A vivid personal journey into the question of how Communism ruined farming in the Soviet Union, and an indication that we should not look for improvement any time soon. Kramer the author of a highly praised book on farming in the US (Three Farms, 1980, etc.), was asked in 1987 by the New York Times Magazine to explain ``why a nation whose farms stretched from Norway to Korea across eleven time zones suffered nearly empty shops.'' His journeys over a period of seven years provide a devastating picture of a smug and selfish bureaucracy, a disillusioned and unmotivated farming population, an infrastructure where little works, and an industry that simply didn't know how much it didn't know. Kramer imagines telling Iowa farmers ``who demand ambulance-speed service when their combines break'' that a repair service in Russia boasted proudly that it could repair combines in three weeks. What makes it worse is that, on all but Kramer's last trip, he is the guest of the government and is taken to show farms. Over that period, he sees farmers introducing reforms based on personal effort and reward frustrated by the opposition of an officialdom that fears it will be undermined, and by the envy of those working less. Even after 1991, when the Communist Party has fallen, Kramer can discern no improvement. A farmer he had publicized in the US as ``the farmer of the future'' is driven off his land when his rent is raised more than 500 percent. And in an afterword he reports that farm output has fallen by a quarter since the demise of the Soviet Union. Kramer is knowledgeable and he writes well, and it is not his fault, though it is Russia's tragedy, that his account tails off into something close to despair. (An excerpt from this book was included in Best American Essays 1994.)
Privately published by Strunk of Cornell in 1918 and revised by his student E. B. White in 1959, that "little book" is back again with more White updatings.
Stricter than, say, Bergen Evans or W3 ("disinterested" means impartial — period), Strunk is in the last analysis (whoops — "A bankrupt expression") a unique guide (which means "without like or equal").
Noted jazz and pop record producer Thiele offers a chatty autobiography. Aided by record-business colleague Golden, Thiele traces his career from his start as a ``pubescent, novice jazz record producer'' in the 1940s through the '50s, when he headed Coral, Dot, and Roulette Records, and the '60s, when he worked for ABC and ran the famous Impulse! jazz label. At Coral, Thiele championed the work of ``hillbilly'' singer Buddy Holly, although the only sessions he produced with Holly were marred by saccharine strings. The producer specialized in more mainstream popsters like the irrepressibly perky Teresa Brewer (who later became his fourth wife) and the bubble-machine muzak-meister Lawrence Welk. At Dot, Thiele was instrumental in recording Jack Kerouac's famous beat- generation ramblings to jazz accompaniment (recordings that Dot's president found ``pornographic''), while also overseeing a steady stream of pop hits. He then moved to the Mafia-controlled Roulette label, where he observed the ``silk-suited, pinky-ringed'' entourage who frequented the label's offices. Incredibly, however, Thiele remembers the famously hard-nosed Morris Levy, who ran the label and was eventually convicted of extortion, as ``one of the kindest, most warm-hearted, and classiest music men I have ever known.'' At ABC/Impulse!, Thiele oversaw the classic recordings of John Coltrane, although he is the first to admit that Coltrane essentially produced his own sessions. Like many producers of the day, Thiele participated in the ownership of publishing rights to some of the songs he recorded; he makes no apology for this practice, which he calls ``entirely appropriate and without any ethical conflicts.'' A pleasant, if not exactly riveting, memoir that will be of most interest to those with a thirst for cocktail-hour stories of the record biz. (25 halftones, not seen)