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Let Our Fame Be Great: Journeys among the defiant people of the Caucasus [Hardcover]

Oliver Bullough
4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (16 customer reviews)

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Book Description

4 Mar 2010

Two centuries ago, the Russians pushed out of the cold north towards the Caucasus Mountains, the range that blocked their access to Georgia, Turkey, Persia and India. They were forging their colonial destiny, and the mountains were in their way.

The Caucasus had to be conquered and, for the highlanders who lived there, life would never be the same again.

If the Russians expected it to be an easy fight, however, they were mistaken. Their armies would go on to defeat Napoleon and Hitler, as well as lesser foes, but no one resisted them for as long as these supposed savages.

To hear the stories of the conquest, I travelled far from the mountains. I wandered through the steppes of Central Asia and the cities of Turkey. I squatted outside internment camps in Poland, and drank tea beneath the gentle hills of Israel. The stories I heard amplified the outrages I saw in the mountains themselves. As I set out, in my mind was a Chechen woman I had met in a refugee camp. She lived in a ragged, khaki tent in a field of mud and stones, but she welcomed me with laughter and kindness. Like the mountains of her homeland, her spirit had soared upwards, gleaming and pure. Throughout my travels, I met the same generosity from all the Caucasus peoples.

Their stories have not been told, and there fame is not great, but truly it deserves to be.

Product details

  • Hardcover: 528 pages
  • Publisher: Allen Lane; First Edition edition (4 Mar 2010)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1846141419
  • ISBN-13: 978-1846141416
  • Product Dimensions: 16.2 x 3.6 x 24 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (16 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 118,425 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Oliver Bullough is a journalist and author from Wales who moved in 1999 to Russia to work as a journalist. He worked first for local newspapers in St Petersburg and Bishkek (Kyrgyzstan), then for Reuters. He stayed in Moscow, mainly reporting on the war in Chechnya, until 2006.

Since leaving Reuters, he has written two books. The first -- Let Our Fame be Great -- is about the peoples of the North Caucasus, and his travels to find their scattered communities. The second -- The Last Man in Russia -- is a biography of a dissident Orthodox priest, whose life closely mirrors that of the Russian nation in the 20th century, and sheds light on the demographic tragedy of modern Russia.

He writes for newspapers and magazines in Britain and North America, and is currently planning a third book.

Product Description


This wonderful, moving book flashes backwards and forwards over a terrain almost impossible to survey, and manages the feat (Norman Stone )

Lively and impassioned ... a tragically neglected corner of our world (Orlando Figes )

A book that effortlessly mixes on-the-spot reportage and a wide-ranging history . . . Let its fame be great (The Scotsman )

An impressive debut … heartfelt and compelling … With this impassioned volume he has struck a blow for the glory of the Caucasus and helped to give voice to the voiceless (Justin Marozzi Financial Times )

[Bullough] brings us exciting news, presented as short, gripping stories that tell of the terrible things that happen to people caught up in constant warfare ... The history of their resistance and resilience has been largely unknown for two centuries. Now their stories are sung by a champion and will resound beyond their boundaries (Ian Finlayson The Times )

Oliver Bullough’s book is a painstaking, sensitively reported effort to knit together their [the people of the Caucasus] lost history (Wendell Steavenson Sunday Times )

Bullough should be congratulated on his brave and tireless investigations into an under-reported region of the world (George Walden New Statesman )

Let Our Fame Be Great is a treat ... Finely bound, with excellent maps, Bullough draws you irresistibly into his narrative, fusing reportage, history and travelogue in colourful, absorbing prose ... The book is a pleasure, and most importantly, it is critical to understanding modern Russia with its worrying collective amnesia (Daniel Metcalfe Spectator )

Fascinating and ground-breaking ... Bullough has got plenty of dust, snow and mud on his boots from his travels recording the forgotten tragedies of the North Caucasus ... In the process he [has] unearthed many priceless nuggets of historic truth (Thomas De Waal OpenDemocracy )

A courageous young journalist illuminates one of the world's most ethnically and culturally diverse regions. His travels and historical back-stories show that contemporary brutality in Chechnya is nothing new, and reminds us of the fate of whole nations such as the Circassians, scattered to the winds by Russian imperialism (FT )

The majority of the stories are frankly heart breaking ... Bullough’s book means that while the peoples of the Caucasus have had neither fame nor glory at least their stories may be told (Will Gourlay Lonely Planet )

About the Author

Oliver Bullough was born in 1977 and grew up on a sheep farm in mid-Wales. He studied modern history at Oxford University and moved to Russia in 1999. He lived in St Petersburg, Bishkek and Moscow over the next seven years, working as a journalist first for local magazines and newspapers, and then for Reuters news agency. He reported from all over Russia and the former Soviet Union, but liked nothing more than to work among the peoples and mountains of the North Caucasus.

