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See all free Kindle reading apps. Start reading The King of Vodka on your Kindle in under a minute. Don't have a Kindle? Harper Perennial; Reprint edition 30 November Language: Be the first to review this item Would you like to tell us about a lower price? Customer reviews There are no customer reviews yet. Share your thoughts with other customers. Write a product review. Most helpful customer reviews on Amazon. This story of the Smirnov family is a riveting account of their family, Russia and how Vodka survived through the Russian Revolution through today.

An interesting read takes you through history, the struggles Pyotr who started out as a peasant surf and gained honors in his Vodka industry to today's consumption and sales. The book flows like Vodka. If you like Russian history and the story of the inception of Vodka, I recommend this book.

Very informative in the way it described Smirnov's rise from serfdom to great wealth, the impact of vodka on the Russian culture, and the political impact on the government. It's amazing and in our election year, somewhat scary to read about the total transformations of such a large country. It was certainly well researched.

I strongly recommend this book to anyone who has an interest in politics, Russian history, or likes to drink vodka! His imagination coupled with his knowledge of all Well written history of more than vodka, Few would think that 18th century Czarist Russia would be the birthplace of modern marketing. Smirnov's skills at marketing: A satisfying, enjoyable read. Rather, they suffered greatly under the heavy weight of mounting tax obligations and a decline in world grain prices.

Their living conditions plummeted pg. Her explanation of Smirnov changing trains in Warsaw to reach Vienna from Moscow because of the difference in Russian rails from European ones pg. Later, crime, and especially violent crime, is tied to alcohol consumption in the same way Tolstoy and others might have made this argument pg. Himelstein could but neither acknowledges nor explains this major logical problem.

The author is clearly very familiar with Russian and uses Russian terms to illuminate cultural points, but never in know-it-all fashion. Everyone is familiar with the form of names like Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky Peter, Son of Ilya ; Himelstein uses this form of address in dialogue to demonstrate relationships of respect or formality without interrupting her train of thought pg. The narrator is trustworthy because she is a completely objective expert.

The best example is the beginning of Chapter 15 pg. Russia came into the twentieth century resembling a tree in early autumn. All of its leaves were still intact and bountiful, some even quite beautiful. But they had begun to lose their vibrancy. Though few said so openly, there was a growing sense among certain sectors that it was only a matter of time before the nation, like the decaying leaves, fell to the ground exhausted.

In the subsequent pages pgs. Her writing is sprinkled throughout with such inspired passages. It is completely effective and enjoyable everywhere. In addition to the strength and elegance of the writing, The King of Vodka benefits from the high quality of its images beginning pg. Himelstein has chosen photographs, some of them apparently acquired with some difficulty, that not only illustrate but add to descriptions found within the pages of her book. They demonstrate not only personalities, but significant events and conditions of society, and their clarity is remarkable.

These wonderful photos give a face to every character, illuminating the heights they reached and the depths to which they fell. The photographs are used as an effective narrative tool rather than a visual aid. In such a great work of non-fiction, it is shocking that so many errors can be found. These have certainly not destroyed the quality of the writing, but they all detract from it.

Some of them do, in fact, obscure or change the meaning. Several times, atypical or unidiomatic usage can be found, the kind that might be expected of a non-native writer, which Himelstein, a career journalist with several major newspapers and magazines, would not seem to be. It would be possible that unusual usage is meant to contribute to the tone of the book by giving a sense of Russian syntax if this usage were found throughout the book.


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We are still waiting for the second dash to conclude the interruption and return us to the main idea of the sentence, but, like a CD skipping, somehow end up back in the stream of the sentence without knowing how. Some distractions are errors in type-setting: Some are terms used illogically: Other more serious errors do not actually change the meaning of what Himelstein wrote but do change the emphasis, which takes away from the carefully polished quality of her writing.

The worst of the errors change the meaning of what is written on the page. It is probably meant that the murderers were stunned when the victim was unaffected. Jul 26, Chris rated it liked it. Pretty good, but at times dry. Kind if ironic for a book about alcohol. Jun 04, Necessittee rated it it was amazing.

I thought the history of alcohol could be boring, but Pyotr Smirnov's story is surprisingly interesting. Equal parts intriguing and factual. From serf to the King of Vodka, Pyotr's story becomes increasingly more interesting with each turn of the page. If you want to know the origin of Smirnoff vodka, then this book is a great place to start.

If you want to dip your toes into Russian history, you can't go wrong with this book. While it focuses on Smirnov's story and later his family's, it does p I thought the history of alcohol could be boring, but Pyotr Smirnov's story is surprisingly interesting. While it focuses on Smirnov's story and later his family's, it does provide information on Russian events as they happen. This is a well-researched and detailed account not just of Pyotr Smirnov but also of his family, both before and after his birth, that is surprisingly easy to read given the many and varied themes and events that are discussed, ranging from the life of a serf in 19th Century Russia to the changing political climates through the 19th and 20th Centuries and beyond.

