be reconciled, and well pleased again with them that had offended me, as soon as any of them would be contentto seek unto me again.  To read with diligence; not to rest satisfied with a light and superficial knowledge, nor quickly to assent to things commonly spoken of.” – Marcus Aurelius, His First Book, Page 33

“If to understand and to be reasonable be common unto all men, then is that reason, for which we are termed reasonable, common unto all.  If reason is general, then is that reason also, which prescribeth what is to be done and what not, common unto all.  If that, then law.  If law, then are we fellow-citizens.  If so, then are we partners in some one commonweal.  If so, then the world is as it were a city.  For which other commonweal is it, that all men can be said to be members of?  From this common city it is, that understanding, reason, and law is derived unto us, for from whence else?” – Marcus Aurelius, The Fourth Book, Page 59

“Do not ever conceive anything impossible to man, which by thee cannot, or not without much difficulty be effected; but whatsoever in general thou canst Conceive possible and proper unto any man, think that very possible unto thee also.” – Marcus Aurelius, The Sixth Book, Page 87



Conflict and disagreement do occur, but people need to readily seek reconciliation.  To reaccept those who had previously offended.  Hostilities endure when people resist regaining friendly relations.  Reason facilitates cooperation between people.  Society depends on the cooperation of people.  Therefore, other people either need to be taught how to improve their behavior, or be tolerated.  Behavior and thinking skills are not innate, and need to be taught.  To utilize reason and judgment to make the most appropriate decisions as possible.  Discovering the most appropriate decisions, would require questioning superficial knowledge.  To not easily assent to popular claims.

People need to find contentment in their lives.  Which comes from proper work and appropriate behavior.  People will only do that which is possible.  Individuals are more interested in activities which they have taken internal responsibility for, rather than pressured externally to do.  Individuals need to live in the present.  The future is uncertain, while the past has already happened.  No matter what people strive for and have achieved in their life, death takes them all the same.  Praise for contemporary achievements occurs because of political considerations.



This is a very difficult book to read.  Difficult formatting with antediluvian references.  Many similar topics and ideas are sporadically placed.  The claims themselves are rarely given an explanation.  They appear to portray common observations that do not need an explanation.  

Questions to Consider while Reading the Book

•What is the raison d’etre of the book?  For what purpose did the author write the book?  Why do people read this book?
•What are some limitations of the book?
•To whom would you suggest this book?
•Why reconcile?
•What is the use of reason?
•Why cooperate?
•How to make decisions?
•How to consider popular claims? 
•How to change?
•How to think about death?
•How to think about other people’s behavior?
•What do people want to do?
•What is contentment?

Book Details
Translator:            Casaubon
Edition:                 First Digital Edition
Publisher:             Anna Ruggieri
Edition ISBN:      9788826031347
Pages to read:       170
Publication:          2017
1st Edition:           180
Format:                 eBook 

Ratings out of 5:
Readability    1
Content          2
Overall          1

Saturday, April 15, 2023

Review of The Girl at the Baggage Claim: Explaining the East-West Culture Gap by Gish Jen

This book review was written by Eugene Kernes   

Book can be found in: 
Genre = Sociology
Book Club Event = Book List (08/05/2023)

Watch Short Review


“As if life is linear!  As if it is a matter of simple cause-and-effect! The flexi-self shakes its head at the very idea.  Instead, it sees the lion as embedded in the savannah in much the same way as it is itself embedded in its group.  It conceives, too, of the boundaries between the lion and the savannah as permeable and fluid – as a dotted and ever-changing line much like the line that it imagines surrounds itself.” – Gish Jen, 3: Some Helpful Background, Page 44

“The flexi-self’s characteristic mode of thinking is holistic.  It is oriented toward unbrokenness and feeling, toward rhythms and dialectical movement; and often, too, especially in its Asian permutation, it is oriented toward pattern-making.  As this self is on the lookout for associations more than distinctions, its focus is not on the exceptional.  In fact, the unusual or unique is often seen as noise in the data, to be screened out.  Focusing on things that can be meaningfully groups, this self is interested in force fields, weather patterns, historical patterns.  Circles of friends, circles of allies.  Networks.  Systems.” – Gish Jen, 3: Some Helpful Background, Page 44

“”Geniuses”? What is that? – a question that leads to one more subject we must understand if we are to understand flexi-self life, namely the very different ideas big pit selves and flexi-selves hold about the figure who constitutes the pinnacle of humanity.  Is it the individualistic genius who remakes the world with the might of his or her avocado pit?  Or is it the interdependent master who absorbs, refines, and hands down a great and noble tradition?” – Gish Jen, Chapter 6: Boundary Blurring, Page 95



