It's often said that journalism is the first draft of history, but it may be the final one as well. After the historians have sifted through the data and details, dissected the forces at play, and uncovered the patterns and structures beneath the surface of events, it’s time for a clear and straightforward rendition of who did what and why. That’s very much what Douglas Smith is about in The Russian Job: The Forgotten Story of How America Saved the Soviet Union from Ruin, writing for what he calls 'a general audience' and, for that reason, even dispensing with footnotes. Annals, not analysis ... Despite the epic sweep, the horror and moral splendor of this story, it is essentially unknown to both Russians and Americans ... This book, Smith says at the outset, 'seeks to right this wrong.' It succeeds. Clear, forceful, and compelling, The Russian Job tells us what happened and who made it happen.
Smith tells the story of how the American Relief Administration rescued Soviet Russia when it was struck by the worst famine Europe had ever known. Based on rich archival materials, his book focuses on a group of young Americans who set off for Russia, lured by the exotic and the unknown, and found themselves in the middle of a horrific tragedy ... Rare photos included in the book lend Smith’s account an eerie vividness.
.. the horror [is] well-described by Mr. Smith, who makes excellent use of contemporary sources ... While Mr. Patenaude’s volume remains definitive, its length will be a deterrent to some ... a well-written account of a story that should not have passed into obscurity. Less comprehensive than Mr. Patenaude’s tome, Douglas Smith’s book is still much more than an introduction.
Smith...delivers a narrowly focused history of one program of the American Relief Administration ... His prose moves at a fast clip and takes a matter-of-fact tone about the horrors of the famine. Not all readers may buy the claim that the Soviet Union would have collapsed without this intervention, but this is an intriguing window onto the humanitarian work of the past.
In an often agonizing but necessary book, the author includes letters and anecdotes by participants as well as often horrific photographs, all of which tell a grim story. Starving people do not overthrow governments, so it’s unlikely American aid saved the Soviet Union, but it was a magnificent achievement—and Smith adeptly navigates all elements of the story ... Although the catastrophic Russian famine and American relief efforts are not completely forgotten, this expert account deserves a large readership.