The Russian Job

The Forgotten Story of How America Saved the Soviet Union from Ruin

After decades of the Cold War and renewed tensions, in the wake of Russian meddling in the 2016 election, cooperation between the United States and Russia seems impossible to imagine—and yet, as Douglas Smith reveals in The Russian Job, it has a forgotten but astonishing historical precedent.

Overview of the Book

In 1921, facing one of the worst famines in history, the new Soviet government under Vladimir Lenin invited the American Relief Administration, the brainchild of Herbert Hoover, to save communist Russia from ruin. For two years, a small, daring band of Americans fed more than ten million men, women, and children across a million square miles of territory. It was the largest humanitarian operation in history—preventing the loss of countless lives, social unrest on a massive scale, and, quite possibly, the collapse of the communist state.

Now, almost a hundred years later, few in either America or Russia have heard of the ARA. The Soviet government quickly began to erase the memory of American charity. In America, fanatical anti-communism would eclipse this historic cooperation with the Soviet Union.

Douglas Smith resurrects the American relief mission from obscurity, taking the reader on an unforgettable journey from the heights of human altruism to the depths of human depravity. The story of the ARA is filled with political intrigue, espionage, the clash of ideologies, violence, adventure, and romance, and features some of the great historical figures of the twentieth century.

In a time of cynicism and despair about the world’s ability to confront international crises, The Russian Job is a riveting account of a cooperative effort unmatched before or since.

Select Photographs from the Book

One of the countless Russian orphans abandoned to fate during the famine.

Hungry Russian children beseeching members of the American Relief Administration for food in the village of Vasilevka in April 1922.

An American Relief Administration warehouse in New York City with supplies awaiting transport to Russia.

One of the ARA’s trucks outside an American-run student dining hall.

Four Russian girls enjoying their meal of bread, rice, beans, and cocoa outside an ARA kitchen in Moscow in March 1922. The ARA provided lunch for four thousand children at this one location every day.

Henry Wolfe, second from right, and Soviet officials posing with grisly proof of cannibalism, Samara Province, 1922