Stalin Showed that a Single Individual’s Decisions Can Matter

(p. C29) . . . , [Stephen Kotkin] is not shy about assailing what he regards as false interpretations by other historians. His Stalin is not a disciple who deviates from Lenin; he is Lenin’s true disciple, in pitiless class warfare, in the inability to compromise, and, above all, in unshakable ideological conviction.
. . .
There is little equivocation in Mr. Kotkin’s judgments. Scholars who argue collectivization was necessary to force Russian peasants into a modern state are “dead wrong.” The conclusion by the British historian E. H. Carr that Stalin was a product of circumstances, and not the other way around, is “utterly, eternally wrong.” On the contrary, it is one of Mr. Kotkin’s major theses that Stalin “reveals how, on extremely rare occasions, a single individual’s decisions can radically transform an entire country’s political and socioeconomic structures, with global repercussions.” Or, as he puts it in a more graphic passage: “The Bolshevik putsch could have been prevented by a pair of bullets” — one for Lenin and one for Stalin.
. . .
This reader, for one, still hopes for more evidence that Stalin was indeed singular, a historical malignancy, and not a product of circumstances of the kind that might already be shaping the next chapter of Russian history. And that only whets the appetite for the next installment, in which Stalin decides to starve Russia almost to death to bring peasants under state control. That, Mr. Kotkin has already declared, was an assault on the peasantry for which there was no political or social logic, and that only Stalin could have done. It is a testament to Mr. Kotkin’s skill that even after almost a thousand pages, one wants more.

For the full review, see:
SERGE SCHMEMANN. “From Czarist Rubble, a Russian Autocrat Rises.” The New York Times (Sat., JAN. 8, 2015): C29.
(Note: ellipses, and book author’s name in brackets, added.)
(Note: the online version of the review has the date JAN. 8, 2015.)

The book under review is:
Kotkin, Stephen. Stalin: Volume I: Paradoxes of Power, 1878-1928. New York: Penguin Press, 2014.

“How You Gonna Keep ’em Down on the Farm”

Wikipedia tells us that the song “How Ya Gonna Keep ’em Down on the Farm (After They’ve Seen Paree?)” was popular after the end of World War I.

(p. C6) Dick Cavett, a son of Nebraska, used to ask (quoting Abe Burrows), “How you gonna keep ’em down on the farm, after they’ve seen the farm?”

For the full review, see:
A. O. SCOTT. “Off to the Stars, With Dread and Regret.” The New York Times (Weds., NOV. 5, 2014): C1 & C6.
(Note: the online version of the review has the date NOV. 4, 2014, and has the title “Off to the Stars, With Grief, Dread and Regret.”)

The Case that Hamilton Was Better than Jefferson

One of my entrenched beliefs has been that Thomas Jefferson was one of the great heroes of human history, and Alexander Hamilton was not. It is rare that I read something that changes my entrenched beliefs. But Ron Chernow’s Alexander Hamilton did that. He makes a strong (and long) case that Alexander Hamilton was mainly a decent, brilliant, courageous, hard-working, self-made man, who not only talked the talk on liberty, but walked the walk (taking fire in the revolution, and strongly opposing slavery). He wasn’t perfect in either his personal life or his beliefs. But he now has my vote as one of the great heroes of human history (and Jefferson does not).
In the next few weeks, I will quote several of the most revealing or thought-provoking passages of Chernow’s book.
PS: I also previously learned a lot from Chernow’s Titan, a big book about a big entrepreneur.

Main book discussed:
Chernow, Ron. Alexander Hamilton. New York: The Penguin Press, 2004.

Other book, briefly mentioned:
Chernow, Ron. Titan: The Life of John D. Rockefeller, Sr. New York: Random House, 1998.

Wall Street Democrats Question Hillary Clinton’s Views on Job Creation

(p. B1) “Hillary said what?”
That was the question whispered among some of Wall Street’s most prominent Democratic supporters over the weekend after Hillary Rodham Clinton spoke on the campaign trail for Martha Coakley, the Democratic candidate for governor of Massachusetts.
“Don’t let anybody tell you that it’s corporations and businesses that create jobs,” Mrs. Clinton said on Friday in Boston.

For the full commentary, see:
ANDREW ROSS SORKIN. “Wall St. Wonders About Hillary Clinton.” The New York Times (Tues., OCTOBER 28, 2014): B1 & B6.
(Note: the online version of the commentary has the date OCTOBER 27, 2014, and has the title “Hillary Clinton’s Comment on Jobs Raises Eyebrows on Wall St.”)