Different cultures think differently about how each individual fits in their society.  Cultures influence how much control each individual thinks they have to shape events.  Whether the individual chooses every decision, to decisions being a product of the situation and influenced by the community.  Cultures that are individualistic prioritize oneself and contrast themselves to others.  Cultures that are interdependent flexi-self do not have clear personal boundaries, for the boundary is fluid within their group, but do have a boundary for an outgroup.  Individualistic cultures prioritize individual achievement and effort.  Flexi-self cultures prioritize the context and community that facilitated the achievement. 

Different ways of understanding can create misunderstanding when interpreting the decisions of people from other cultures.  A cultural clash.  Each type of culture has its advantages and disadvantages.  The dichotomy between individualistic and flexi-self has deviations for individuals within the cultures can think differently.  People and organizations can also become ambidependent, by making decisions and interpreting them using both types of understandings. 



The book is composed of mostly examples.  Lacking a systematic analysis of the ideas.  The focus is primarily to explain flexi-self cultures such as China, while often contrasting it with individualistic cultures such as America.  These examples themselves are diverse ways to understand the concept of a flexi-self, they do not necessarily add value to the concept of flexi-self. 

Questions to Consider while Reading the Book

•What is the raison d’etre of the book?  For what purpose did the author write the book?  Why do people read this book?
•What are some limitations of the book?
•To whom would you suggest this book?
•What are the characteristics of an individualistic culture?
•What are the characteristics of a flexi-self culture?
•What is the avocado pit?
•How to think about innovations? 
•What is ambidependence?  
•What is li and qi?
•How to think about counterfeits? 
•How to find meaning in life?
•What are the social consequences of being too independent? 
•How to think about geniuses?  

Book Details
Edition:                Frist Vintage Contemporaries Edition
Publisher:             Vintage Books [Penguin Random House]
Edition ISBN:      9781101947838
Pages to read:       259
Publication:          2018
1st Edition:           2017
Format:                 eBook 

Ratings out of 5:
Readability    3
Content          2
Overall          2

Tuesday, April 11, 2023

Review of The River Why by David James Duncan

This book review was written by Eugene Kernes   

Book can be found in: 
Genre = Novel

Watch Short Review


“It should surprise no one, then, that as a small child I became a “fishing prodigy” and am to this day not unjustly known as a “fishing genius.”  It has been given to me to understand the way in which fish think; it is therefore as easy for me to catch fish as it is for a skilled huckster to swindle honest and innocent men.  And anyone who thinks I brag in stating that I understand fish-thought is obviously ignorant of the way in which fish think.  Believe me, it’s nothing to brag about.” – David James Duncan, Book One: Chapter 2: The Rogue River Fishing War, Page 13

“A fishing prodigy, like a musical prodigy, is perforce a solitary.  Because of fishing I started school a year late; because of fishing I failed the fifth grade; because of fishing I was considered a kind of mild-mannered freak to my schoolmates; because of fishing I grew up osprey-silent and trout-shy and developed early on an ability to slide through the Public School System as riverwater slides by the logjams, rockslides and dams that bar its seaward journey.” – David James Duncan, Book One: Chapter 3b: Some Biographical Statistics, Page 17

“And so I learned what solitude really was.  It was raw material – awesome, malleable, older than men or worlds or water.  And it was merciless – for it let a man become precisely what he alone made of himself.  One needed either wisdom or tree-bark insensitivity to confront such a fearsome freedom.  Realizing now that I lacked both, I let myself long for company.” – David James Duncan, Book Three: Chapter 2: Neighbors, Page 148



This is a book about a life devoted to fishing.  An expert fisher from an early age.  A fishing prodigy.  A life devoted to just fishing, has consequences.  For Gus has various problems because of this obsession to fish.  It acts as an addiction.  For everything else becomes sidelined, just to continue to fish. 

Along the way, Gus provides contrasts and comparisons about fish and water, with the broader context of philosophy and faith.  There is even a personal traumatic realization about what fishing means to the fish, to the river.  For the river asks why.  Forcing Gus to consider one’s actions.  To find internal meaning and responsibility.  The power of introspection can cause behavioral change.



The book can be difficult to read, as the topic transitions are poor and quick.  Fishing is a central theme of the book.  Readers who appreciate fishing will resonate more with the book.

