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I read this as research for a novel that I am working on. I was lucky enough to find Russia: Broken Idols, Solemn Dreams at my local Boomerangs (kind of like Goodwill) for $1.00. I had never heard of the book before, but one glance at the back told me that it was for me. Its a dense read, but well-written, informative, and Shipler (who had been sent to Moscow as a NY Times correspondent in the late 70s) informs it with a generous view of human nature. I recommend it to anyone who is a student of history, Russia, or Soviet Communism.I actually read Russia as a companion piece of sorts to G. Hoskings The First Socialist Society. Hoskings book is a thoughtfully crafted text on all of Soviet history. Happily, it filled in a lot of background on Russian history and illuminated my experience in reading Shiplers book.Unlike Hosking, Shipler gives us a comprehensive and microsocial perspective of everyday life in late Soviet Russia. As a Times correspondent working Moscow in the period of late and post-detente, Shipler was granted unprecedented access to Soviet people and was able to interview and interact with a wide range of folks from near-homeless drug addicts (who were officially not supposed to exist), to wide-eyed school children, to farmers, to malcontents, (including prominent dissidents like Andre Sakhorav) to intellectuals, to government officials.By casting his net far and wide and carefully recording notes, histories and anecdotes, Shipler creates a mosaic of late Soviet society, one in which the creative and overly-idealistic are too-often punished, one if which the young are protected by a smothering blanket that one part care and one part lies, one that covets Western technology while cynically rejecting Western-style democracy as a scheme, one in which the savvy and clever know how to cynically manage the seemingly contradictory principals of Communism and self-advancement, and perhaps (most sadly) one that is innately hostile to pluralism.Despite the institutionalized misery of the Soviet system, this was written in the 70s and not during Stalins time, so Shipler also finds small messages of hope in his larger narrative. Including the Russian dedication to education and the safety of their children, the story of a few brave souls who are able to somehow express themselves despite the smothering bureaucracy and blacklisting, and those who manage to maintain a sense of humor about Russias problematic state.If I had one small problem with the book is that it actually runs a bit long for what it is. My paperback version with small font runs nearly 400 pages, and I assume that the hardcover would probably weigh in closer to 500 pages. I actually skipped over some sections as I neared the end and my interest flagged a bit.All in all, however, I found Russia to be well-written, informative. It provides a smart take on every day life at the tail end of the Soviet dynasty.

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