In Defense of the “Degar-Andish”

(p. C9) “The Lonely War” begins by retelling a lesson from Ms. Fathi’s mother, imparted on the first day of third grade. “If anyone asks you whether your parents support the revolution, you must say, ‘Yes, they do.'”
. . .
As the Islamic dress code became obligatory, Ms. Fathi and her sister, Goli, faced the tyranny of a “morality” teacher at school who tried to mold them into ideal Muslim girls.
The author remained steadfastly critical through it all. “To feel human,” she writes, “we needed to retake control of our minds as well as our bodies. We waged the war on both fronts.”
. . .
Defying a ban on covering the protests any further, Ms. Fathi was under surveillance at her home and tailed by government agents; her life was threatened. She, her husband and two children left Iran in June 2009.
. . .
Her portraits of the women’s rights activists Faezeh Hashemi and Shahla Sherkat make for fascinating reading. So do her accounts of other courageous Iranian women like the lawyers Mehrangiz Kar and Shirin Ebadi (the first Muslim woman to be awarded the Nobel Peace Prize, in 2003), who made legal challenges against discriminatory laws against women, and publishers like Shahla Lahiji who dared to print the work of those branded as “degar-andish,” literally, “those who think differently.”

For the full review, see:
NAHID MOZAFFARI. “Books of The Times; Portrait of Iran, Where Revolution Is Ideological and the Costs Are Human.” The New York Times (Thurs., Jan. 1, 2015): C9.
(Note: ellipses added.)
(Note: the online version of the review has the date DEC. 31, 2014.)

The book under review is:
Fathi, Nazila. The Lonely War: One Woman’s Account of the Struggle for Modern Iran. New York: Basic Books, 2014.

Piketty Prefers Reform Instead of Receiving Legion of Honor

(p. A16) PARIS–French economist Thomas Piketty, author of the best-selling book “Capital in the Twenty-First Century,” has turned down the Legion of Honor, saying the government should focus on reviving the country’s anemic economy rather than “decide who is honorable.”
Mr. Piketty’s refusal of one of France’s highest distinctions–announced via a short declaration to the Agence France-Presse news agency–is a snub to the government a day after President Fran├žois Hollande cited the global influence of French scholars as evidence of the country’s unfailing might.

For the full story, see:
INTI LANDAURO. “French Economist Refuses State Honor.” The Wall Street Journal (Fri., Jan. 2, 2015): A16.
(Note: the online version of the story has the date Jan. 1, 2015, and has the title “French Economist Thomas Piketty Refuses Legion of Honor.”)

Free Market Tour Guide Challenges Savannah’s Attack on Free Speech

(p. A25) SAVANNAH, Ga. — Especially when she sips French onion soup at a restaurant that was featured in the Julia Roberts movie “Something to Talk About,” Michelle Freenor is an irrepressible tour guide.
She rattles off the history of Methodism in this city, as well as tidbits about William T. Sherman’s March to the Sea. She discusses the canopy of Spanish moss that hangs above Savannah’s streets, whether “Jingle Bells” was actually composed here, and just how haunted one of the country’s largest historic landmark districts might be.
But Ms. Freenor has also emerged in recent weeks in a new role: plaintiff in a federal lawsuit that could reshape Savannah’s lucrative and potent tourism industry. Backed by a nonprofit law firm with libertarian leanings, Ms. Freenor and three others, including her husband, are challenging the Savannah ordinance that requires tour guides to hold licenses and pass regular academic and medical examinations.
“It’s the free market that made us successful, not the City of Savannah,” said Ms. Freenor, 43. “You shouldn’t have to pass a test to be able to tell people where the best ice cream in Savannah is.”
. . .
“What tour guides do is talk for a living,” said Robert Johnson, one of Ms. Freenor’s lawyers. “They’re just like stand-up comedians, journalists or novelists. And in this country, you don’t need a license from the government to be able to talk.”

For the full story, see:
ALAN BLINDER. “Lawsuit May Reshape Tourist Industry in History-Rich Savannah.” The New York Times, First Section (Sun., DEC. 21, 2014): A25 & A31.
(Note: ellipsis added.)
(Note: the online version of the story has the date DEC. 20, 2014. The online version says that the New York paper version of the article started on p. 28. It does not say on what page of that edition, the article continued. My page numbers are from the National Edition, which I usually receive.)