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The Ransom of Russian Art

I generally think of John McPhee as painting pictures with words. As a result, his books are rarely illustrated, except with maps and other austere diagrams. This book is different. It has vibrant color plates of paintings by Russian dissident artists who were working in the USSR when being creative was punishable by imprisonment or death. He specifically focuses on the activities of one eccentric collector, Norton Dodge, an absent minded professor of a man who, through many trips to the Soviet Union in the 60’s and 70’s managed to collect a huge amount of this art, essentially preserving an entire art form for posterity. The books goes back and forth between examining the climate in Russia and examining Dodge’s own strange life and habits. McPhee interjects himself as Dodge’s examiner more than I have seen him do in any other book I have read by him. The book is short, filled with rich details and characters and a captivating story.