HarperCollins Speakers Bureau

Linda Himelstein

Veteran, Award-Winning Journalist, Writer of Historical Narrative Nonfiction


  • The King of Vodka: The Dramatic Story of the Making of the Smirnoff Vodka Empire
  • Researching in Russia: The Business and Political Elements of 19th and early 20th Century Russia and Parallels to Today



Linda Himelstein is the author of The King of Vodka: The Story of Pyotr Smirnov and the Upheaval of an Empire (HarperBusiness). A distinguished business writer, Himelstein tells the story of one of the most fascinating salesmen and entrepreneurs the world has ever known. Set against the Russia of Tolstoy and tsars, The King of Vodka is a stirring chronicle of ambition and innovation that has fascinating parallels to the post-communist Russia of today.

A graduate of Scripps College and Columbia University's Graduate School of Journalism, Himelstein is a veteran reporter. She began her career in the Washington bureau of the Wall Street Journal, and from there went on to work for the San Francisco Recorder and Legal Times, members of American Lawyer Media group. She covered congress, federal agencies, city hall, and the courts, and appeared on television outlets such as CNN and C-SPAN as an expert commentator on news of the day.

In 1993, Himelstein joined BusinessWeek in New York as its legal affairs editor. She wrote about a wide array of topics, including the tobacco industry and Wall Street. One of her cover stories, titled the Bankers Trust Tapes, earned national headlines and helped BusinessWeek win the National Magazine Award. As legal affairs editor, Himelstein also covered the lawsuit filed by Smirnov's descendants. They sought to return the trademarks and copyrights of the vodka empire, lost in the tumult following the Russian revolution, to the family and to Russia. It was a fascinating story that earned BusinessWeek's publisher's award.

In 1996, Himelstein relocated to the Bay Area, writing about finance and retail for BusinessWeek. Two years later, she became the Silicon Valley Bureau Chief just as the technology boom took off. She wrote about the infancies of eBay and Yahoo! as well as many other early technology standouts. Despite the excitement of Silicon Valley, Himelstein could not forget the Smirnovs and their compelling story. She wondered what had happened to them and how many other Russians faced similar plights. At the end of 2004, she left the magazine and focused her energy for more than four years on the research, reporting, and writing necessary to tell the fascinating -- and wrenching -- tale in The King of Vodka.

Himelstein lives in the San Francisco area with her family.

Praise for The King of Vodka:

"The book is an impressive feat of research, told swiftly and enthusiastically."
- San Francisco Chronicle

"Himelstein brings thorough research and strong writing to bear on a fascinating subject."
- BusinessWeek

"...certain to fascinate any devoted reader. Himelstein makes Russian history and even current politics come alive through an unlikely narrative thread - the creation of a fortune and the eventual demise of a vodka-producing family."
- USA Today

"A well-concocted blend of business and political history."
- Kirkus Reviews

"An astonishing tale..."
- Miami Herald

"The King of Vodka is partly a founder's biography and partly a colorful chronicle of the rise of a business. Ms. Himelstein, a veteran journalist, keeps her narrative moving neatly along, distilling complex matters of commerce into a clear and readable form."
- Wall Street Journal

"Linda Himelstein has pulled off a remarkable storytelling feat."
- Julia Flynn Siler, author of The House of Mondavi: The Rise and Fall of an American Wine Dynasty

"To follow the lives of members of the Smirnov family in this vivid account is to experiences the flow of Russian history from the 1830s until the present."
- Patricia Herlihy, Professor Emeritus, History, Brown University and author of The Alcoholic Empire

"The story of the Smirnov family is an operatic tour-de-force, and Linda Himelstein tells it with grace and passion."
- Tilar J. Masseo, author of The Widow Clicquot

"Through impressive research and gifted narration, Himelstein unearths and polishes the Dickensian story of Pyotr Smirnov, a strong-willed Russian entrepreneur whose wily maneuverings created the eponymous brand that remains a household name. The intriguing twists and turns of Smirnov's life will appeal even to readers who don't care for Bloody Marys. Himeilstein's grasp of the intertwining of politics and business also yields a parallel story: How Russia's nineteenth-century experiment with capitalism contributed to the country's transition from an oppressive yet orderly Tsarist social order into a nation battered by chaos and revolution."
- Alice Schoeder, author of The Snowball

"Russia is a land of epic struggle, and vodka is the spirit of its tormented soul. Pyotr Smirnov and his extended family provide Linda Himelstein with a cast of unforgettable characters and a vivid narrative that embodies and explains Russia's 100-year journey from Tsarism to Bolshevism. I can think of no better way to bring this wrenching story to life. The King of Vodka is a triumph."
- Tom Gjelten, author of Bacardi and the Long Fight for Cuba