Questions to Consider while Reading the Book

•What is the raison d’etre of the book?  For what purpose did the author write the book?  Why do people read this book?
•What are some limitations of the book?
•To whom would you suggest this book?
•What is the fishing war?
•How to fish?
•Who are the characters?
•What are the characteristics of Gus?
•What are the consequences of Gus’s ability to fish?
•Why does the river ask why?
•How to meditate? 

Book Details
Edition:                Twentieth-Anniversary Edition
Publisher:             The Sierra Club
Edition ISBN:      9781578050840
Pages to read:       308
Publication:          2002
1st Edition:           1983
Format:                 Paperback

Ratings out of 5:
Readability    2
Content          2
Overall          1

Friday, April 7, 2023

Review of Red Famine: Stalin's War on Ukraine by Anne Applebaum

This book review was written by Eugene Kernes   

Book can be found in: 
Book Club Event = Book List (06/24/2023)

Watch Short Review


“The history of the famine of 1932-3 was not taught.  Instead, between 1933 and 1991 the USSR simply refused to acknowledge that any famine had even taken place.  The Soviet state destroyed local archives, made sure that death records did not allude to starvation, even altered publicly available census data in order to conceal what had happened.  As long as USSR existed, it was not possible to write a fully documented history of the famine and the accompanying repression.” – Anne Applebaum, Preface, Page 19

“The sentiment was not new: disdain for the very idea of a Ukrainian state had been an integral part of Bolshevik thinking even before the revolution.  In large part this was simply because all of the leading Bolsheviks, among them Lenin, Stalin, Trotsky, Piatakov, Zinoviev, Kamenev and Bukharin, were men raised and educated in the Russian empire, and the Russian empire did not recognize such a thing as “Ukraine” in the province that they knew as “Southwest Russia.”  The city of Kyiv was, to them, the ancient capital of Kyivan Rus’, the kingdom that they remembered as the ancestor of Russia.  In school, in the press and in daily life they would have absorbed Russia’s prejudices against a language that was widely described as a dialect of Russian, and a people widely perceived as primitive former serfs.” – Anne Applebaum, Chapter 1: The Ukrainian Revolution, 1917, Page 43

“The missing feeling of “responsibility,” destroyed by collectivization, would plague Soviet agriculture (and indeed Soviet industry) as long as it existed.  But although this was already clear as early as 1931, it was not possible to question the policy because it was already too closely associated with Stalin himself. He had staked his leadership of the party on collectivization and he had defeated his rivals in the course of fighting for it.  He could not be wrong.  A large chunk of the Central Committee plenum in October was therefore devoted to a search for alternative scapegoats.  Since Stalin could not be responsible, and since senior party officials did not want to be, responsibility for the looming disaster was again sought further down the hierarchy.” – Anne Applebaum, Chapter 7: Collectivization Fails, 1931-2, Page 196


Is This An Overview:

Soviet Russian policies caused a Holodomor.  A major famine within Ukraine during the 1930s.  Even worse than the one they caused shorty after they took power in 1917.  For centuries past before that, Ukraine was a possession of other states.  Each wanted Ukraine for the region’s fertile land, to feed the occupiers population.  But like many regions during the early 20th century, Ukraine sought for sovereignty.  They did gain sovereignty, but could not hold it.  Division within Ukraine and with various Bolshevik strategies, the Soviet regime took control of Ukraine until the Soviet regime fell in 1991.  During their rule, Ukraine was Russified, especially after the famine depopulated the region.  Ukrainian cultural heritage was systematically destroyed.  Until the fall of the Soviet power, the famine was denied. 

The policies imposed on Ukraine by the Soviet power were designed to get as much food from the peasants as possible.  The effect they had was to reduce the ability to produce food.  Peasants did not want to produce food that was going to be confiscated.  They were even willing to destroy much of their food stores to prevent food from being confiscated.  The reduction in food production under the Soviet regime, made less food available than under Imperial Russia. 

A prominent policy was Stalin’s collectivization.  Under collectivization, peasants generally had to give up their private property, and work on collective farms.  A reintroduction of serfdom.  Violence was routine.  The policies were a failure, but could not blamed on the Bolsheviks.  Failures were blamed on everyone else.  Even those starving were blamed.  Deaths due to famine were privately acknowledge, but publicly denied.  Soviet propaganda worked to legitimize the persecution of anyone who did not have Soviet support, and were effective at manipulating foreign press as they were able to gain international support. 


Is There Any Information On Ukraine’s History?