He moved back to Britain in 2006, and has spent the following years travelling for and writing this book.He now lives in east London. He likes to travel, to take photographs, to watch Welsh rugby, to cook and to read.

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Customer Reviews

4.5 out of 5 stars
4.5 out of 5 stars
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Essential reading ...... the Caucasus. 29 July 2013
I am always very wary of reviewers telling their own story rather than providing useful comments for potential buyers/readers. However, here is what I believe is some necessary context.

In the early 1970s I took a Black Sea cruise with the travel firm Clarksons. Istanbul - Constanza (Rumania) - Odessa - Sochi and back to Istanbul. At Sochi the boat docked at a wharf alongside a main road. No fences or walls divided the town from the port. Russian soldiers put up low barriers around the boat and gangplank more to allow easy access to and from the boat rather than any secrecy. Sochi townspeople came to lean on the barriers and stare at us. The snow covered Caucasus mountains formed a dramatic backdrop to the town and port. Those of us with visas were able to go into the town. I returned with strange Russian cigarettes and chocolate. A short time later Clarksons went out of business and I gave no more thought to the Caucasus. I had no knowledge of the Circassians.

I came to this book with vague memories of the Black Sea, Sochi and the Caucasus but with a desire to further understand developments in and around Russia over the last 30 years. I had not appreciated how complex and important was and is the part of the world I had briefly visited over 30 years earlier. Oliver Bullough has written a wonderful book. In his book he is a travel writer, historian, political commentator and journalist. He has a sympathetic view of the peoples and cultures of the area, a detailed grasp of the history and a sharp assessment of the political involvement of Russia under the Tsars, Stalin and Putin with this mountainous pathway for Catherine the Great and the Tsarist dream of a warm water port.
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10 of 11 people found the following review helpful
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
This is an excellent book, written from a particular viewpoint, but none the worse for that. The author has clearly managed to gain the trust of the many people he visited and spoke to, and has an excellent background in Russian and Caucasian history. It is selective: the Northern Caucasus (very little about the fascinating history of the countries and peoples to the South - Georgia, Azerbaijan, Armenia, and so on), and primarily three nations of the Northern Caucasus. Despite being selective, it is a fine and thought provoking read. No-one will read it and fail to learn more about the interaction of Russia with these peoples.
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10 of 11 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Let this book's fame be great 19 Aug 2010
For those of us who have travelled extensively in the region the rhythms of this text are unmistakable. It captures so well the spririt of those who have inhabited the Caucasus for centuries. The detailed reseach that Bullough undertook means that there is much here you will not read in comparable books.

However it speaks well to those with little knowledge as I then passed it onto my wife who knows little of the area and she adored it and could not put it down. The illuminating and unpatronising tone allows experts and novices alike to enjoy it.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
By F Henwood TOP 500 REVIEWER
This is a remarkable traveller's account of a journey among history's losers. I do not use that term pejoratively. The people of the North Caucasus lost out to Russian expansion in the 19th Century much as the Australian aborigines and indigenous Americans lost out to European settler expansion during the same century. For many in Russia, the Caucasus is either a romantic, wild backdrop to literary classics of Pushkin or Lermontov or cesspit of banditry and extremism. Most are oblivious to the region's dark history, and their country's contribution to it. But much of the outside world has no idea, either. Few realized that the Sochi Olympics were sited on a historical crime-scene, where hundreds of thousands of Circassians were massacred or expelled 150 years earlier. Circassian Diaspora groups protested the crass indifference of Russian officials in staging the Olympics in the place which for them is the equivalent of Auschwitz but their voices were barely heard. The scattered Circassian diaspora lacks the lobbying clout of the Armenian Diaspora. Even if their voices had been heard, who would even have known what they were talking about?

