Communism on Tomorrow Street -- Mass Housing and Everyday Life After Stalin by Steven E. Harris, Woodrow Wilson Center/Johns Hopkins UPress '13, stated First Printing. $60, 394 pages, ASIN #1421405660. Index, bibliography, notes, b&w images sprinkled through text.
In 1953, Nikita Khrushchev transitioned abruptly from the "bloody regime" of Josef Stalin to a new day for the Soviet Union. Emblematic of that shift was the new leader's massive program to allow millions of Soviet citizens to move from overcrowded, communal dwellings to separate apartments, "encouraging a thaw in state-society relations, and reviving the country's quest for communism."
The new day dawning for Soviet citizens may not have been as earthshattering as historian Steven E. Harris paints it. The sacrifice demanded of ordinary folk in dozens of nations during the Second World War led to a desperate hunger for a better life in the aftermath of war. Even in the United States, the average citizen didn't own his own home before WWII; the massive programs of the Federal Housing Administration to build millions of suburban homes in the 1950s ushered in a whole new lifestyle, not too different from the concept of the one family--one apartment idea championed by Khrushchev. (This is not to suggest that the communism of the Soviet Union is equivalent to America's capitalistic way of life.)
The author argues that the widespread experience of having one's own apartment was contrary to conventional wisdom that this phenomenon was for the elite, not for the average family. "Communism on Tomorrow Street," writes Harris, "also demonstrates the relationship of Soviet mass housing and urban planning to international efforts at resolving the 'housing question' that had been studied since the 19th century and led to housing developments in Western Europe, the United States, and Latin America, as well as the USSR."
Author Steven E. Harris is an associate professor of history at the University of Mary Washington.
Plutopia -- Nuclear Families, Atomic Cities, and the Great Soviet and American Plutonium Disasters by Kate Brown, Oxford UP '13, $27.95, 406 pages, ASIN #0199855765. Index, no bibliography, notes, b&w images sprinkled through text.
Historian Kate Brown's new book underscores the fact that the story of the Cold War hasn't nearly been finished, as she deconstructs the plutonium disasters of the United States and the Soviet Union.
From the dust jacket:
"In Plutopia, Brown draws on official records and dozens of interviews to tell the extraordinary stories of Richland, Washington; and Ozersk, Russia -- the first two cities in the world to produce plutonium. To contain secrets, American and Soviet leaders created plutopias - communities of nuclear families living in highly-subsidized, limited-access atomic cities.
"Fully employed and medically monitored, the residents of Richland and Ozersk enjoyed all the pleasures of consumer society, while nearby, migrants, prisoners, and soldiers were barred from plutopia -- they lived in temporary 'staging grounds' and often performed the most dangerous work at the plant.....In four decades, the Hanford plant near Richland and the Maiak plant near Ozersk each issued at least 200 million curies of radioactive isotopes into the surrounding environment -- equaling four Chernobyls -- laying waste to hundreds of square miles and contaminating rivers, fields, forests, and food supplies."
Kate Brown teaches history at the University of Maryland, Baltimore County; is the author of one previous book,and was a 2009 Guggenheim Fellow.
Thinking the Twentieth Century by Tony Judt with Timothy Snyder, Penguin Press '12, $36, 424 pages, ASIN #0143123041. Index, works discussed, no notes or illustrations.
The dust jacket summarizes the content of the final book of Tony Judt, perhaps the most influential public intellectual of the last generation, prior to his death in 2010:
"The twentieth century comes to life as an age of ideas -- a time when, for good and for ill, the thoughts of the few reigned over the lives of the many. Judt presents the triumphs and the failures of prominent intellectuals, adeptly explaining both their ideas and the risks of their political commitments. Spanning an era with unprecedented clarity and insight, Thinking the Twentieth Century is a tour de force, a classic engagement of modern thought by one of the century's most incisive thinkers.
"....In restoring and indeed exemplifying the best of intellectual life in the 20th century, Thinking the Twentieth Century opens pathways to a moral life for the 21st. This is a book about the past, but it is also an argument for the kind of future we should strive for: Thinking the Twentieth Century is about the life of the mind -- and the mindful life."
Tony Judt was educated at King's College, Cambridge; and the Ecole Normale Superieure, Paris; and taught at Cambridge, Oxford, and Berkeley. He wrote or edited 14 books, one of which was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize. He died in 2010 at age 62. Timothy Snyder studied at Brown and Oxford and teaches history at Yale. He has written five books of European history.