I've been wrestling with two Russian for Beginners books on my own for the last year. The end of this one is finally in sight, thank God. It's a book which is by turns frustrating and rewarding.
Frustrating because the authors, for some reason, feel it is necessary that as a beginner I learn how to say "tonight there will be a fancy dress competition", "in Russia 60 per cent of all health care specialists are female" and "I am writing a dissertation about education in Russia". All this before teaching me how to tell the time or buy train tickets.
Frustrating because at the beginning of every new chapter you're confronted with 50 or 60 new words to learn as well as 2 or 3 ridiculously silly grammar rules (the fact that Russian grammar is silly is obviously not the authors' fault). There's no revision, no consolidation, no time to sit back and say, "yep, learnt that".
Frustrating because the Berlin wall fell 12 years ago (alright only 8 when this book was written). But do we get anything of interest about post Soviet Russia? Net.
But despite its serious shortcomings this book is rewarding. Rewarding because it is thorough. If you invest time and patience in this book, you cannot fail to learn a lot. A fair bit of the subject matter is useful and interesting and the taped conversations and oral excercises are excellent.
Apart from that I'd say that the overall presentation is poor and that the careless mistakes which crop up in more or less every chapter show a lack of respect for the student.
This is not a bad book. It does the job. But if you are on your own and you are not a) a genius or b) a masochist, you will need something lighter to go with it.