In this book, Bullough travels among the various North Caucasian lands (those parts of the Russian Caucasus bordering modern-day Georgia and Azerbaijan) and their scattered Diasporas. He is a wonderfully vivid writer, evoking a great sense of place, of people, and of those peoples' experience of their space. He relates the stories of a plethora of characters, Chechen Sufi mystics, stranded in exile in Kazakhstan; exiles in Turkey, Austria, and Poland; lonely, heroic survivors of the massacres and deportations of the 1940s and their unavailing efforts to extract justice and compensation from the teeth of an indifferent or hostile Russian state.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars This needs to be read 18 Mar 2014
After reading the novel 'A Constellation of Vital Phenomena' a month or so ago, which is about the wars Russia brutally and relentlessly waged against the people of Chechnya, I realised how little, in fact nothing, that I knew about this region. Sitting here in the southernmost regions of the world, on an island surrounded by water I have no comprehension at all of being surrounded by other countries/nations/states. The closest I get to all that is my neighbours. I felt after reading that novel, in light of Russia hosting the Winter Olympics in Sochi, and in the recent goings on in Ukraine/Crimea that it would be very useful to know a little more about yet another hot spot in our world. I was reading some reviews for this book, and was reminded that those who set off bombs at last year's Boston Marathon were also from Chechnya.

Were my eyes opened in my reading of this book. Chechnya and Sochi are probably the only two places many people have heard of in this region of Europe. They are in the area of land known as the Caucasus Mountains which is a mountainous range part of Russia, separating the Black Sea from the Caspian Sea and by its rugged topography, effectively separating Russia from the countries south of the Caucasus - amongst others Turkey. This area of mountains has been fought over endlessly for hundreds of years between Russia, Turkey, and amongst the numerous and very diverse ethnic groups that inhabit these mountains. There is nothing pretty at all about any of it. Nothing. And it is likely to always be thus.

Oliver Bullough is a Welsh journalist who has developed a passionate interest in making sure that the many voices of the peoples of these regions are heard. From 1999 to 2006 he lived and worked in Russia for magazines, newspapers, and finally for Reuters.
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
5.0 out of 5 stars The Caucasus
The people who live in the Caucasus be it the Circassians or the Chechens amongst others have a remarkable story to be told, the author Oliver Bullough with his contacts in the... Read more
Published 14 months ago by mr j fitzgerald
4.0 out of 5 stars Largely excellent guide to an obscure region that's about to hit the...
This is an excellent account of how over the last 200 years or so Russian and then Soviet forces crushed the various ethnic minorities living in and near the Caucacus mountain... Read more
Published 15 months ago by David Ljunggren
4.0 out of 5 stars Very interesting
Although it does not go very deep in studying any of the people of the Caucasus, it is very useful to give an insight on the region about which generally we don't hear a word... Read more
Published 18 months ago by Maria Leonor de Brito Simões Bolala
1.0 out of 5 stars Where are the maps?
The star rating applies solely to the Kindle version. - I began reading the Kindle edition of this book. Read more
Published 20 months ago by Robert Heinaman
5.0 out of 5 stars An education
The author appears to have travelled extensively (the North Caucasus, Israel, Jordan, Turkey, Russia) to gather material for this excellent book. Read more
Published on 8 Sep 2012 by Brian Lait
5.0 out of 5 stars Fascinating
A brilliant insight into a region which is often misunderstood,and sometimes misrepresented. It tells the story of the Circassians and Chechens, of Daghestan and Abkhazia, of war... Read more
Published on 17 April 2012 by JonP
5.0 out of 5 stars Informative, well paced and difficult to put down
There are now a considerable number of books that mix history with travel journalism dipping between history and modern politics. This book is no different in that respect. Read more
Published on 28 May 2011 by Spilsbury
4.0 out of 5 stars Welcome to the Caucasus
I read this book during a hot summer in Russia; it was curious to think that 'Let Our Fame Be Great' is set in the same country. Read more
Published on 3 Mar 2011 by Orinoko
5.0 out of 5 stars Required Reading
Bullough takes us through the history of the area, bringing a wide variety of historical sources together and offering his own perspective on Russia's attitude to the Caucasus both... Read more
Published on 23 Sep 2010 by T. R. Cowdret
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