As vodka is my spirit of choice, I was fascinated by the drinks early days and the various monopolies applied by the Russian governmen This is a well-researched and detailed account not just of Pyotr Smirnov but also of his family, both before and after his birth, that is surprisingly easy to read given the many and varied themes and events that are discussed, ranging from the life of a serf in 19th Century Russia to the changing political climates through the 19th and 20th Centuries and beyond. As vodka is my spirit of choice, I was fascinated by the drinks early days and the various monopolies applied by the Russian governments to the drink, not to mention how it appeared in modern times following the reinstatement of the vodka monopoly in Bolshevik Russia.

An excellent and thorough account that really brings the vodka story to life. Nov 21, Paul Pessolano rated it really liked it. Pyotr was born into a family of serfs a Russian name for slave and his father was determined to better himself and his family. His father broke the bonds of serfdom but Pyotr took up the fight and through cunning, manipulation, and ingenuity, not only found respectability but wealth. He did all of this by becoming the major distiller and supplier if Vodka in Russia.

This entitled him to carry the State Emblem on his product. The business kept growing and the Smirnov family began to live a palatial life. Their business and lifestyle came into hard times due to the State taking over the Vodka industry and a grass roots objection to alcohol consumption. Russia was quickly becoming a country of drunks and the State was being blamed because their revenues were largely obtained through the sale of vodka. The Smirnov family also began to have problems that are often associated with wealth. The sons and daughters showed little interest in the business but had no problem throwing their money around carelessly.

The fall of the Tsars doomed the family as all their holdings were seized by the State. Many left the country almost penniless and an effort was made to rekindle the family business and name. Knowing what is to come, there is a great sense of loss that permeates the story of the Smirnov's Jul 05, Vicki rated it it was ok. How could a book about a fascinating man and fascinating times in Russia be so dry? Lots of interesting history, but more of a textbook rehashing than a compelling narrative.

The King of Vodka: The Story of Pyotr Smirnov and the Upheaval of an Empire by Linda Himelstein

Jun 13, Ann Aldrich rated it it was amazing Shelves: A very interesting study of how vodka has influenced the history of Russia and how the Smirnoff family made vodka an international standard. Written with just the right amount of scholarship -- educational but not tedious. Sep 10, Crystal Forbes rated it it was amazing. Anybody with any affinity or interest in Russian history will enjoy this book.

Provided useful insight into the pervasiveness of alcoholism in Russian culture. Aug 04, Bryan Bradley rated it liked it. The history of Russia through the prism of vodka. Mar 22, Julie rated it it was amazing. So interesting-could not put it down!

[email protected]: Linda Himelstein

Jul 17, Alfredo Gershberg rated it it was amazing. Dec 29, Chip Hunter rated it it was amazing. Linda Himelstein provides a thorough but concise look at a truly remarkable story taking place from the early 's until the present. It is also a wonderful narrative of the turbulent and frustrating history of Russia. It also presents many lessons f Linda Himelstein provides a thorough but concise look at a truly remarkable story taking place from the early 's until the present.

It also presents many lessons for any student of society, economies, and history. The first half of the book tells of a driven and talented man that fights against the worse kind of odds to become a successful capitalist and provide for his future, his family, and his legacy. While it sounds much like the typical American story of the poor man pulling himself up by the bootstraps, Pyotr Smirnov's journey was in most respects more difficult and more unlikely. The strict class divisions of Imperialist Russia even with Alexander II's liberalization of the economy presented impossible-seeming barriers to those with aims to increase their social standings.

And life in Russia in the mid 's was no certain thing when it came to health, safety, and liberty. The story of Smirnov's rise speaks to the power of the determined human mind and should be inspiring for anyone looking to better their lives.

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After the establishment of Smirnov vodka as an eminently successful venture, and the accumulation of vast wealth by the Smirnov family, the story becomes one of frustration and disappointment. The life Pyotr Smirnov provided for his family was one of luxury and privilege, in every way different than the one he himself grew up with. Unfortunately, growing up with a feeling of entitlement does not always produce the most respectable or successful of adults. Smirnov's children provide an excellent example of this phenomenon, as they enter lifestyles of frivolity and more or less squander the company and the fortune their father had left them.

As we all know, this is an all-too-common occurrence, no matter what country or age you live in. While by no means did Smirnov begin and establish his company in a 'free country', this book makes it quite clear that his fortunes were largely determined by the whim of the current Czar or the directions of political winds. As regulations are relaxed and freedoms increase, Smirnov's enterprise flourished and provided wealth and jobs for hundreds of Russians. When government reasserted itself, the reverse occurs. This has also been a common theme throughout the history of our world, and one that continues to spawn political arguments even today.