Ukraine means borderlands.  Founded by Slavic tribes and Viking nobility, which Russians, Belarusians, and Ukrainians claim as their ancestor.  It then belonged to Lithuania until 1569, which it then became a part of the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth.   Ukraine was part of the Russian empire between the 18th and 20th centuries.  As regional power shifted many times, Ukraine developed a diverse cultural background, with some religious variation.  Poles and Russians, saw Ukraine as a primitive and more authentic place.  Subject to romantic poetry and fiction. 

Ukraine had fertile lands.  Poles and Russians did not want to lose access to the agricultural breadbasket should Ukraine become an independent state.  The Ukraine identity was formed nonetheless, often defined in opposition to the occupying foreigners.  Poles and Russians wanted Ukraine, therefore undermined Ukrainian sovereignty claims.

Ukrainian national aspirations were deemed a threat to Imperial Russia.  Peasants were already gaining economic influence.  Wealthier, literate, and better organized peasantry would have demanded greater political rights.  When Russia collapsed in 1917, and the Austro-Hungarian empires collapsed in 1918, Ukrainians decided that it was time to establish their own state. 


What Was The Political Structure Of Ukraine And Russia?

Although Ukraine did not have sovereignty, they expressed their hope like other states without sovereignty, through literature and art.  Russia had banned Ukrainian intellectual activities such as books and culture. 

Ukraine did gain independence in 1917, but temporarily.  They could not develop a functioning bureaucracy, public administration, or effective military might to defend against invasion.  Russia, Germany, and Austria were attempting to undermine Ukrainian nationalism.  The Soviets, under Lenin’s authorization attacked Ukraine in January 1918.  The attempt to conquer Ukraine failed when German and Austrian troops supported a Ukrainian general. 

There was a political division within Ukraine.  There were those who wanted Ukrainian national movement, and those who supported the Bolsheviks.  Bolsheviks were a radical faction who agitated Russia and appealed to the masses.  Led by Lenin, and after taking political control of Russia, they considered themselves to be the vanguard of the proletariat, a dictatorship of the proletariat.  They sought absolute power, and were willing to use violence and terror to abolish alternative political powers. 

The leaders of the established USSR, did not see Ukraine as a distinct economic region, but as Southwest Russia.  They were prejudiced against any Ukrainian identity from an early age.  Seeing Ukrainians as primitive former serfs.  The USSR Marxists ideology had contempt for Ukrainians, whom they saw as peasants who had no class consciousness. 

Lenin supported cultural autonomy and self-determination, unless it did not work for Lenin.  After the Bolsheviks failed to maintain control of Kyiv after a few weeks, they still invaded Ukraine with teams to confiscate peasants’ grain.  The strategies changed to false flag operations.  Russian troops were disguised under a banner of Soviet Ukrainian liberation movement to confuse nationalists.  Trying to convince people to accept Soviet power.  They also prevented intellectual activity and news.  Arresting Ukrainians they accused as separatism. 


What Is The Power Of Food?

There is power in food.  Food is a political tool.  Food is a weapon.  Those who had food were able to get followers, soldiers, and friends.  Support was lost quickly for those without food to give.

Food shortages in Russia began with the start of World War One.  Imperial Russia attempted to alleviate food shortages with policies designed to centralize food distribution.  Their effect was to create administrative problems without alleviating the food shortages.  Soviet Russia extended the same principles, but also wanted to remove the middlemen.  The Soviet result was to exacerbate the supply crisis.  Lenin thought that the nationalized food distribution was an appropriate system, but that they were not sufficiently harsh, especially in Ukraine. 

Under Marxist ideology, they created a hierarchy for peasants.  From wealthy, middle, to poor.  They called them kulaks, seredniaks, and bedniaks.  A hierarchy meant to define who would be persecuted and benefit from the policies imposed.

In 1919, Soviet Russia was going through a crisis, and wanted to exploit Ukraine to maintain control of Russia.  They needed food to supply the proletariat.  This became known as War Communism.  Taking control using violence means, and redistributing food to those deemed essential by the state.  Imperial Russia confiscated food since 1916, which the Provisional Government continued to do so.  Forcing peasants to sell all their grain at state dictated prices, except those needed for agriculture and consumption.  In practice, War Communism meant most people went hungry.  Trotsky supported the requisitioning of food at all costs, for that would have meant civil war between kulaks and other elements in the villages.  Seeking to deepen divisions, which would create anger and resentment to further Bolshevik policies.

