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the king of vodka

The Story of Pyotr Smirnov
and the Upheaval of an Empire

The King of Vodka is a surprising and timely tale of courage, determination, triumph, and ultimately tragedy. It is also a hopeful story, one that proves that ingenuity and a bit of luck can trump entrenched societal prejudices and economic barriers. Pyotr Smirnov was an uneducated serf who came from virtually nothing to become one of Russia's wealthiest and most prominent merchants. His rags-to-riches-to-rags journey, which sparked the ire of Chekhov, the opposition of Tolstoy, and the respect of the Tsars, is a testament to the genius of the man himself as well as to the unexpected opportunities that surfaced in the final decades of the Romanov's rule.

By following the odyssey of Smirnov and his expansive family, readers are treated to the story of Russia itself. Smirnov was born in 1831 in a small village during one of Russia's worst cholera epidemics. Vodka was his ticket out of this peasant life, a commodity that for centuries has, in many ways, defined Russia and its citizens. Settling in Moscow, Smirnov basked in a golden age of reform that began with emancipation, relying on grassroots marketing to popularize his products and establish his brand. His life became one of privilege. Smirnov's ascent would have continued uninterrupted had it not been for a series of devastating labor strikes, social uprisings, and a government-imposed vodka monopoly. Ultimately, the Smirnovs lost it all, high-profile yet typical victims of the Bolshevik revolution and the chaos it unleashed. Were it not for the bizarre escape of one of Smirnov's sons from a prison in 1919, Smirnov's legacy would have almost certainly faded into oblivion. Instead, Smirnoff vodka today is the best-selling premium spirit in the world, a drink beloved by British spy James Bond since the 1960s, and a brand worth an estimated $4.7 billion. 

The result of exhaustive and meticulous research, The King of Vodka is a captivating and memorable narrative.