I had coffee with Tim Dahlstrom ’16 a couple of days ago, which is not very unexpected, except that we had it in a cafe with a view on the Kremlin. I am here visiting family, and he is here practicing his Russian and prepping for the GRE. He shared with me afterwards this photo, which he recently took here in Moscow: It is the grave of a Nobel prize-winning mathematical economist, obviously from Russia. This should probably be enough for you to guess the name, but if you need more, here is a cogent Austrian perspective on his prize. Tim remembered him from the Red Plenty reading group from his freshman year.
This term’s Economics Department Read features Francis Spufford’s Red Plenty: Industry! Progress! Abundance! Inside the Fifties Soviet Dream. The book is a hybrid history-fiction that uses many historical events and people to characterize the salad years of the Soviet Union, back when people thought central planning wasn’t a pipe dream.
Well, of course it was a pipe dream, and this book goes a long way to developing an understanding of planned economies and also the Soviet mentality. According to historian Marhall Poe, who has actually done some work on the Soviet Union himself, Red Plenty is the real deal:
[Red Plenty] contains more “truth” about the Soviet project than an entire library of “serious” novels and dry-as-dust histories. If I had to recommend one book on the Soviet Union to someone who wanted to understand it, Red Plenty would be it.
In the interview Poe says that Spufford “is one of those people that took all of that liberal arts crap seriously.”
Hey! Sounds like our kind of guy.
As for the logistics, it is a one-unit directed study that will meet most Tuesdays during winter term from 11:10-12:15. You can get sign up sheets and signatures from Professor Galambos or Professor Gerard.
(As long as we’re on the subject, Poe also interviews Appleton-native David Brandenberger about his recent book, Propaganda State in Crisis: Soviet Ideology, Indoctrination, and Terror under Stalin.)
Next term’s Economics Department Community Read will feature Francis Spufford’s fascinating Red Plenty: Inudstry! Progress! Abundance! Inside the Fifties Soviet Dream. It is an idiosyncratic book that draws heavily on historical figures and events to characterize a period in the Soviet Union where central planners thought that central planning would actually work.
Though academics tend to take a dim view of works of historical fiction generally, University of Iowa historian Marshall Poe says this is clearly an exception:
Once in a great while, however, a book [of historical fiction] comes along whose truth is so powerful that even the literary critics and professors take notice. Francis Spufford’s Red Plenty: Industry! Progress! Abundance! Inside the Fifties Soviet Dream is such a book. It contains more “truth” about the Soviet project than an entire library of “serious” novels and dry-as-dust histories. If I had to recommend one book on the Soviet Union to someone who wanted to understand it, Red Plenty would be it. Read it.
The group will meet on most Tuesdays during winter term from 11:10-12:15, and you can sign up with Professor Galambos or Professor Gerard. The reading should be an ideal complement for those taking Professor Galambos’ comparative economics systems course.
If you have some time in the next 50 days before next term starts, you might even be able to get a head start.
We do this every term, so you could pick up half a course over the course of a year.