To obtain food, Russians and Ukrainians used illegal invisible markets, rather than non-existent state companies.  Illegal markets gave people access to food, but the Bolsheviks blamed them for the continuing crisis.  Bolsheviks wanted formal markets.  The Bolsheviks thought that their policy was meant to make people richer rather than poorer, but never blamed their own policies for the failures. 


What Were The Results Of The Food Requisitions?

The policy backfired.  The Cossacks revolted against the Red Army (Bolshevik’s army), which included the Cossacks that had previously supported the Bolshevik’s.  The local Bolshevik leaders, requested an end to gain requisitions.  Moscow did not consider their views.  The requisitions were left in place, but were unsuccessful.  Only a fraction of the requested food was taken.  The Bolshevik’s were expelled from Ukraine a 2nd time in Summer on 1919, fueling a gargantuan violent peasant uprising.  The uprising and rebellion taught the Bolsheviks that Ukraine was an intellectual and military threat.

Ukraine’s military was defeated, but not their intellectual ideals.  Nationalism that could attract foreign allies, who could become a threat to USSR.  Ukraine peasants wanted socialism, a socialist revolution but not a Bolshevik revolution.  They wanted their own representatives, not communists.  They wanted redistribution, but wanted to work the land on their own.  They did not want another serfdom.  They wanted respect for their intellectual and cultural heritage.  These ideas resonated during the 1920s. 


What Information Is There On The 1920s Famine?

During 1920, Lenin requisitioned all gain from the peasants.  All grain, which included those needed for consumption and for future planting harvest.  This caused agriculture production to plunge.  Not only did the people needed to plant were off fighting in World War One, but the farmers that were there did not want to plant food they knew would be confiscated.

There was also a drought, causing major crop failure.  Bad weather would have caused problems, as it did in the past.  But weather combined with confiscatory food collection policies, along with a lack of labor, produced a catastrophe.  95% of the normal harvest did not materialize.  Prior droughts were planned for with the preservation and storage of surplus gain.  But in 1921, there was no surplus grain as they had been confiscated.  Resulting in famine.

The 1921 famine, was not kept secret.  The regime even tried to help the starving.  Setting up a famine committee with various leaders.  Local committees were formed.  Even international aid.  International aid came from Red Cross, Jewish Join Distribution Committee, various European countries, and American Relief Administration.  America was a large source of aid, which wanted to expand the aid network into Russia. 

America wanted all Americans released who were held in Soviet prisons, and immunity from prosecution to ARA workers.  Hoover thought that aid would be stolen if it was not controlled, and that Americans would be accused of espionage.  Americans were actually collecting information.  Lenin did not appreciate the demands, but had to relent to gain famine relief.  The Communist Party was meant to control the distribution of food to gain credibility, but the American aid was allowed to proceed which saved many lives. 

Soviet leadership needed currency, and secretly sold gold and other valuables abroad to obtain guns, ammunition, and industrial machinery.  They would even sell food internationally, during the famine, to obtain their equipment.  The ARA left Russia due to this policy.

Ukraine did receive aid eventually.  The famine seemed under control by 1923, but the delayed caused many unnecessary deaths.  There were those who thought that the opposition to relief in Ukraine was politically inspired.  Some thought that the famine was instrumental, to end the Ukrainian peasant rebellion.  Grain requisition broke up communities, and forced many to leave home to search for food.  Those who remained were weakened and demoralized by the starvation, which prevented armed struggles. 

In 1921, Lenin even launched a New Economic Policy which included an end to compulsory grain collection, and made free trade temporarily legal.  In 1923, the Soviets wanted to appeal to non-Russian minorities under an indigenization program.  Giving status to different languages and cultures.  By making Soviet power more familiar to Ukrainians, the idea was to reduce Ukrainian demands for sovereignty.  Lenin was even willing to indulge Ukrainian national emotions to prevent losing Ukraine again.

These strategies were considered a step backwards by idealists of Marxism-Leninism.  New Economic Policy were considered a transient deviation.  Considered a way to give time for the peasants to become enlightened on Soviet ideals, in which communist policies would return. 

NEP evolved into state capitalism.  Markets functioned under heavy state control.  Mandatory grain procurements were replaced with a tax.  Grain was allowed to be sold for money.  Even with this very limited market economy, food became more available. 


What Were The 1930s Policies That Impacted The Famine?

1927 was 10 years that the Communist Party took control of Russia.  Living standards were lower in the USSR than under the tsars.  Food distribution was according to status, and was still scarce. 

