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Russia: A Journey to the Heart of a Land and its People [Hardcover]

Jonathan Dimbleby
3.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (34 customer reviews)
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Book Description

1 May 2008

Winston Churchill famously described Russia as 'a riddle wrapped in a mystery inside an enigma'. Even today it remains a country little understood by the West. But as a resurgent world power, with an energy-rich economy, we ignore Russia at our peril.

In this timely and revealing portrait, distinguished author and broadcaster Jonathan Dimbleby crosses eight time zones and covers 10,000 miles, from Murmansk in the Arctic Circle to the Asian city of Vladivostok, in an attempt to get beneath the skin of modern Russia. Travelling by road, rail and boat, his epic journey takes him from the neo-classical splendour of St Petersburg to remote and inaccessible parts of Siberia. At the heart of this magisterial account are Jonathan's encounters with a diverse range of ordinary Russians - from urban intellectuals and the new class of entrepreneurs, to impoverished peasants and Russia's ethnic minorities struggling to cling to their distinctive identities.

Jonathan was the only British television journalist to interview President Gorbachev during the Cold War, and, returning to Russia for the first time since those days, he discovers a land transformed. But despite economic progress, he finds aspects of Russian society deeply troubling, and takes an unflinchingly critical look at the way Russia has been run during the Putin years.

For Jonathan, crossing the immense Russian landmass became as much an interior journey as an exterior one, and the book contains painfully honest passages as he struggles to meet the challenges of an arduous film trip against the backdrop of great turbulence in his personal life. Filled with a dazzling array of historical and literary references, Russia - A Journey to the Heart of a Land and its People is a riveting and illuminating account of modern Russia.

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Product details

  • Hardcover: 576 pages
  • Publisher: BBC Books; Reprint edition (1 May 2008)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0563539127
  • ISBN-13: 978-0563539124
  • Product Dimensions: 16.7 x 24.3 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 3.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (34 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 556,657 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Product Description

Amazon Review

Russia is a massive book: sprawling, ambitious and richly detailed. Jonathan Dimbleby's subtitle is A Journey to the Heart of a Land and its People, and fears that he might have bitten off more than he can chew (both in this book and its accompanying TV series) are quickly allayed. What is most impressive about the book is its canny synthesis of a variety of genres: travelogue, history, social document: Russia is all of these and more, with the personal voice of the narrative by Dimbleby particularly illuminating, as he struggles to come to terms with the contradictions in this fascinating and infuriating country. It is, as the author says, a country that straddles half the globe, and contains a daunting amount of cultural and religious diversity. All of this is examined here, but any sage judgements are never delivered in sober-sided fashion -- we're always caught up in the drama of Dimbleby's journeys.

The author crossed eight time zones and covered 10,000 miles, from Murmansk in the Arctic Circle to the Asian city of Vladivostok. He travels by every available method: rail, road and sea, and manages to experience all the splendours and the miseries of this amazing country. But although the contours of the locales are conjured up with maximum vividness, there are also fascinating portraits of all the Russians that Dimbleby encounters, from intellectuals and struggling peasants to the new breed of fantastically successful entrepreneurs (many of whom, of course, are now making their home in London). The colour illustrations are well chosen, but it's the text that succeeds in taking the reader on this epic journey -- a journey that will transform completely most people's apprehension of the country. --Barry Forshaw.


fulfils all the requirements of "the book of his journey...After this glimpse of [Dimbleby's] soul, you'll never listen to him hosting 'Any Questions' in the same way again.'
-- The Guardian, 28th June 08

'A biography, a history, a love letter, a travel memoir, all rolled into one - a generous, elegant and absorbing read.' -- Kate Mosse

'A voyage of discovery, shot through with penetrating
honesty; an almost tortured response to a tortured country.' -- Matthew Parris

'Acute, insightful but always profoundly sympathetic' -- Andrew Roberts

'Anybody interested in the nation which Vladimir Putin has created, and which now confronts the West, should read this book.' -- Max Hastings

'Dimbley's book is a splendid achievement...He constitutes the essence of a good traveller - companionable, thoughtful, sceptical and sometimes wide-eyed with wonder.'
-- Daily Express, 16th May 2008

'Strong reportage and history but still twinkling with an enthusiasm that makes light of the mighty task'
-- The Times

'[This book] is as entertaining and surprising as it is thoughtful and knowledgeable' -- Simon Sebag Montefiore

Inside This Book (Learn More)
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Front Cover | Copyright | Table of Contents | Excerpt | Index | Back Cover
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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews
12 of 13 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars digs his own grave 5 Oct 2011
By Boris
As others have pointed out, Dimbleby's manifest lack of enthusiasm for the subject matter (and overwhelming enthusiasm for himself) contaminates the book. I really don't think that someone who is not even prepared to learn Cyrillic is the ideal choice for a trip across Russia, and this really does show.

That does not mean that the book is a complete waste of time, but I'm not convinced that its occasional redeeming features are enough to offset the constant whining and navel-gazing by its author. Russia is a passionate country and it needs to be addressed by a passionate writer.

