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In 2010, Oliver Bullough released a book called Let Our Fame be Great: Journeys Among the Defiant People of the Caucasus. I read it when it first came out, and was astounded by what I read. I have just ordered another copy, because my first copy seems to have disappeared without trace. It was a book which has haunted me since I read it, and which opened my eyes to a world I had no idea existed, and to actions I had no idea had occurred. I will read it again when I get my new copy, and will review it then.

This book (published in 2013) is another odyssey by the author, a journey through Russia in search of answers to a question that bothered the author: what is it about Russia that is failing? The author has numerous friends and colleagues who are Russian; he finds it a concern that so many Russians seem to take alcohol and overindulgence in alcohol as a daily occurrence; why is the Russian population decreasing, with birthrates falling and Russians (particularly men) dying younger? In 1950 births in Russia outnumbered deaths by 1.7 million; in 2010, deaths outnumbered births by 240,000. In the early 1960s an average Russian and an average Austrian both lived for about sixty-nine years. By 2005, the Austrian was living for another fifteen years, the Russian for four years fewer.

In a search for reasons and answers from within Russia's own literature, the author found a man, Father Dmitry Dudko who seemed to encapsulate life in Russia from just after the revolution to the post-Soviet era. Born just after the revolution, and dying in Moscow in 2004, Father Dmitry lived through collectivization, served as a soldier in World War Two, spent eight years in the gulag, and strove throughout the 1960s and 1970s to help young Russians create a better society. He wrote copiously - memoirs, notebooks, articles, sermons, autobiographical sketches, poems, sermons.

This book then is an attempt to take the life of Father Dmitry and use it as a microcosmic example of the state of Russia and its people. Is the life and death of Father Dmitry mirrored in the life and death of his nation? Can a new generation born after communism kindle a new kind of state? The author sets off to retrace the life of Father Dmitry, and it is that journey (literal and figurative) that we read now.

The author, as a journalist, writes in an extremely accessible style. You feel like you are on the journey with him, as he travels about, describing the people that he meets and the places that he goes. The information is slipped in quietly along the way, so that you find yourself absorbing data and information in an extremely easy way, enjoying the narrative journey with the author. It's a crying shame there are no photos in the book (at least not in the edition I read), although the author frequently mentions taking photos of the people he talks with. I would have liked to have seen photos of the people and places visited. This is another great book by Oliver Bullough; one that I'm very glad that I have had the chance to read, and one which taught me much more than I ever knew before about Russia, its twentieth century history and its possible future. Thoroughly recommended for anyone wanting to get a little more insight to Russia and its people, and to find out about one remarkable man in particular.
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on 7 June 2014
Have just finished reading this book and admire anyone who can spend so much time in the awful cold or heat, travelling in ramshackle buses and trains out to nowhere, in order to trace the life of a deceased (and failed ?) priest.

It is a very interesting way to trace the reasoning behind the incredible alcohol consumption and falling population within the USSR, now Russia.

However, if you are not already familiar with what went on behind the Iron Curtain, then this book may seem a little dull.

I personally found it of good interest, but not as super as his previous book "Let Our Fame Be Great" on the Nth Caucusus.
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on 30 August 2014
I bought this after being badgered by the 'suggestions' function and I didn't regret it for a moment. Written in the style of a travelogue, the book combines an interest in Russia's past with a deep concern for its present. Bullough's relaxed style never intrudes in the carefully written text and he wears his scholarship lightly. All-in-all a great read for anyone trying to understand contemporary Russian society.
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on 15 April 2014
This book is a combination of trying to explain why Russia is going downhill fast and also trying to paint some kind of portrait of one of the most famous Soviet dissidents.

In the first and most interesting category Mr.Bullough focuses on the consumption of alcohol and the falling birth rate in Russia. He draws on official statistics and the picture he presents is both frightening and accurate. Having had many drinks with Russians in all sorts of circumstances I can only verify that what he presents is the actual situation. Many commentators focus on official statistics and forget that a huge amount of alcohol is also produced as Samagon (=Moonshine) and more and more people are turning to that. This is a decease in Russia that has so far not a good prognosis.

The Falling birth rates is not only a Russian problem, we have the same problem in the rest of Europe and the US but in Russia it is by far worse. Few countries have so far come up with a solution to this, but it is one of the greatest problems we have in the modern world. So far, only minor attempts have been made to solve this problem in Russia but without any long-term effects.

The Other part of the book focus on presenting the life of an Orthodox priest that started out as a dissident and ended as a KGB supporter and an anti-Semite. It is an interesting story but maybe not for a full book.

The Combination of these two attempts to explain where Russia is heading in the future is slightly unfocused and not all together that rewarding but it is well worth reading. If you been to Russia and know Russians you will recognize the country in this book.
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In 2010, Oliver Bullough released a book called Let Our Fame be Great: Journeys Among the Defiant People of the Caucasus. I read it when it first came out, and was astounded by what I read. I have just ordered another copy, because my first copy seems to have disappeared without trace. It was a book which has haunted me since I read it, and which opened my eyes to a world I had no idea existed, and to actions I had no idea had occurred. I will read it again when I get my new copy, and will review it then.

This book (published in 2013) is another odyssey by the author, a journey through Russia in search of answers to a question that bothered the author: what is it about Russia that is failing? The author has numerous friends and colleagues who are Russian; he finds it a concern that so many Russians seem to take alcohol and overindulgence in alcohol as a daily occurrence; why is the Russian population decreasing, with birthrates falling and Russians (particularly men) dying younger? In 1950 births in Russia outnumbered deaths by 1.7 million; in 2010, deaths outnumbered births by 240,000. In the early 1960s an average Russian and an average Austrian both lived for about sixty-nine years. By 2005, the Austrian was living for another fifteen years, the Russian for four years fewer.

