I just got done reading Francis Spufford's "Red Plenty". In one modestly thick volume, it gave me insights into the Soviet economy of the 1950s and 1960s that an entire semester of college failed to give - the failures of central planning, the strange prices that led to strange decision making, and (most importantly) the optimism of the late 1950s when everything was humming along nicely.
Some other reviews of the work, so that I don't miss them:
It’s not SF. It’s not really fiction, though it’s not non-fiction either. It’s something strangely between the two, a fictionalised non-fiction book about the Soviet Dream. Reading it partakes of some of the pleasures of reading especially geeky SF, and some of the pleasure of reading solid well-written nonfiction on a fascinating subject. It’s about history, economics, how technology and ideology interact, and how theory and practice are different, with examples. What it’s most like is reading an extended version of one of Neal Stephenson’s more adorable infodumps, only with footnotes and a proper end.
Crooked Timber put together a Red Plenty reader with about a dozen essays.
Adam Roberts writes in Strange Horizons, a science fiction review:
To take the first first. When people talk about "science fiction" the science they are thinking of (as it might be) physics, or chemistry, or perhaps biology. But that's a narrow way of taking things. The science in Red Plenty is economics, and reading the book will teach you a tremendous amount about the logic (and illogic) of running a planned economy on the Soviet scale. The speculative portion of the science here is the striking attempt by Vitalevich and Nemchinov to modify the catastrophically inflexible Soviet economic model with a mechanism—"shadow prices"—better able to match supply to demand without simply instituting Capitalist "free" markets. Perhaps it sounds dry, but I found it fascinating, and precisely as science-fictional as a proposed new spaceship drive or cloning technology.