Wayne S. Vucinich Book Prize

2014 Citation Recipient


Kate Brown

The Wayne S. Vucinich Book Prize, sponsored by the Association for Slavic Studies, East European, and Eurasian Studies (ASEEES) and the Stanford University Center for Russian and East European Studies, is awarded annually for the most important contribution to Russian, Eurasian, and East European studies in any discipline of the humanities or social sciences published in English in the United States in the previous calendar year. 

The 2014 Wayne S. Vucinich Book Prize was awarded to Kate Brown for  Plutopia: Nuclear Families, Atomic Cities, and the Great Soviet and American Plutonium Disasters (Oxford University Press) 

Plutopia is about the effects of processing plutonium on the “nuclear families” and “atomic cities” assembled for that purpose. It is an accomplished work of comparative history – or in fact, the history of linked projects, which entail simultaneously feats of engineering, social engineering, and ideological savvy and ambition, and which result in matching and interconnected environmental, medical, and ultimately (especially in the Soviet case) social cataclysms.  This is a gorgeously written book, truly heartbreaking but also meticulous, deeply analytical and complex, an extraordinary study of how persons are coerced to go along with the crazy (truly crazy) military projects of utopian states, and how invisible the catastrophes of the cold war remain, even to many people who worked at the heart of plutonium production and suffered (indeed, still suffer) its devastations. The book compels us to see the cold war period and its aftermath in a new light, providing much food for thought about the hard issues of security vs. the right to privacy, knowing what we know and yet failing to act on the knowledge. This is why Plutopia is not only a very engaging book, but also a very important one.

Honorable Mentions

Valerie Kivelson recieved an Honorable Mention for Desperate Magic: The Moral Economy of Witchcraft in Seventeenth-Century Russia (Cornell University Press)

Kivelson’s is a fascinating history, with a powerful argument well situated in the theoretical literature on witchcraft from anthropology and social history.  The book is especially effective in teaching us about ideologies and discourses of class and class injury in the seventeenth century, much of it strikingly relevant to the present. The notion of a fraying social order that pervades the book is absolutely compelling. No less so is the discussion of torture – a history of which has never been recorded so meticulously for Russia. In Kivelson’s assessment, gender is not as important as some other categories of analysis. This is as courageous as it is persuasive. Beautifully written, the book is an absolute page-turner.

Derek Sayer recieved an Honorable Mention for Prague, Capital of the Twentieth Century (Princeton University Press)

Rich in associative exuberance, Derek Sayer’s book offers a thoroughly new perspective on Prague’s twentieth century and even Europe’s. The stories of artists, their lives, their loves, their shows, their conflicts, their peregrinations – all make for a wonderful history of surrealism and its intellectual and cultural contexts in twentieth-century Europe. The erudition is spectacular. The themes of modernisms and metamorphoses are handled with great deftness, and the chapter on architecture is simply splendid.