Monday, August 24, 2009

Niall Ferguson goodness

I am in the middle of a number of big fat nonfiction books (including the HUGE From Colony to Superpower) so I am taking them all slow. I was slow to start Niall Ferguson's The War of the World, for no real reason I can identify. Maybe the first few pages didn't grab me. Now I am greatly enjoying it.

It is the story of why the 20th century was so violent. He explores the role of ethnic conflict and the replacement of imperial cosmopolitanism with violent nationalism as sources of violence. More on that later.

I just wanted to mention how much I enjoy his prose. While talking about the murderous Stalin regime, he tells the sad tale of the Leningrad Society for the Deaf and Dumb. Having killed off everyone else, the forces of the state decided this fellows were bad news and executed 34 of them for plotting to kill Stalin. Then, in a footnote of all places, he nicely captures the insanity of the regime. If it wasn't so terrible, it would make for an ideal farce.

What had in face happened was that the chairman of the Society had informed on some members who had been selling things on local trains to make ends meet. This denunciation led to the NKVD's involvement. The chairman himself was subsequently implicated in the alleged conspiracy and shot. The following year, the NKVD decided the original investigation was suspect. The local police were then arrested.

Why apologists for Stalin still exist baffles me. If you want to explore this regime from a fictional perspective, I highly recommend Tom Rob Smith's Child 44.

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