In a search for reasons and answers from within Russia's own literature, the author found a man, Father Dmitry Dudko who seemed to encapsulate life in Russia from just after the revolution to the post-Soviet era. Born just after the revolution, and dying in Moscow in 2004, Father Dmitry lived through collectivization, served as a soldier in World War Two, spent eight years in the gulag, and strove throughout the 1960s and 1970s to help young Russians create a better society. He wrote copiously - memoirs, notebooks, articles, sermons, autobiographical sketches, poems, sermons.

This book then is an attempt to take the life of Father Dmitry and use it as a microcosmic example of the state of Russia and its people. Is the life and death of Father Dmitry mirrored in the life and death of his nation? Can a new generation born after communism kindle a new kind of state? The author sets off to retrace the life of Father Dmitry, and it is that journey (literal and figurative) that we read now.

The author, as a journalist, writes in an extremely accessible style. You feel like you are on the journey with him, as he travels about, describing the people that he meets and the places that he goes. The information is slipped in quietly along the way, so that you find yourself absorbing data and information in an extremely easy way, enjoying the narrative journey with the author. It's a crying shame there are no photos in the book (at least not in the edition I read), although the author frequently mentions taking photos of the people he talks with. I would have liked to have seen photos of the people and places visited. This is another great book by Oliver Bullough; one that I'm very glad that I have had the chance to read, and one which taught me much more than I ever knew before about Russia, its twentieth century history and its possible future. Thoroughly recommended for anyone wanting to get a little more insight to Russia and its people, and to find out about one remarkable man in particular.
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on 4 June 2013
I bought this book from Amazon.com on the basis of a positive review in The Economist, ably reinforced by the fact the kremlin trolls have been dispatched to both .com and co.uk to badmouth the book -- a clear indication that it must be hitting more than a few nails on the head. And indeed it was so.

This book is definitely worthy of a place in the library of any student of Russia.
For some reason, this country has always been best learnt about from books in the form of travelogue cum historical investigation ever since the Marquis de Custine created the genre in 1839. I find it particularly frightening for Russia that Custine's observations then remain as true today as they evidently were nearly two centuries ago. The following are from the Wikipedia entry on the Marquis de Custine:

"Russia is a nation of mutes; some magician has changed sixty million men into automatons."
"Nations have always good reasons for being what they are, and the best of all is that they cannot be otherwise."
"The love of their country is with them only a mode of flattering its master; as soon as they think that master can no longer hear, they speak of everything with a frankness which is the more startling because those who listen to it become responsible."
"I came here to see a country, but what I find is a theater... The names are the same as everywhere else... In appearances everything happens as it does everywhere else. There is no difference except in the very foundation of things."
"I don't reproach the Russians for being what they are; what I blame them for is their desire to appear to be what we [Europeans] are.... They are much less interested in being civilized than in making us believe them so... They would be quite content to be in effect more awful and barbaric than they actually are, if only others could thereby be made to believe them better and more civilized."
Quotations are from George F. Kennan, The Marquis de Custine and his Russia in 1839, Princeton University Press, 1971.

Oliver Bullough's book confirms the undiminished actuality of those 150 year old observations and is an excellent addition to this line of enquiry. It will be enjoyed by anyone interested in this benighted country that, despite occasional inchoate urges to do so and the efforts of its ever less numerous intelligentsia, somehow never seems to be able to extricate itself from its more and more diminished position in the axis of evil.
The Last Man in Russia sadly confirms that all we can expect from this wonderfully sympathetic and long-suffering people and country is that they will go on and on stumbling from one self-created humanitarian disaster to another, spoiling the world for themselves and possibly for us too.
If only "they" were the ones to be reading and writing such books - about "themselves" and/or about "us"! All that's really lacking is a little bit of insight!
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on 7 May 2013
At first, I found this book a little tough going. What was it about? Was it about Russian alcoholism? Was it about the co-opting of the Orthodox Church by the Soviet (and now the Russian state)? Was it about one man, Father Dmitry, and his struggle to remain true to himself and his followers in the face of the psychological repression of the KGB? Was it about the culture of dissidence in the 1970s - and the meaning of dissidence in a totalitarian state?

But in the manner of the best long-form journalism, The Last Man in Russia is about all these things and much more. The book creeps up on you, and envelops you. Stealthily you are drawn into the same questions that must have been pulsating around Oliver Bullough's mind in writing this book. And you feel that Bullough has got at something deeper than a single narrative - he has got at Russia itself. There are lots of books about Russia and its history - about the collapse of the Soviet Union, the disasters of the 1990s, the rise of the Putin regime, the resurgence of Russia now - and how fragile and false that resurgence is. This book is different. It is more in the nature of a meditation. A little perplexing at first, ultimately it is all the more elegant and mesmerising for it.
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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 16 February 2015
This book should be compulsory reading for anyone trying to understand contemporary Russia. The endless sadness, hopelessness, that has been inflicted on the Russian, and their subject, people is portrayed here. It shows how it has broken a nation into singular, alcoholic and repressed people. It is all told through the story of one man who tried to believe on them but finally succumbed to the awful, all pervasive,cynicism of the state.
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on 26 January 2015
Oliver Bullough delivers a very well written book on Russia's present and past. This book is part travelogue, part history and part sociology but it is a mix that works well. Intertwining the story of Father Dmitri with the story of Russian society since the 1917 revolution was extremely clever history writing and made the story really flow. Although Bullough presents a grim and worrying picture of life in Russia's provincial cities, towns and villages, one dominated by de-population, decay and alcoholism the book is not negative towards Russia. The author clearly has a real love of Russia and comes through in his descriptions of the journeys he took and the people he meet along the way. Very enjoyable.
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