And spare a thought for Dimbleby's (no doubt long suffering) interpreter, who doesn't get a mention in the entire book!
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16 of 18 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars Utterly Pointless and Offensive 29 Oct 2010
By resmart
I read the last page of this on the train last night, and - much to the amusement of my fellow passengers - swore out loud. Never before has a book annoyed me so much that I've been moved to criticise it in public - I was absolutely furious. Not wishing to rant, here's some bullets as to why you SHOULD NOT buy this utter nonsense -

1. It's utterly xenophobic
2. The factual information (which is the only tiny redeeming factor) is tainted by the author's amorphous prejudices, which manifest themselves in an unwillingness to even TRY to consider viewpoints other than his own (which, incidentally, are lazily informed by some naive obsession with Western 'democracy' as the answer to the World's ills. Has he ever considered US foreign policy, or the horrors of the British Empire?)
3. It's apparent from the outset that the subject matter is of no interest to him whatsoever, and the whole project has been carried out under protest. He makes no attempt to understand even basic cyrillic or the Russian language. His lack of engagement with the culture of Russia is exemplified in his trite and completely misplaced references to Wagnerian operatic imagery when he tries to describe various landscapes and vistas. He never once references Rimsky-Korsakov, Mussorgsky, Borodin, Glinka - not even Rachmaninoff or Tchaikovsky (surely he's at least listened to Tchaikovsky?) - and so what if he's read Tolstoy - who hasn't? The point is that it's all about him and his very blinkered, middle-class experience in general, and NOTHING whatsoever to do with Russia - he just happens to be passing through it!
4. Crypto-fascist state? Could he have picked less appropriate terminology?

I could go on and on with this - I'm so angry - but you get the picture.
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25 of 29 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars Painfully Prejudiced 4 Mar 2010
Ok, so he doesn't like travelling, and he doesn't like the Russians (because he was bought up during the cold war). Great foundations for a truly revealing book on how a man with obvious prejudice and a hatred for travel can be enlightened by a journey through a wonderful land, meeting some enchanting people, right? Wrong. Cue Dimbleby rattling on for 550 painful pages about how in Britain we do everything better than in Russia (including landscape), and how inherently corrupt everything is.

I thought that maybe if I carried on reading right to the very end, he might spout forth some incredible redeeming wisdom and make the whole boring book at least partly worthwhile. I shouldn't have bothered.

The main issues I have with this book are, in nutshell form:

Dimbleby always looks for the negative in every encounter, and always manages to find it, no matter the situation.
He keeps repeating the same point all the time
Dimbleby bangs on about himself waaaaaaaaaay too much.
He keeps repeating the same point all the time
He comes across as very closed-minded.
He doesn't even learn the cyrillic alphabet! I mean, seriously?!
He keeps repeating the same point all the time - See how annoying it is?
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32 of 40 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars Odd choice of presenter/writer 18 July 2008
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
Jonathan Dimbleby is not a name you associate with travel writing. Having read this book all the way through, and watched all episodes of the series, it's not likely to become a name with such an association.

By his own admission, Dimbleby does not like travelling, does not like having to be away from home, and has a phobia about flying. He also speaks virtually no Russian and cannot read Cyrillic (yet was somehow able to function as a Moscow reporter during the Soviet Union days).

One thing comes across very clearly within the first few pages of this book (and remains evident throughout). Dimbleby's mindset vis-a-vis Russia is stuck in the Soviet era of the 1970s. He makes constant references to the Soviet era throughout the book, and when that doesn't provide him with sufficient material, resorts to harping back even further to the excesses of the Tsars. At almost every point, he quizzed people about their political views and looked deeply into Russia's social problems, rather than focussing on the kinds of everyday matters that a tourist would want to know about. Yet, despite his repeated references to the way ordinary people in Russia live, his main points of contact throughout the book were people of high status (company owners, local community leaders, Tolstoy's descendents, and so on). So much for seeking the hearts and minds of the people.

This book is presents a very negative impression of the world's largest country. (Yet, oddly, Dimbleby doesn't mention the negative impressions that most travellers there would find: the almost complete absence of the concept of "customer service", and bureaucrats who are unhelpful to the point of being downright obstructive.
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
5.0 out of 5 stars yet one can feel the author was in bad mood whilst writing the book
a very interesting read, yet one can feel the author was in bad mood whilst writing the book.
Published 1 month ago by Ignaty Dyakov
5.0 out of 5 stars Russia: A journey to the heart of the land and its people
I am really enjoying this book. There are parts I would like to read again but it is not easy to find them in the Kindle version. Read more
Published 7 months ago by Audrey Spruce
5.0 out of 5 stars five star book from a five star author
Barely scratched the surface but a wonderful insight none the less. Hard to imagine that after seventy years under the thumb of communism so many seemingly ordinary people embrace... Read more
Published 7 months ago by Greg Shields
5.0 out of 5 stars Really? You dont just want my thoughts, dont think I will agree to...
Absolutely fascinating insight into this enigmatic country and people. Im still reading, but its a good one. Read more
Published 8 months ago by Mrs L Jack
4.0 out of 5 stars worth thinking about
a very interesting book if you are interested in Russia. J.D.writes well interesting thoughts,bit heavy in places 8 out of 10
Published 10 months ago by Malcolm J. Mcvail
5.0 out of 5 stars new insight
having begun "Russia" whle away, I was able to continue this amazing journey within 2 days of ordering from Amazon. Read more
Published on 31 July 2012 by karin mallinson
5.0 out of 5 stars Comment from Russian perspective
Let me comment on it from Russian perspective: I think it is an exceptionally good book on the matter. One can only wonder where does this vitriol of the reviewers seep from? Read more
Published on 1 Jun 2012 by Denis Peskov
4.0 out of 5 stars NOT QUITE A TRUE TRAVEL BOOK
I did enjoy this book,especially as I had just returned from a visit to Moscow and St Petersburg.I found his travels interesting,and his conversations with the Russian people... Read more
Published on 9 Nov 2011 by bibliophile
4.0 out of 5 stars All you need to know about Russia - and Jonathan Dimbleby!
This is my kind of book - informative, wide-ranging, engaging and beautifully written. You are on the journey with him, learning about the history, geography, the politics and the... Read more
Published on 5 Feb 2011 by Nova
3.0 out of 5 stars It's long but it's interesting
I have always wanted to learn more about Russia and I felt this book gave me the opportunity to do so. Read more
Published on 9 Oct 2010 by James Kirpalani
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