Thursday, July 10, 2008

Nicest review ever

A lot of people might miss this one, because it is only on, so I am posting it here. I like it, because, for one thing, just like my book, it is short and easy to read. The other reasons should be obvious. Cheers, M. Lyster!

NOT just another doom-monger book

There are just too many books about peak oil and other imminent economic, social and ecological crises, which all seem the same. They go over familiar ground and display no new insight or real depth of thought. I'm tired of reading them. Too often the author is a recent convert to these views and lacks the authority or background to contribute anything new, concluding feebly that the reader should learn about gardening and drive a smaller car. Well, duh! as my kids would say.

What a refreshing change to read Orlov's quirky and thought-provoking book which takes the basic premise of looming crisis for granted, and gets straight into delivering his first-hand insight into the collapse of the Soviet economy in a fresh, non-mathematical way (there are no graphs or tables of data) and how most people survived it. Not only that, but all delivered with the wickedly dry wit of a native Russian, living in the USA, who is clearly tired of hearing Americans crowing that they won the Cold War.

To give an example from the introduction, Orlov mentions a survey of Americans which asked, "Will you be able to afford to retire?" (one third said no). Without stopping to go over familiar arguments, Orlov proceeds immediately to strip away the euphemisms and assumptions, and translate the question as "Will you survive when you are too old to work, if not, what are you doing about it?". From his Russian experience, he then adds "Here is a bad solution: get drunk a lot."

Although aimed squarely at an American audience, this book is just as valuable for Europeans, and I recommend it to anyone who realises that our high-consumption, supermarkets-and-jet-planes society cannot last much longer, and is interested in thinking right through what that really means. Orlov treats his readers as intelligent people who will reach their own conclusions, and do not need to be spoon-fed with fatuous recommendations. It's a treat.

M. Lyster, Oxford, UK


Wiglaf said...

"Nicest review ever" suggests that the book isn't as good as the review makes it. Hopefully this isn't the case. "Non-mathematical" isn't a plus for me but the next-to-last paragraph piqued my interest. I may actually get the book.

Anonymous said...

I love your book and have recommended it to a friend who I know will appreciate your wit.

Anonymous said...


Just dropped by to say that I received your book in the mail today and have been enjoying the first few chapters. The tone is very readable and even offers a few chuckles among the prospects of doom and gloom. As you say, economies collapse, but new economies emerge. Gonna try to see the upside.


Anonymous said...

I reviewed it on Goodreads, and three of my friends added it to their list of books to read.

Three down, 152 to go...

Anonymous said...

This was interesting to notice happening in the US too:
"Mich. cities say hundreds of manhole covers stolen"

I read the same thing mentioned in your book as have happened in Soviet Union. I remember similar things happening in Yugoslavia. Once people start stealing manhole covers, the country is in deep trouble. So long USA as a superpower, collapse is coming.

The article is published at:

Here is the article contents:
FLINT, Mich. - Officials in Flint, Mich., say they've had to replace hundreds of manhole covers and grates that were probably stolen and sold for scrap.

The Flint Journal reported Monday that nearly 400 cast iron covers and grates have been taken from streets in the past year. A cover can fetch $20 from a scrap yard but can cost the city more than $200 to replace.

Officials in neighboring Burton say they've lost about 200 covers and grates during the same period. Utilities supervisor Mike Holzer says it leaves behind holes up to 35 feet deep.

Genesee County officials say they've been able to reduce thefts of county-owned covers by outfitting them with a bolt that is turned by a wrench only they have.

Anonymous said...

I just discovered that you live on a Morehead Hogfish...

Nice choice, Dmitry!


Anonymous said...

make that a Morejohn....


Anonymous said...

Have you had a chance to read Charles Hugh Smith's critique of Reinventing Collapse? I think he makes a couple of valid points, e.g. on the likely role of churches in the aftermath of the collapse. I'd be interested in reading your rebuttal. Thanks.

DarkOptimism said...

Hi Dmitry,

Thought you might be interested in my review too. I know it's stimulated a few sales!

All the best,

Dmitry Orlov said...


Here's what I wrote to CHS when his critique came out:

Hello Charles,

Thanks for recommending my book, but I dare say you got a few things wrong:

The collapse of the USSR was a political act; the USA is facing a resource-depletion-financial crisis.

The distinction you are drawing is not a valid one. The USSR went through peak oil at a time when internationally oil prices collapsed. The resulting foreign currency shortfall drove it deep into debt, threatening to cut off grain supplies on which its population depended, and making it politically necessary for it to appease international creditors. The political collapse happened because the politicians knew that the economic game could not be played for another round and thought they could still cash in their chips. I think we might see that happening here as well. Gaidar is the required reading here.

You are right that the USSR was less tapped out than the USA in terms of natural resources, oil and natural gas especially. This made the post-collapse shortages that happened rather less severe than they will be here. But the idea that the Soviet collapse was pure politics invalidates much of your discussion. Pure politics must be like absolute vacuum: not observable in nature. You are partially correct that the Soviet system couldn't deliver; nor can the American one. But, if you read Tainter, you'll find that all advanced societies are very good at solving all sorts of problems, and, in absence of other signficant phenomena, "it was a bad system" is no explanation for their collapse.

Another key difference between the USSR and the USA is that if you stood up and confronted the government there, you were taken away; here, you're a hero/heroine.

All the political prisoners were released some time before the USSR collapsed. Plenty of people stood up to confront the government - perhaps more so than here in the US. There are not too many differences here, but there is a big similarity: political action was pointless in the USSR, and it's pointless in the USA.

Thanks again for recommending my book, but, as my friends in the hard sciences like to say in conclusion, "More research is needed."