tv [untitled] CSPAN June 20, 2009 4:00pm-4:30pm EDT
became independent, france could capitalize on that. it was the defeat in france that led to the timing of independence. >> talking about clinton reenforcing foreign policy, did clinton make some mistakes in reinforcing cornwallace? >> in fact, he could have recalled cornwallis entirely to new york, which is probably what he should have done. he knew as early as june that cornwallis was in virginia. by late may or the first of may, he knew that cornwallis was in virginia. in the summer, he gets intelligence reports that indicates that degrasse is bringing the french fleet from
the north. he knows he is coming to the north. he thought that there would be a campaign that rauchambeau and washington would try to attack new york. he could have recalled cornwallis at that point to new york. he didn't, in part because he expected some reinforcements from the caribbean himself, which he got. it turned out to be useless since rauchambeau, washington didn't attack, but he didn't get those reinforcements and he thought they would be adequate. but also because he was confident that the allies could not succeed in new york, he can inability to repulse an attack,
>> for fun i'm rereading the 17 volumes of insulin and his new young author, author s. named lisa lutz. it's the spellman files. she is young, hip, crazy reader and writer eric if i can get through that this summer i will feel good. >> i'm looking forward to my summer vacation and my summer reading. i'm going to read adam got neck. this is a longshot, but i am reading about the story of lincoln darwin and modern life. and that's my lead-in. that i carry my books about lincoln and my books about fdr which i take with each trip and i get to be. i will do it this summer. >> to see more summer reading list and other program information, visit our website at booktv.org.
>> business week legal affairs editor linda himelstein discusses her book the king of vodka and the life of pyotr smirnov, the creator of smirnov vodka. she talks about spinouts rise amid lower class families to be one of the wealthiest businessmen in russia. kepler's books in menlo park, california, host the event. >> i'm just thrilled to be here. i love this bookstore. it is such a wonderful institution. so, the king of vodka, i get asked more than anything else why i wrote this book. and it's actually a really good question particularly for people who know me will. the research that was required for this book was absolutely immense. and it was mostly in banking, early century russian archives
in russia. i live here and i don't speak a word of russian. so that was my first problem. secondly, the book really follows the story of russia itself in 19th and early 20th century russia. from the crimean war to emancipation, to industrialization to all of the labor strikes, the fall of the czars and of course the russian revolution. i had never studied russian history. another problem for me and as you probably figured out, by now if you have tasted some of the vodka as you are walking in, this book was about a man who made vodka. and i am not much of a drinker. so the question, why would i write this book is a very good one. and the answer simply is it was just too amazing of a story to ignore. when i was the legal affairs editor for businessweek magazine, in 1996, a man came to
see me. and he brought with him a long, white squirrel that he unrolled on a conference room table. and it turned out to be a smirnov family tree going back to the 17 hundreds. and he began to tell me the story of this family who began as serfs, and as you probably know surfs with the lowest of the low in russia. and pyotr smirnov, our hero in the story here, was born a serf, completely uneducated, had absolutely no connections of any kind, grew up in a very rural village. and yet by the end of his life, managed to become one of the most successful and prominent merchants in all of russia. he was one of the wealthiest men in russia when he died. and having been born a serf, he ended his life being granted honorary nobility, which was a huge deal at the time. it just did not happen. so as of this mankind told me the bare bones of the story, i felt like this is something i had to find more out about, and
he had actually come to see me to tell me about how smirnov's descendents, some of them were suing in court in different places in the world to try to get their trademarks and copyrights back. they had felt they had been taken wrongly from them after the revolution. and after communism fell, they were trying to get them back. so i wrote the story for businessweek. and was just really fascinated by it and continue to be fascinated and followed the story. but for a while didn't really do a whole lot with the. i moved out here. i became the silicon valley bureau chief. i was coming ebay and yahoo. there were other things happening in my life, but then i read a book that you probably are familiar with called seabiscuit. it's a great story about an underdog horse who comes from nothing and wins it all. and it's -- it's sort of a wonderful unexpected sort of surprised dorey, but what it also is, it's a great lesson in
history. you learn about how jockeys live. you learn about the history of horse racing. you learn about all kinds of things above and beyond the story itself. and when i read that book, a light bulb went off in my head and i thought that's what i want to do with smirnoff. so that's kind of how i got started on all this. and i would like to read a very stored passage for you from the book that i think will demonstrate to you what a surprising life this man had and why i couldn't get him out of my head. the smell of mud and whetstone had in the wrote here. moscow had been in the mist of an unusual warm spell. it was already late november, yet dandelions and daisies were poking out of the earth nurtured by a steady balmy drizzle. a few flakes of snow that had fallen had quickly vanished leaving calls those glistening on the ground.