While it is no wonder that Smirnov's company eventually disappeared in Russia with the Bolshevik Revolution and the rise of Communism , it is interesting that only in America at the time a more free economy could the company really take off to reach its current giant status as Smirnoff Vodka. If you're up for reading an incredible and personal story and learn a lot about the history of Russia at the same time, this book is for you. Very well written and enjoyable!

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Jan 19, L Lee rated it it was amazing. With great conviction and aplomb, author Linda Himelstein offers readers The King of Vodka, a business history, biography, and captivating tale rolled into one. A former reporter and bureau chief for Business Week magazine, Himelstein sweeps the reader into nineteenth-century Russia and the world and life of Pyotr Smirnov. Born into serfdom in , Smirnov rose to business and social glory through his own smarts and resourcefulness ultimately to build and lord over the heavyweight of all vodkas With great conviction and aplomb, author Linda Himelstein offers readers The King of Vodka, a business history, biography, and captivating tale rolled into one.

Born into serfdom in , Smirnov rose to business and social glory through his own smarts and resourcefulness ultimately to build and lord over the heavyweight of all vodkas. Himelstein's narrative captures the reader from the start. In her prologue about the scene at Smirnov's funeral, she writes, "As December arrived, a chill snuck up on Moscow like an invading army. Snow began to fall before daybreak and continued without interruption.

Soon, a thick coat of white buried the city. Sledges, large wooden carriages that glided around town on metal runners, took the place of clumsier wheeled vehicles. Within a day, temperatures dropped another fifteen degrees, leaving Russia's then second-largest city in its more typical seasonal state: The heavy wooden doors parted and the archdeacon from St. John the Baptist Church emerged, softly reciting prayers. A group carrying a coffin cover decorated with a wreath made of natural flowers fell into line after him. A choir came out then, singing the Holy God prayer, followed by a dozen workers At last, a coffin emerged, draped in a sumptuous fabric made of golden brocade and raspberry velvet.

He rounded up job hunters, took them to his house, fed them vodka and food, and presented his instructions: Highly compelling is Himelstein's placing Smirnov in historical and cultural context. Himelstein describes in vivid language the rising wave of Russian capitalism in the s and s and the forces that threatened the business: Tolstoy's anti-alcohol campaign, labor unrest, and, finally, the revolutionary fervor that ultimately resulted in the nationalization of the company.

Himelstein's eye-popping level of research, which included traveling to Russia and tapping into hundreds of historical sources, including a newspaper that confirmed the weather on the day of Smirnov's funeral, allowed her to write this narrative with authority and passion. It's a wonderful read for anyone interested in Russian history or great entrepreneurs of the past, or anyone who yearns for a tale of human initiative and turmoil. A toast to The King of Vodka. Aug 03, Ralphz rated it really liked it Shelves: The story of a one-of-a-kind man, a Russian serf who became a tycoon, right at the confluence of capitalism and communism.

You know the end, Smirnoff vodka rules the world, a distinctly Russian drink that becomes a worldwide phenomenon. But the origin is interesting enough.

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Pyotr Smirnov, an indentured servant, sees an opportunity at the last days of the Tsars and little by little builds a business and then a brand, and then an empire. He sought, and received, the imprimatur of the Tsar, and beca The story of a one-of-a-kind man, a Russian serf who became a tycoon, right at the confluence of capitalism and communism. He sought, and received, the imprimatur of the Tsar, and became a big-timer. The whole thing comes crashing down as communists nationalize the business and Smirnov dies without his creation.

This is a really interesting look at alcohol, Russia and the forces that changed the world. For more of my reviews, go to Ralphsbooks. Jun 07, Louise rated it really liked it Shelves: Through the story of the Smirnov family, author Linda Himelstein gives the story of commerce, political events the social strife of 19th and early 20th century Russia. Through Pytor Smirnov who built his business under 4 tsars, we see slices of daily life in the late 's.

I was surprised at the social mobility, particularly for serfs, and the bureaucracy one needed to navigate to get a merchants' license. In the days before consumerism and mass marketing Smirnov had great instincts on how to Through the story of the Smirnov family, author Linda Himelstein gives the story of commerce, political events the social strife of 19th and early 20th century Russia.

In the days before consumerism and mass marketing Smirnov had great instincts on how to build a brand. Established prior to Alexander II's reform policies, Smirnov was able to compete with freed serfs who also made vodka and prosper in a boom economy. The author shows how Smirnov's dedicated himself to a strategy to become "purveyor to the tsar". He made himself accepted by the nobility through church and charitable donations, marrying "up", educating his sons and building international recognition. The second generation of Smirnov owners was hardly up to the task of maintaining the business, and the challenges were great.

I was not surprised that they sued each other, but was surprised that the legal system would be so highly developed in an autocratic country. The book describes how in the early 20th century the second and third generation coped with the power of the tsar and later the Bolsheviks. Not all biographers can present their research an interesting way. Linda Himelstein is able to do this.