Lenin’s death during 1924 caused an internal power struggle in which Stalin organized support to remove Trotsky, who was the main rival to power.  Stalin sided with the people who supported NEP, against Trotsky’s supporters of opposed NEP as that would have created a new capitalist class and enriched the kulaks.  In 1927, Trotsky was exiled, and Stalin changed sides to support those who opposed NEP.  Stalin radicalized Soviet policy, and wanted to remove any political rivals.

Trade was reclassified as criminal behavior.  There were people who stored grain to wait until prices would have increased.  This was considered evidence of conspiracy.  Anyone refusing to sell grain to the state at set prices would be arrested.  These policies, brought NEP to an end. 

Under the new policies, peasants that worked hard on their land would have become kulaks, enemies of the people.  If peasants remained poor, they would have been worse off than American peasants, who they were competing with.  Peasants had a choice of either ideologically approved poverty or dangerously unacceptable wealth.  This was an economic trap from which peasants could not find a way out.  Working badly would have meant hunger.  Working well would have been punished by the state.  Success became an enemy.  Efficiency became thought of with suspicion.  Stalin understood that the policies destroyed an incentive to produce grain.

Stalin understood that smaller farms created poor peasants, while kulaks were more productive due to bigger properties.  Although larger farms would have been more productive, this would have legitimated kulaks which was unacceptable.  The resolution was collective farming.  Unification of small peasants into larger collective farms.  The peasants were forced to give up private small lands, to aggregate the resources, and join collective farms. 

Collectivization claimed would have made farms more efficient, contain better management techniques, and utilize modern technology.  Land and equipment would be shared.  Harvesters would have been leased to collective farms.  Soviet government created a Five-Year Plan which included how the workers should behave.  Former peasants, now workers, were meant to work in shifts, and compete to overproduce.  This also created a shortage of natural resources, which were going to be mined by peasants. 

Collective farms were different, but would generally require members to give all private property into the collective.  Some peasants remined in their homes, but others would be moved to collective homes.  None would have owned valuables.  Peasants would be paid wages, usually in the form of food and other goods, in small quantities. 

Stalin thought that exploitation of peasants was the key to industrialization.  Using the same methods of colonialization as historic empires.  Stalin was not willing to rely on foreign loans.  Which left only the colonization of the peasants.  To obtain internal accumulation for the Soviet industry.  Peasants would pay tribute to improve the rate of industrial growth.  Stalin was willing to sacrifice peasants to industrialize the USSR, and prepared to remove them off their land.  There were other options available, but were avoided in favor of terror.  Forced collectivization appeared to be inevitable and unavoidable.  Collectivization was Stalin’s policy, with Stalin’s reptation at stake. 


Young urban enthusiasts went to farms to help, but they were inexperienced.  Local authorities needed to manage chains of command and conflicting priorities.  Village councils were inefficient either because of their duties, or to protect their neighbors.  The inexperienced used wrong seeds for the soil, and provided bad advice.

Ukrainians heard rumors of more requisitions, and possible further famine.  They decided to hide as much of their valuables such as food as possible.  Communist Party leaders in Ukraine had expected a famine in late 1932, and thought that it could be prevented.  They asked Stalin to follow the example from the 1921 famine.  To halt grain exports, stop the punishing grain requisitions, or ask for international aid.  There was some domestic aid offered to the peasants, but not enough.  Rather, the Soviet leadership exacerbated the Ukrainian famine while preventing the peasants from leaving to search for food.  Motivated by hunger and political ideology, there were teams of policemen and party activists who entered peasant homes and took everything edible. 

Although Stalin did not order a famine, that was the effect in practice.  To protect their property from collective farms, some slaughter their animals and the used or concealed the meat.  There were cases in which peasants released their animals into the street.  Ukrainians had to give up their grain reserves which would have caused them to starve, or they could hide grain reserves and risk arrest which would have confiscated the food and therefore also starve.  Even willing to destroy their property.  Peasants thought it better to destroy everything than hand their property to the authorities.  The destruction was seen as a deliberate act of sabotage. 

To fulfill quotas, collectivization brigades used intimidation and torture.  Violence and terror did lead many peasants to relinquish their property to collective farms.  This was through coercive means rather than enthusiasm.  Outcomes of peasant efforts no longer belonged to the peasants.  Internal responsibility was destroyed by collectivization.  As there was no rewards for more efforts, previously self-reliant farmers worked as little as possible.  They did not even maintain the machines which frequently broke down. 

It was not the bourgeoise that caused the famine, but Soviet Union’s policy of collective farms.  Everyone understood that collectivization had caused the shortages.  Stalin received reports which detailed the problems on the collective farms.