as best springlike days wore on it seemed like winter might never come. but it did finally. as december 18 98 arrived, a chill snuck up on moscow like an invading army. snow began to fall before daybreak and continued without interruption. soon a thick coat of white periodicity. within a day, temperatures dropped another 15 degrees leading rushes and then second largest city in its more typical seasonal state, gray and frigid. little else however was typical that december day. particularly at the corner just past the cast-iron bridge. a pathway that led directly to red square and the kremlin. it was 8 a.m. crowd flowed into this neighborhood known as the. wealthy businessman a ride with their elegant wise, important government officials and religious leaders left behind other pressing matters to make an appearance, workers and peasants showed up in droves.
spilling out into the street leading to saint john the baptist church. the crush was so dense that movement became almost impossible. horse dawn transit usually seesawed through the senator were forced to stop running, as long lines of mourning carriages around the block at 9 a.m. the bell rang out snapping the masses to attention. all eyes turned toward eight majestic funeral chariot outfitted with a canopy of rich silver brocade. it was part before the grandest residence on the block, a three-story high mansion that was a testament to the architectural beauty cropping up all over russia. the heavy wooden doors parted in the archdeacon from saint john the baptist church emerged, softly reciting prayers. a group carrying a coffin decorated with a read a unnatural flowers fell into line after him. a choir came out and followed by a dozen workers. each carried a pillow with sacred medals and honors earned
by the deceased during an extraordinary life. other church elders and dignitaries followed next. at last, a coffin emerged great in fabric made of golden brocade and raspberry velvet. it was the second day of december. and his elegant tribute was not 40s are or a high ranking minister or a military chief. the man inside the long oak box was pyotr smirnov, arguably the most famous vodka maker in the world. most of the information from that passage into the newspapers that covered his funeral. when i read about that, i don't know about you, but i was pretty amazed that they made such a fuss out of the vodka maker. so i really made it my mission to find out why. and i think you will find it hopefully as fascinating as i did. one of the things about smirnov was that he was really an extraordinary marketer.
when he began making his vodka in the 1860s, there were literally thousands of vodka makers in russia. and at that time there were no protections for brands, and it wasn't likely that you are going to advertise because most people were illiterate. and you couldn't really make flashy labels. that was very expensive, and smirnov didn't really have that much money to do that anyway. but what he did do and what he did know was his customer. he had been a serf himself, and he knew what kinds of things people responded to. so very, very early on in his career as a button maker, smirnov went to a place in moscow called the market. the market was one of the smelliest, grimy as the most disgusting places in all of moscow. people would serve or try to sell rotten food there and they would keep it worse but actually sitting on the pots that the food was in. that is how they kept warm and as i get the the food warm.
and one of the journalists at the time called it a moving, rotten pit. so you can imagine what this place is like. but smirnov went there because people also came there to get a labor, and he rounded up 15 men and he brought them back to his vodka factory work he sat them down at a long table. he gave them food. he gave them vodka. and then he slapped three rubles down in front of each man. and he said here's what i want you to do. i want you to fan out in moscow and go to the pubs. i want you to walk into the pubs and i want you to demand smirnov vodka. and when the waiter tells you they have never heard of smirnov vodka, let me get you something else, i want you to make a scene. and i want you to make a lapsing so that everybody hears you say how could you possibly not have this extraordinary vodka that is the best vodka that's being made anywhere? you must serve it. and call a manager in and make sure everybody hears you.
then leave and go to the next pub and repeat the scene all over again. so these men did that, and as the story goes within literally days, orders for smirnov vodka were flowing in. spinoff was smart. he wasn't done. he called me back to his factory and he said okay, moscow is good, but rush is a big country. i want you to get on the trains and i want you to get off at every single stop and i want you to do the same thing there. and literally within an extraordinarily short period of time, smirnov vodka was one of the top producers of vodka in all of russia. however, he was doing very well with the masses. people that came from backgrounds like his, but he really, really long to be accepted by the aristocracy. he wanted more than anything else really to be the sars purveyor. and they were not hanging out at the pubs in moscow and in the countryside.
