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The King of Vodka


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About the Author

Linda Himelstein began her career in the Washington bureau of The Wall Street Journal before working at The San Francisco Recorder and Legal Times. In 1993 she joined BusinessWeek as legal affairs editor, writing about a wide array of topics, including the tobacco industry and Wall Street. One of her cover stories helped BusinessWeek win the National Magazine Award. Later, as the magazine's Silicon Valley bureau chief, she wrote about the infancies of eBay, Yahoo!, and other companies. She lives with her family in Northern California.


Journalist Himelstein recaptures Russia's golden age through the eyes of the former serf-turned vodka entrepreneur, Pyotr Arsenievich Smirnov (1831-1898). From his early days as a "small-time liquor peddler" to one of Russia's richest men, Smirnov was the nemesis of teetotaling Tolstoy-who blamed the country's late 19th-century woes on his countrymen's thirst for alcohol. As the first Russian brand architect and seller of high-quality, low-cost liquor, Smirnov makes for a fascinating subject in his trajectory and outsize ambition. He applied for the title of Purveyor to the Imperial Court, but "the tsar's refusal, rather than deflating Smirnov's outsized ambition, emboldened it. It aroused something deep inside the man, a creative spark that transformed Smirnov from a competent businessman into one of the most ingenious marketers of his time." While the dozens of obstacles, including the closure of the Imperial Archives and a dearth of information about Smirnov's years of serfdom, might have deterred lesser researchers, Himelstein has triumphed with a timeless book that entertains, informs and inspires any would-be entrepreneur to chase his dreams. (May) Copyright 2009 Reed Business Information.

One of "the year's best books." -- BusinessWeek "The book is an impressive feat of research, told swiftly and enthusiastically." -- San Francisco Chronicle "Himelstein brings thorough research and strong writing to bear on a fascinating subject." -- BusinessWeek "Himelstein makes Russian history and even current politics come alive." -- USA Today "Linda Himelstein has pulled off a remarkable storytelling feat." -- Julia Flynn Siler, author of The House of Mondavi: The Rise and Fall of an American Wine Dynasty "To follow the lives of members of the Smirnov family in this vivid account is to experience the flow of Russian history from the 1830s until the present. " -- Professor Patricia Herlihy, Professor Emeritus, History, Brown University and author of The Alcoholic Empire "The story of the Smirnov family is an operatic tour-de-force, and Linda Himelstein tells it with grace and passion." -- Tilar J. Mazzeo, author of The Widow Clicquot "An astonishing tale..." -- Miami Herald

This is an excellent book about the beginning, peak, near death, and resurrection of one of the best-selling brands of premium spirits. The name Smirnov once represented the splendor of tsarist Russia, and Pyotr Smirnov was one of the great men of his time. Himelstein (former Silicon Valley bureau chief, BusinessWeek) documents Smirnov from his beginnings as a serf in mid-19th-century Russia to his rise to the pinnacle of prerevolutionary society. She also looks at the effect vodka had on that society and the effect the revolution had on the Smirnov family (the distillery was confiscated, prompting Smirnov's business to expand beyond Russia). Himelstein continues following the brand and the family up to the present, including the machinations of various branches of the Smirnov family to regain control of the Smirnov name. This is an extremely well researched book, to be expected from a journalist of Himelstein's stature. She succeeds in making the intertwined stories of the Smirnov family and of Russia both academically rigorous and accessible to general readers curious to know more about their favorite vodka's history.-John Sandstrom, El Paso P.L., TX Copyright 2009 Reed Business Information.

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