In 1932, Stalin decided to appear as more benevolent.  When it was obvious that Ukraine could not obtain the required amount of grain, Stalin allowed them to produce less than required.  Even though the quota was reduced, it was still unrealistic, yet had to be collected. 

Brigades were sent to collect any food.  Any food that was being cooked was tossed, and an inquiry began as how they were able to obtain the food.  Those who were not starving, were suspicious. 

Brigades were tasked with searching other villages then their own to prevent sympathetic views.  As familiarity would have caused the activists to protect locals, the activists needed to be changed frequently.  There were local activists who understood that their orders would have meant the death of their neighbors, and therefore did not carry out their orders.  Activists themselves were searched as well, by other activists.  Collaborators in the regime were not spared.  Perpetrators sometimes met resistance and violence from their robbed neighbors.  The brigades were composed of Ukrainian peasants themselves, stealing their neighbor’s food.


What Kind Of Persecution Was There During The 1930s Famine?

Ukraine was turned into a Soviet state through the Holodomor and the persecution of Ukrainian intellectual and political class.  The purpose was to destroy the possibility of any Ukrainian national ideas, and prevent Ukraine from challenging Soviet unity.  While the peasants were dying due to famine, the Soviet secret police persecuted Ukrainian intellectual and political elites.  Anyone connected to the propagation of Ukrainian language or history were liable to be publicly shamed, jailed, sent to labor camp, or executed. 

10 years under Bolshevik control, the Bolsheviks could not fulfill their promises, they offered scapegoats.  Collectivization was not a policy allowed to be questioned.  Collectivization was associated with Stalin.  Stalin was not allowed to be wrong.  Stalin nor party officials could not be held responsible for the failures of collectivization, therefore the responsibility was delegated to scapegoats.

Starting in 1929, with various waves, many sent to prison or the Gulag, or shot.  The persecutions gained more aspects over time.  Which included anyone who the political police decided on.  Anyone who criticized the Communist Party were liable to be persecuted.  Those persecuted were considered counter-revolutionaries.  Anyone who were not in a collective farm were considered counter-revolution, as enemies.  Eliminating dissidents, and those not insufficiently enthusiastic.  Those considered enemies lost their property rights, and legal standing. 

Those who fit into the category of kulaks became expansive.  Any activity that produced unearned income became a kulak.  Some became called kulak because they did not join a collective farm. 

Famine was made worse by the methods used to destroy previous values, such as dignity for human life.  Even churches and village rituals were attacked using ideological justification.  Bolsheviks were atheists who considered churches part of the old regime.  Churches provided a link to the past, which Bolsheviks wanted to remove.  Churches provided a social function as a gathering for peasants, a place not controlled by the state.  They were centers of opposition to the state.  The attacks on the Church caused the priests to become convinced that the Soviet Union was an Antichrist organization.  Peasants did not want to be part of collective farms for material reason and spiritual ones, as they did not want eternal damnation. 

Collectivization destroyed social relations, with unforgivable acts.  Those who participated in violence could not return to their old ways.  Family relations were also changed, for parents could no longer protect their children.  Children were instructed to denounce their parents.  Traditions were destroyed.  Before collectivization, villages tended to have self-rule with elections.  After collectivization, elections were a fa├žade for state determined candidates to espouse neighbors to join the Soviet project. 

Women protested because they were less likely to be arrested.  Women had less to fear from physical retribution.  Should the women have been attacked, the peasant men would have had a legitimate reason for them to join the protest.  Men would have had the reason of defending the honor of wives, mothers, and daughters.

With collectivization, the peasants became dependent on the state.  They had no money or property.  Peasants could only leave home with permission, but permission was denied.  The inability to leave meant the reintroduction of serfdom.

During the famine, the starving were considered perpetrators rather than victims.  Which gave the state justification to refuse to help the starving.  Responsibility for food shortages and mass deaths, were laid on those who were dying. 

The methods used to persecute the population became more extreme and violent.  Propaganda language masked reality.  People tried their best to prevent thinking about the events they were participating in.  Repetition of hateful tasks and claims, made it easier to continue them.  Propaganda made the persecuted appear less then citizens, less than human.


How Was The 1930s Famine Covered Up?

Until the Ukrainian independence of 1991, the story of the 1932-3 famine was not told.  USSR refused to acknowledge any history of famine.  Destroying archives and altering death records to conceal what happened.  Population and mortality statistics were manipulated to match party rhetoric.  Soviets did not keep records of the victims, therefore denying the deaths.