these people were at the restaurants and very swishy clubs. he had to figure out something else. and what smirnov did was actually, he is brilliant, he started first to enter competition, international competition outside of russia. so he went to vienna and he went to paris and he went to philadelphia and chicago. and he entered his liquors in these competitions and he started to rack up some awards. and there was nothing that russians like better at the time then for western europeans to acknowledge that one of theirs was actually doing something worthwhile. so that was the first lady got some attention for himself. he racked up these awards. but what he also did and what he also had to do was to show himself to be not just a greedy businessman. in russia at the time, as you can well imagine, merchants were not considered honorary folks here there was a sense throughout the society that you
could not be a successful businessman and lets you corrupt. and you are taking advantage of the people and you were doing all kinds of things that were not appropriate. so in order to make themselves, i guess some people said, to atone for their sin of wealth, burgess gave a lot of their money away. they were big philanthropists. so smirnov being a very smart philanthropist, he didn't get his money away to use any charity. he actually went out and saw the charities at the sars favorite. he went out and saw the charities that had been started by the aristocrats and that had aristocrats on their boards. so he was very, very smart in making these connections with the leaders in russia at the time. so by the time 1886 came around and smirnov applied to be the czars purveyor, he became the czars purveyor. and this was a very, very big thing. czars had purveyors for
everything. czars provided them pianos. there was even a real ontrack roil each man. so you could literally name anything and bazaar had a purveyor. but smirnov was the czars purveyor's as well you can well imagine in russia being a vodka purveyor was a very, very big deal. so what happens to smirnov though is that he gets to be so good at what he does, that he almost becomes a lightning rod for the debate on alcohol in russia. so alcoholism still today, problem in russia, then as well a problem in russia. and smirnov being so prominent by then becomes somebody who gets associated with a drinking problem. people began to write about him or people you may have heard of. for example, anton chekhov, the wonderful playwright wrote a column in his early years and he
called smirnov by name and other vodka makers seems a blood. so he didn't mince words at all. another critic was tolstoy. tolstoi, i didn't know this, but i did learn this, he was a very prominent advocate in russia and he devoted much of his writing and much of his talking and much of his energy to the sobriety movement. in fact, there's a great story about tolstoi calling the people together in the village, putting together a sheet of paper down at a table at a table. it's basically a document and telling all the meds i want you to sign his. this as i'm going to give up drinking, i'm going to give up smoking, all of these terrible vices because tolstoy really believed that it deadened your conscious and it made russian people do they wouldn't otherwise do. and that's why russia was a more productive and successful. so he got all these people to sign this, and then he actually
had a ditch dug and he made people come with her flask and a little tabasco pouches and anything else that could possibly get them and they had to throw in the ditch and then he buried it. that was of that. of course, this did not work, but it was a good effort. it was a good attempt at tolstoi kept up his rants about the alcohol problem for years. in fact, i found out that he was one of the people who designed what would have been one of the very first alcohol warning labels. and it was like a skull and cross bones and adjusted poison your. [laughter] >> but they rejected it so it never happened. but tolstoy was defective in raising the profile of the alcohol problem in russia. and as a result, the czar at any of the 19th century instituted a vodka monopoly decided that government was better suited to taking care of the vodka economy
than individuals. and that was a huge blow as you can well imagine to smirnov's business, although not fatal. they did some other things that allowed them to stay afloat. he sold wines. he sold cognacs. they actually even sold vinegar and were able to stay afloat. but smirnov's sons were not smirnov. they inherited the business. and they had issues of their own. they had grown up very privileged. there was nothing they didn't get. they had a wonderful education. they were exposed to all of the finer things in life. and they kind of like it that way. smirnov's oldest son was probably the most like smirnov himself, and he predominately led the business until his death in 1910. but the other brothers had issues. one brother bought algol is in all his life and was never really interested in the business. another brother was much more interested in theater and horse racing, and sold his rights in the business. another brother was kind of a
rebel, and he actually did the unthinkable. he invested about $1 million in a liberal leaning newspaper that had a jew for an editor. that was a really bad thing to do. but smirnov at the time. so the sun really struggled and of course in the russian revolution happened. and everything in russia was nationalized, all private businesses were nationalized. and the smirnov's suffered like a lot of people did at the time. you know, losing really everything. one of smirnov's sons, vladimir, was put into a bolshevik prison. he was sentenced to death because he was a capitalist. and he was lined up actually on a wall five different times with a firing squad right in front of him. and they would say ready, aim, and then they would break out in laughter. this was psychological torture. they did this five-time and miraculously and truly the only reason why the smirnov brand
