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on 23 December 2013
A well written and researched insight into the real Russia. If you ever thought the political landscape in your own country left a lot to be desired then you need to read this It will make you feel slightly better.
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on 13 April 2013
I thought it was terrific. I'm not sure the demographic bits were exactly right, but I liked the train rides and the snow. There are very few books with this sort of historical span and angle, and I thought it was a pleasure to read.
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on 26 April 2013
The vivid images conjured by this authors intrepid journeys and the tragic tale he tells illustrated by the people he meets,create an important historical document that is also a gripping read. A rare combination.
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on 15 May 2014
Very interesting take on old Russia's collapse and the work of the Christian church in that relationship as the state changed..
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on 6 November 2013
A very good description of the problems facing Russia as viewed from a historical as well as a current perspective.
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on 14 November 2015
A glimpse of awful reality in Russia
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on 29 May 2014
The author uses the sorry tale of a Soviet-era dissident priest as a framework to investigate the so-called 'dying of Russia'. Russia has a demographic crisis: its population has been declining due to booze, drugs, AIDS, poverty, despair. Birth rates have collapsed, and life expectancy for males has dropped down into the early sixties. The book is very well written and the author avoids getting bogged down in a swamp of statistics. Instead, he focuses on the human stories behind this great drama. A very moving book that I heartily recommend to anyone interested in that great nation.
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on 21 December 2013
Shocking with a very interesting presentation of the facts via the following of the life of a former dissident priest. Leaves you wondering about the future of Russia, it appears to be too late to save the country for a myriad of reasons.
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on 31 January 2014
By Ian Thomson7:00AM BST 15 Apr 2013

The illusion of drink-fuelled happiness is familiar to most, even if the hangover seems a cruel price to pay. You could say that alcoholism is a chemical misfortune. Hundreds of Russians are born each day with the misfortune, owing to exposure to vodka in utero. Little, it seems, can be done. Between 1940 and 1980, alcohol consumption increased eightfold in Russia. “When Russians drink vodka,” writes Oliver Bullough, “they do not sip it, or mix it with juice”: they drink shot after shot after shot. Now, under President Putin, Russia appears to be on one huge zapoi, or multi-day bender. In Moscow, the poor drink a 90 proof concoction; they have the glazed eyes of lifelong spirit-abusers.

Heavy drinking in Russia is a sign of masculinity. Once, in an effort to keep up with a group of drinkers on the Moscow-St Petersburg express, Bullough passed out. The vodka had tasted to him like a chemical, but no matter. It impelled the passengers to flights of the imagination and encouraged boastful conversation (what James Joyce called “tighteousness”).

In this superb hybrid of travel and social analysis, The Last Man in Russia, Bullough casts a despairing eye on a nation’s death through alcohol. What lies behind the collective stupor? “No one drinks themselves to death just because they can,” Bullough contends. Uncontrolled private enterprise is part of the problem. The collapse of Communism has produced a class of Noviye Russkie (new Russians) with more privilege and self-importance than yesterday’s apparatchik. The motto of Russia’s dispossessed, “Things were better before”, is increasingly heard; vodka at least provides a path to forgetfulness.
Periodic drinkers who indulge in a self-destructive zapoi with long stretches of sobriety in between, says Bullough, may not think of themselves as alcoholics. Yet almost half of working-age men now die from alcohol-related causes. Alcoholism has become the vexing devil that has crept up slowly. What has gone wrong?

Bullough follows in the footsteps of an Orthodox Russian priest, Dmitry Dudko, who in the Seventies preached against alcoholism and urged repentance. After the war, Father Dmitry served eight years in the Gulag for the crime (as it then was) of writing religious poetry. On his release he continued to denounce political corruption and alcoholism alike as “the fruits of atheism”. The KGB arrested him in 1980. After a spell in detention, he retracted all he had said against the state, and became a Right-wing nationalist as well as an anti-Semite. The KGB had done their job well.

In the priest’s fall from grace, Bullough sees a mirror image of Russia’s vodka-fuddled decline. Gorbachev tried to curtail alcohol consumption in 1985-87 by imposing licence fees, but illegal distillers thrived. Now, experts say the situation is “past the point of diagnosis”. The only cure is sobriety, but sobriety has never been the Russian way.

In pages of raw, poetic prose, Bullough travels to Father Dmitry’s birthplace in western Russia and on to his prison-Gulag, 1,250 miles from Moscow. Throughout, he dilates sorrowfully on the self-denial of vodka drinkers. Their forgetfulness is not so different from the amnesia displayed by Putin towards the Stalinist past.

Russia has always been a land bedevilled by drink. Vladimir the Great, Bullough reminds us, rejected Islam in 10th-century Kiev because “drinking is the joy of Russians. We cannot exist without that pleasure.” Perhaps a drunken population is easier to control? The Last Man in Russia is distinguished by the excellence of its writing and its lucid, unsparing gaze.
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on 24 March 2014
I picked this up on a whim as I was interested in learning more about Russia. It quickly became unputdownable. Highly recommended for anyone wishing to gain an insight into twentieth century and modern-day Russia.
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