314: On An Average Day in The Soviet Union by Tom Heymann

by Gerard

314.7: Heymann, Tom. On An Average Day in The Soviet Union. New York: Fawcett Columbine, 1990. 220 pp. ISBN 0-449-90492-X.

Dewey Construction:

  • 300: Social Sciences
  • 310: General Statistics
  • 314: General Statistics of Europe
  • 314.7: General Statistics of Eastern Europe and Russia

When I came to the realization that I had to read a book concerning the general statistics of Europe, I was already bracing myself for a snooze-fest. Only a few special writers have ever made statistics/demographics interesting. Tom Heymann isn’t one of them. Heymann has written four or five books on population demographics, including a collection on Japan, the U.S. Census, and the average human day. This one is no different.

On An Average Day in The Soviet Union is a dated collection of demographics about the Soviet people and what happens on the average day. Each page has a quick set of stats on consumerism, medical behavior, births and deaths, addiction, news media, etc. Most of the figures given are then contrasted with the same general measure for the American population. Without boring you too much, here are some of the more interesting bits (remember, all of this is for 1990):

  • On an average day, Pravda receives 1,370 (compared to 400 for the New York Times).
  • On an average day, firearms are used to commit 10 crimes (compared to 1,400 in the US).
  • On an average day, 12 books are published in non-Russian (compared to 3 non-English in the US).

The interesting thing about reading this that it made me think of how readers may have interacted with this information 22 years ago. The Cold War was pretty much winding down, but the Soviet Union was still intact. The perestroika (restructuring) and glasnost (openness) policies enacted by Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev unleashed a wave of Soviet culture and information into the world, and apparently, we as Americans were so interested in the goings-on over there that it warranted an entire volume of demographic information.  There is definitely a measure of downward social comparison at play here.

It got me thinking: If, say, Iran or China, began a campaign of similar policies of transparency, would a modern demographer be quick to collate all the intricate measures of daily life and package for our consumption? Would we be interested in such a book? And how would it affect our interaction with such a culture that was simultaneously revealed and previously seen as “foreign”?