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TOP 500 REVIEWERon 28 June 2012
In his 1978 book The Big Red Train Ride, celebrated travel-writer Eric Newby traces the 5900 mile journey from Moscow to Nakhodka (on Russia's Pacific coast) that he made in 1977 on the Russian Trans-Siberian Railway. Rather like his successor travel writers Paul Theroux and Bill Bryson, Newby's writing is a compelling mix of historical detail and lighter, more whimsical passages - the latter often arising as a result of Newby's attempts to circumvent the strict rules and regulations (which, for example, banned the opening of train windows!) imposed on foreign travellers in Soviet Russia which were in force at the time of his journey.

For the trip, Newby was accompanied by three fellow travellers - his single-minded Slovenian-born wife, Wanda (whom Newby met whilst escaping from captivity in Italy during WWII), a German Jew who is obsessed with photography, Otto, and the trio's Soviet-appointed minder, Mischa. Newby's writing is never less than interesting, combining a mix of easy-to-read chatty prose, with some passages of beautiful and lucid descriptive writing covering the terrain and environment through which he passed during his 192-hour train voyage. Newby had clearly undertaken extensive research for the trip (as well as having some prior experience of travel in Soviet Russia), and the book provides extensive (and much astonishing) detail of the history of the construction of the Trans-Siberian Railway during the latter part of the 19th century, and of the history of the various inhabitant races over the preceding centuries. Of course, one of the most memorable (and tragic) elements in the history of Siberian Russia was the extent to which the ruling regimes (both in Tsarist times and under Stalin) banished large sections of the population to exile in this most remotest of locations. The book is certainly not all doom and gloom, however, and Newby includes many hilarious anecdotes to lighten the mood, such as where his small travelling party are forced (in order to comply with Soviet protocol) to gorge themselves with food and drink at a surprise feast during an official visit (having already eaten on the day in question), and where Newby, despite his protestations to the contrary having had similar experiences previously, is obliged to undergo a mind-numbingly tedious tour around one of the many Soviet wire factories.

An enthralling read, and highly recommended.
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on 15 December 2016
Newby sets off on the longest train journey in the world with his Slovenian wife, a German photographer and a stern Russian tour guide/spy with some colourful and amusing results. Newby's style falls somewhere between Alan Whicker and Paul Theroux, I probably wouldn’t put him in quite the same league but his writing does have its charm and pull of sorts. The journey is peppered with some nice historical and political background and gives us an intriguing peek into the heart of the USSR in 1977. It can seem a little flat at times but another interesting detail is never really too far away. The humour doesn’t always work but enough of it gets through to make it worthwhile and rewarding enough.
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on 4 July 2011
I last read this book while actually travelling on the Trans-Siberian Railway during the Gorbachev era - I found it odd that photos in the book taken years ago, were still possible to replicate all those years later!

No it's not the best written book in the world, but if you do the train ride, it all makes sense...
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on 27 February 2014
So pleased to be able to find some old Eric Newby books for my husband who is a great fan of the author
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on 24 January 2005
As someone who is planning to travel the Trans-Siberian Railway in the not too distant future I read with interest this book that follows Eric Newby's journey taken back in 1977.
Accompanied by his wife, a German photographer and their official guide from the then USSR authorities, it makes for interesting reading to go back into the "good old days" of the Cold War and revisit life behind the Iron Curtain.
There are many facts and figures about the railway and its construction which can become slightly laborious, far more interesting are the passages taken for other writings by other adventurers who travelled the route, either on the train or by sledge, in far earlier times.
Unfortunately Newby's style of writing can be quite workmanlike and as such you don't get any feeling for his thoughts about his fellow travellers or those he meets on the journey. Rather than write the book interspersed with witty anecdotes he labours on about the point of how the photography opportunities were restricted and mentions little else about the actual happenings on the journey. For example one photograph within the book shows the interior of a woodsman's cottage, yet we read nothing of how they came to visit this place and what the woodsman's life was like.
Finally the book's ending was particularly disappointing; basically they reach the end and then go home. No mention of if any contact was kept between him and either his German photographer friend, no mention if he final falling out with the USSR official had any further impacts, or how they actually got home from the end of nowhere.
I would possibly read any of Newby's other travel-logs only if I had a specific interest in that location.
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on 27 October 2016
Mr. Newby does not write with the sparkle of his previous books.
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on 11 July 2009
Informative, but that's about the best I can say about this book. Newby obviously did not enjoy the ride or writing about it. The characters are wooden and superficially drawn, and strangely we learn nothing worthwhile about the author or his wife, who was dragged along for the ride. Presumably this work was commissioned by the publishers, who should have known better. In short, this is old-fashioned journalistic hack-work.
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on 22 August 2013
Very enjoyable read, great sense of humour comes through, and very informative.
Will certainly purchase other books by this author
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on 25 May 2004
It may be that Eric Newby is an acquired taste, but I find his style of writing insufferable- his style is dull, his jokes leaden and for a famous traveller, his natural metier is the Little Englander comparing the USSR with the delights of the West Country.
This account of a 1977 trip on the Trans Siberian is a mix of a history of the railway and Newby complaining about not being allowed to photographs. When he is not repeating this complaint ad nauseum he is moaning about the restrictions imposed by his Soviet companions, complaining about the people he meets, and being rude about his wife.
Whilst I pity the friends and family of Mr Newby who had to sit through his "anecdotes" (of which there are practically none), at least they did not have to pay for the privilege. There is one singular interesting fact- which is that it was sufficient to be caught taking snuff to be exiled to Siberia in the eighteenth century, but only after your septum had been torn out.
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