Reinventing Collapse

I’ve just finished Dmitry Orlov’s Reinventing Collapse; The Soviet Example and American Prospects (New Society, 2008).

What fun. The first book on complete societal collapse that had me laughing out loud. It was a riot.

Here is a guy who was born and raised in Russia, got to America while the gettin’ was good, and shuttled back and forth on business ever since. He’s seen perestroika and glasnost first hand-and he knows what the words mean in his native

As a child of the cold war, this book resonated with me. I was raised with black and white images of a bland Soviet Union that needed to be bested at every turn. From the chess board to the hockey rink the important thing was that the Soviet’s got spanked.

It was at a Russian history class at the University of Missouri when I first saw color photographs of beautiful buildings in Moscow and art collections in Leningrad, and for the first time I wondered if perhaps everything I thought about “them” was wrong.

Orlov effortlessly provides a guided tour of the collapse of the Soviet Union, and projects the wisdom on to the United States. It is a marvelous book. He is at once an outsider with an objective point of view, and an inside observer who knows the score.

In a beautiful attempt to describe America’s eating habits he writes: “…Never mind that it spans the entire spectrum of flavors,–from sawdust all the way to carboard-cleverly disguised by the fat, salt, sugar and mystery chemicals. Never mind that this questionable food is often ingested in a hurry, from a piece of paper or plastic. Never mind that it makes people fat, crazy and sick. The portions are nothing if not generous, even for the poorest people, many of whom sport cathedral-like domes and buttresses of fat.”

Just as central planners destroyed sustainable agriculture in the steppes, offering remarkable yields propped up by subsidized petroleum, so did America’s free market economy. We turned family farms into factory farms and marveled at our good fortune.

Look out. Here come rising food costs.

A centralized Soviet control replaced the culturally telling architecture of the people, with efficient uniformity-just as our real estate developers have forgone architectural significance for a uniform suburbia.

Reinventing Collapse is one part cutting insight, one part lunacy, and one part prescient masterpiece, all rolled up in a thin skin of sarcasm that makes the entire package delightful. Orlov gently reminds us that it is better to use rainwater for a solar shower than to run around smelling like a goat.

The “collapse” genre is populated by schools of thought ranging from Heinberg’s realism (doom and gloom), to Diamond’s academic analysis (sad but true), to Kunstler’s speculation (imagine this). Orlov joins the party with a healthy dose of each and immediately establishes himself as a student of all. He is a delightful new voice in the mix.

I like “collapse” books. Playing with collapse is a hobby of mine. And I think Orlov would give us high marks for the “collapse proofing” our project has done thus far.

I loved this book. Buy it here, or get it from the library when you get a chance…

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2 Responses to Reinventing Collapse

  1. Rachel says:

    Very nice review.

    Just this weekend I was chatting with my father about his academic history where he
    relayed his failure of the required college course in Communism in the 60s.

    Back then, everyone was required to the learn about the ‘principles’ of communism

    Wonder how that required course would compare with other “required” classes these days?

  2. Dmitry Orlov says:

    Thanks for a wonderful review! Can you please post it to

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