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Hammer & Tickle by Ben Lewis

Hammer & Tickle (2008)

by Ben Lewis

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I think Ben Lewis's research methods and conclusions were interesting and insightful. The book is primarily a narrative of his research process, which can be slow at moments but gives credibility to his ideas. He skillfully blends jokes into the story. I learned a lot about the people who lived under the USSR by reading the jokes, and I laughed. ( )
  TrgLlyLibrarian | Feb 1, 2015 |
Jokes are nostalgic, the narrative is boring although seems quite authentic. ( )
  everfresh1 | Dec 19, 2010 |
Lewis says that an eighth of the people in the gulag were there for ‘telling anecdotes’, a figure that he finds small but I thought sizeable enough. The joke about the notorious White Sea canal project, built by prison labour, goes as follows:

Who built the White Sea canal?

The right bank was dug by those who told jokes…

And the left bank?

By those who listened.

The point of punishing joke-tellers was to demonstrate that the state would tolerate not the smallest or most casual expression of dissent, as Roy Medvedev tells Lewis. There’s a joke about that as well:

What is the difference between Stalin and Roosevelt?

Roosevelt collects the jokes that people tell about him, and Stalin collects the people that tell jokes about him.

More here: http://aroundtheedges.wordpress.com/2010/05/20/the-seven-wonders-of-communism/ ( )
  nextwave | Jun 15, 2010 |
And we could have seriously done without the tedious examination of Lewis' love-life. Good idea ruined by author self-insert. ( )
  sloopjonb | Jul 6, 2009 |
An interesting premise, and one that works fine when Lewis is capable of sitting back and letting the jokes and the people telling them do the talking. The problems arise from his constant need to insert himself and his presupposed conclusions into the narrative, alienating his interview subjects and leaving the reader to wonder just how much better the book might have been had it had a less opinionated interviewer as an author. ( )
  g026r | Jul 2, 2009 |
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The truth is forbidden, it is expelled;

All the doors and the windows are closed to it now.

And yet, I believe in the people’s instinct for the truth,

I still believe in common sense.

An anekdot goes amongst the people

Its way to the soul is through eyes and ears.

Perhaps, this anekdot won’t reach our grandsons,

But al least our contemporaries will speak their heart in it.

Great men, decorated with crowns or with wreaths,

May be flattered most cleverly and skilfully.

But the people crack a good joke about them -

And perish all the praise, be it written or verbal.

The historians, digging through the archives,

May curse or glorify these people tomorrow.

But our trial by anger or laughter,

Is by far fairer than latterday judgements.

— From 'Impatience', Lazar Shereshevsky,

Gulag survivor and poet, 1955
For Nick and  Dad, and für K.
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Did you hear about the political system that was laughed out of existence?
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"Communist jokes are the strangest, funniest, most enchanting and meaningful legacy of the 80 years of political experimentation in Russia and Eastern Europe, known as Communism. The valiant and sardonic citizens of the former Communist countries - surrounded by an invisible network of secret police, threatened with arrest, imprisonment and forced labour, confronted by an economic system that left shops empty, and bombarded with ludicrous state propaganda - turned joke-telling into an art form. They used jokes as a coded way of speaking the truth." "'Hammer and Tickle' takes us on a unique journey through the Communist era (1917-1989), and tells its real history through subversive jokes and joke-tellers, many of whom ended up in the gulags. It is also illustrated with a combination of rare and previously unpublished archive material, political cartoons, caricatures, photographs and state-sponsored propaganda."--BOOK JACKET.… (more)

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