Stalin’s officials wanted to conceal the starvation statistics.  But the dead bodies were found on the streets, because no one had the strength to bury them.  The officials were denying what was happening, even as it was happening in from of them and visitors.  The reports tried their best to prevent blaming food shortages on people leaving, rather they blamed those facing repression due to unfulfilled grain procurement obligations.  Ukrainian communists referred to problems or difficulties, rarely to famine.  They knew what was happening, but survived by observing Soviet taboos.  Privately the famine was acknowledged, but not in the public.  Soviet officials used euphemisms.

Soviet leadership wanted foreign approval for domestic reasons.  Starting from 1917, foreigner publications were stationed in the USSR, to support the propaganda.  Publications even from America.  They supported the USSR achievements, for the publications saw what the Soviet’s wanted them to see.  They were encouraged to dismiss information about food shortages, which some did.

Franklin Roosevelt was interested in USSR policies, and then supported their claims.  They began to actively dismiss negative news about the USSR.  As the famine worsened, information control by the USSR got stricter.  Visits to famine ravaged regions were refused.  Support from international politics meant that USSR propaganda worked.


How Did People Survive?

As the famine grew deeper, rebellion ceased.  Those who starved were physically enfeebled and could not fight.  Satiating hunger was the overwhelming drive.  The extreme forms of hunger made any effort exhausting, which included various diseases connected to lack of food. 

Survival was difficult.  Either through performing human taboos, discovered willpower, or saved by someone with willpower.  They ate just about anything.  Flora or fauna.  Brigades did their best to spoil food.  As people were starving, the spoiled food was still eaten.  Survivors of the famine witnessed cannibalism or necrophagy. 

Villages had special boxes set up for anonymous information about hidden grain deposits.  It was popular to inform on others, because part of the found food was a reward to the informants.


What Are The Outcomes Of the Famine?

During World War Two, the Red Army retreated from Ukraine using a scorched earth policy.  Nazi officials knew about the famine conditions before capturing Ukraine, and decided that there was nothing that would have helped the Ukrainians even if they wanted to.  Ukrainians were considered a racially inferior race by the Nazi, therefore could be discarded.  Although the Germans cut off food supplies, the Nazi were less efficient than Soviets in preventing peasant traders.  Ukrainian famine was considered a myth coming from Nazi propaganda.  Nazi occupation caused uncertainty about the famine. 

By 1959-1970, as Ukrainian population was depleted by war, famine, and purges, this gave many Russian’s opportunities to migrate to the regions.  Ukrainians left behind assimilated into the Russian majority.  Russification of Ukraine through destruction of culture and memory had caused many to not consider them to have a separate history.  Ukrainians began to have confused loyalties. 



There are many references to Imperial and Soviet Russia.  The references provide a limited background on Russia.

The chronology of the events can be confusing.  Generally with a linear progression, but often providing information by context and therefore sharing historical associations.  Sometimes there appears to be time skips with details left out.

Questions to Consider while Reading the Book

•What is the raison d’etre of the book?  For what purpose did the author write the book?  Why do people read this book?
•What are some limitations of the book?
•To whom would you suggest this book?
•What is the Holodomor? 
•What is Ukraine’s history?
•What history does Ukraine have with sovereignty?
•Why was Ukraine wanted by other states?
•How was Ukraine Russified?
•How was the famine denied?
•What policies induced a famine?
•What are the collectivization policies?
•How did peasants respond to food requisitions and collectivization?
•Who are the Bolsheviks?
•How did the Russians think about the Ukrainians?
•Who was blamed for the policy failures?
•How did the Soviets use propaganda?
•How did the Bolsheviks take control of Ukraine?
•What power does food have?
•How did the Bolsheviks handle the food shortages starting in WW1?
•Why did the Imperial Russian regime fall?
•Who made the Provisional Government?  
•Who are the kulaks?
•Who are the Cossacks?
•How was the 1920s famine handled?
•How was America involved in the 1920s famine?
•What was the New Economic Policy?
•How did Stalin take command?
•What economic trap were peasants in during Stalin’s rule?
•What is War Communism?
•Who was blamed for policies failure?
•How did the collectivization brigades behave?
•How were Ukrainian values destroyed? 
•What role did women have in the protests?
•How did people survive? 

Book Details
Publisher:             Doubleday [Penguin Random House]
Edition ISBN:      9780385538862
Pages to read:       392
Publication:          2017
1st Edition:           2017
Format:                 eBook

Ratings out of 5:
Readability    5
Content          5
Overall          5