survives today is because the prison that vladimir was in was liberated. so he was able in 1919 to flee russia. he went to western europe, try to reestablish the brand, not particularly successful, but he did try and ended up licensing the brand to a russian immigrant who was living in the united states. so in 1934, smirnov became the first vodka that was produced and sold in the united states. it was not a success. it was a disaster. the united states was pretty much a beer drinking, whiskey loving nation and we weren't so excited about this vodka thing. so for years this man, struggled. until he ended up selling the brand again to a company you might have heard of. is now part of a larger company, but known for a-1 steak sauce. and nothing really happened for
a while until after world war ii. and after world war ii, john martin who was ceo of this company decided, you know, we have to do something with this vodka. we have to get rid of it. so he got together with his friend who was the owner of the cock and bull in la which was the hollywood watering hall at the time and the owner of the cock and ball had ginger beer. and he did to get rid of the ginger beer. they decided let's get our drink together. i don't know how many of you have tasted the moscow mule here before you sat down, but before they invented the moscow mule. it was incredibly successful in part because john martin borrowed some of smirnov ultrix. he took one of the very first polaroid cameras and he went into the bars in la and he took one picture of the bartender making the moscow mule and he gave it to the bartender. he took a second picture and he walked to the next bar and he
said hey, your competition is making this great drink. is called the moscow mule. everyone is making it, why are you making it. 37 it became extra in a popular drink in the united states and smirnov took off in the united states. i find it amazing, smirnov was born in 1831. he died in 1898, and today the smirnov is the best selling spirit in the world, the number one brand, the most valuable spirits brand in the world. it ubiquitous as you might imagine. it james bond vodka of choice, for god's sake. how much better does it get than that. the story, it's kind of an amazing story because relevance today. we know the product. there's things happening in russia that are reminiscent of some of the things that happen in the book that i hope you will read. and that's why i had to write this book. so i hope you will like it, and
i will be delighted to answer any questions that you might have. and i've been told they would like you to come and ask questions in the microphone. so thank you very much. [applause] >> has the smirnov families in the book and if they have, what are their feelings about it? >> well, i don't actually know. i don't know if they have seen it. the book has not been translated into russian. it's going to be in portuguese. it's going to be an uncaring and other languages but it's not going to be in russia. the descendents of that i met with when i went to russia were in russia and they only spoke russian. so we are working on potentially seeing if we can get them the book and seeing what they would think. to be honest, they were not particularly enthusiastic about my project. at the time i started this, the lawsuit was still going on.
and when i went to russia and met with smirnov great-granddaughter, no matter what i said, i could not convince her that i was an independent journalist pursuing a story that i found fascinating. she assumed that i had been hired by the company that owns the smirnov brand now and i was writing the book to help them win the lawsuit. so just the idea of an independent journalist, it just didn't work. and to be fair, they were too excited about talking to me either. we spent a lot of time in the archives. >> do you think that the smirnov vodka today taste anything like his smirnov vodka? or do you have any clue as to what that would have been like? >> well, you know, i have been asked that question a lot. and as i said i'm not a big
drinker, so it's a little bit hard for me to tell. but initially my understanding was that they were making smirnov vodka the way that they always had made it, there were some 300 recipes that survived the revolution and were taken to western europe. but when i put the question to biagio, they didn't really quite make it clear so i'm not sure. some of the recipes though, some of the flavored vodka and things smirnov deftly made during his time. he actually would have done really well in the current world because he was a fanatic about fresh and local and natural. he used to have herbs and fruit cardigan from the countryside. literally, wagonload's brought into his factory in moscow. and that was how he infused his vodkas. he never used essences or artificial flavorings of any kind. those were only introduced later. >> can you talk about the
language barrier you probably had, not speaking russian and how you got into the archives and how you found people to help you get the information that you are looking to translate into english? >> well, i was very, very, very lucky because i found the world's most wonderful woman to be my researcher and translator. and she really stayed with me the whole time. she is a russian living in moscow, and she was extraordinary. she was really, i could not have done this without her. and i did find that i needed, not only for the language issues, but for the cultural issue to. as an american it was tough going into some of these archives and explaining what i wanted to do, and getting over some of the prejudices of my being an american. she obviously didn't have any of the problem. so i relied on her hugely. and i was also fortunate that there was actually a smirnov vodka archive if you can believe it at harvard university.
i got access to hundreds of documents there, and thankfully most of them are already translated. so it was kind of a really, really like you break for me. and there's actually some stuff at columbia university as well. i get some things at berkeley so i was able to do some of the research here which really helped, but it was my researcher in moscow. i had a real vision for what i wanted to do with this book, so i was able to funnel questions to her and then she would really go out to the countryside and deal with. [inaudible] >> how did i find her? there is actually a woman in san francisco who is a friend of the friend who is a year. and i talk to her about, she deals a lot with the russian community here and new immigrants to the area. and she actually knew the woman who turned out to be my researcher from her efforts. she put me in