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The International Writers Magazine: Reviews

Reinventing Collapse: The Soviet Experience and American Prospects, Second Edition by Dmitry Orlov,
New Society Publishers, Gabriola Island, BC, Canada, 2011,
196 pp., ISBN: 978-0-86571-685-8
& eISBN: 978-1-55092-475-6
Charlie Dickinson
Reinventing Collapse by Dmitry Orlov is a welcome addition to "doomer" literature about societal collapse.


Imagine NPR's Andrei Codrescu introducing a dystopian future and working the laughs. That's some sense of what's in store when you read Orlov's upbeat narrative with its engaging black humor. But beyond the humorous take on a grave topic, Orlov shares a valuable perspective. He grew up in Leningrad (now St. Petersburg) and immigrated to the USA in the 70s. He witnessed firsthand the collapse of the Soviet Union during return trips. With bicultural eyes, he astutely essays why America could suffer a similar superpower fate.

Unlike other "doomer" books, Orlov doesn't pin his thesis to one factor going south. Currently, worldwide debt crises are in play. Everyone talks about credit market collapse. Earlier, the Peak-Oil theorists pointed out a really different post-petroleum future. Orlov, in this second edition of Reinventing Collapse, avoids singular dependencies, instead offering the whole gestalt for why the Russian experience probably applies to us.

Sure, every American knows why America differs from Russia: democracy and capitalism versus socialism and central planning. And concludes Communism earned its way into history's dustbin. But wait, what of the similarities? Why for three decades were these two superpowers either #1 or #2 in "the space race, the arms race, the jails race, the hated evil empire race, the squandering of natural resources and the bankruptcy race," as Orlov puts it. None of these "races" is sustainable and eventually the piper must be paid. Or, as Orlov puts it, the nation has a poof moment like his Motherland Russia.

Perhaps Orlov's most valuable contribution is he knows pre-collapse conditions in the Former Soviet Union and how those conditions changed post-collapse. Russians adapted and made the transition. With tell-it-like-it-is dark humor, Orlov projects the Soviet collapse experience onto what might happen in America. Not quite the same. Russia had a relatively "soft landing" post-collapse, given subsidized housing, cheap mass transit, free universal health care--among other missing ingredients if America reinvents collapse. Orlov doesn't know if America is in for the Mad Max-type hard landing. But his analysis of why America might no longer be Earth's favorite child-nation and how we might adapt and prepare for "interesting times,"--told with signature humor--makes for great reading.

© Charlie Dickinson Oct 20th 2011
CD writes from Portland, Oregon, USA. His blog is at

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