Russians: The People behind the Power

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Overview

From former NPR Moscow correspondent Gregory Feifer comes an incisive portrait that draws on vivid personal stories to portray the forces that have shaped the Russian character for centuries-and continue to do so today.

RUSSIANS explores the seeming paradoxes of life in Russia by unraveling the nature of its people: what is it in their history, their desires, and their conception of themselves that makes them baffling to the West? Using the insights of his decade as a journalist...

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Overview

From former NPR Moscow correspondent Gregory Feifer comes an incisive portrait that draws on vivid personal stories to portray the forces that have shaped the Russian character for centuries-and continue to do so today.

RUSSIANS explores the seeming paradoxes of life in Russia by unraveling the nature of its people: what is it in their history, their desires, and their conception of themselves that makes them baffling to the West? Using the insights of his decade as a journalist in Russia, Feifer corrects pervasive misconceptions by showing that much of what appears inexplicable about the country is logical when seen from the inside. He gets to the heart of why the world's leading energy producer continues to exasperate many in the international community. And he makes clear why President Vladimir Putin remains popular even as the gap widens between the super-rich and the great majority of poor.

Traversing the world's largest country from the violent North Caucasus to Arctic Siberia, Feifer conducted hundreds of intimate conversations about everything from sex and vodka to Russia's complex relationship with the world. From fabulously wealthy oligarchs to the destitute elderly babushki who beg in Moscow's streets, he tells the story of a society bursting with vitality under a leadership rooted in tradition and often on the edge of collapse despite its authoritarian power.

Feifer also draws on formative experiences in Russia's past and illustrative workings of its culture to shed much-needed light on the purposely hidden functioning of its society before, during, and after communism. Woven throughout is an intimate, first-person account of his family history, from his Russian mother's coming of age among Moscow's bohemian artistic elite to his American father's harrowing vodka-fueled run-ins with the KGB.

What emerges is a rare portrait of a unique land of extremes whose forbidding geography, merciless climate, and crushing corruption has nevertheless produced some of the world's greatest art and some of its most remarkable scientific advances. RUSSIANS is an expertly observed, gripping profile of a people who will continue challenging the West for the foreseeable future.

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Editorial Reviews

The New York Times - Michiko Kakutani
With Russians, Mr. Feifer gives us a revealing, opinionated primer on the country where his mother grew up under Communism and where he served as Moscow correspondent for National Public Radio. It is a collagelike book, consisting of historical asides, family reminiscences, interviews with public figures and ordinary people, political assessments and sharp snapshots of the country across its nine time zones, from the gaudy Moscow restaurants and clubs that cater to the showboating new rich to the distant wastelands of Siberia, where cold and poverty still define daily life.
The New York Times Book Review - Joshua Rubenstein
Gregory Feifer's Russians: The People Behind the Power joins a list of classic books by Western correspondents who have covered the politics and culture of what was once the Soviet Union…The particular strength of his account is how he places his reporting of the country's myriad and devastating problems within a broad understanding of Russian (and not just Soviet) history. Feifer loves Russia, making his depressing account all the more poignant…
Publishers Weekly
01/06/2014
Early on in his second book, Feifer (The Great Gamble) makes clear his ambitious aim, which is to provide "a definitive explanation of what makes Russia Russian." While this goal might at first seem audacious, he is well-qualified, having worked for eight years as a journalist in Russia. In addition, his mother was born in Kazan and his father was a guide in the 1959 American National Exhibition in Moscow, where the two met. The book is an impressive piece of journalism, an effective mix of history, letters, current affairs, family history, interviews, and personal narrative, all of which addresses the premise that certain "formative influences" have shaped attitudes, behaviors, and a social and political order that is sometimes confounding to the Western mind. From alarming rates of alcoholism to the legacy of Siberian prison camps, from the creativity of Russian arts to corruption and "clan politics," the book provides a nuanced view of Russia, its people, and its place in a changing world. Feifer's assessment is especially critical of Putin's authoritarianism and he is admittedly pessimistic about the possibility of change in the near future, but the book makes a convincing argument for the importance of a clearer understanding of the Russian people and their values. (Feb.)
Fiona Hill
"This entertaining and engaging book offers a set of deep insights into the tumultuous events and experiences that have shaped the lives and attitudes of the Russian people over the past twenty years. Informed by his studies of Russian history and culture, his personal family history, and his many years of on-the-ground reporting from multiple points across Russia's vast landmass, Greg Feifer takes us from the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991 to the aftermath of Vladimir Putin's re-election for a third term as president in 2012. There is something in this book for anyone and everyone who wants to understand what lies behind the stereotypes of today's Russia."
Stephen Sestanovich
"This is one of the best-ever books written by an American journalist trying to make sense of Russia. Full of wonderfully poignant family reminiscences, acute cultural insight, and off-color Russian jokes."
Luke Harding
A luminous study of a land and its people. Feifer gives a vivid portrait of today's Russia from the bottom up-based on numerous conversations with Russians, his intrepid travels to Russia's far-flung regions, and his own family history, intimately and wonderfully told. Feifer's analysis of Russia's political system is gloomy. Corruption, thuggishness, and mafia-style rule flourish under Mr. Putin. But what makes this book stand out is Feifer's sympathy for ordinary Russians, caught between an autocratic tsarist-communist past and an uncertain globalizing future. They emerge from "RUSSIANS as enterprising, stoical, brave, and adaptable, with a capacity for loyalty and friendship, and above all survival, in a country that both bewitches and defies the West."
From the Publisher
"Mr. Feifer gives us a revealing, opinionated primer...consisting of historical asides, family reminiscences, interviews with public figures and ordinary people, political assessments and sharp snapshots of the country across its nine time zones, from the gaudy Moscow restaurants... to the distant wastelands of Siberia, where cold and poverty still define daily life."—Michiko Kakutani, New York Times

"Gregory Feifer's RUSSIANS joins a list of classic books by Western correspondents who have covered the politics and culture of what was once the Soviet Union...The particular strength of his account is how he places his reporting of the country's myriad and devastating problems within a broad understanding of Russian (and not just Soviet) history."—New York Times Book Review

"This entertaining and engaging book offers a set of deep insights into the tumultuous events and experiences that have shaped the lives and attitudes of the Russian people over the past twenty years. Informed by his studies of Russian history and culture, his personal family history, and his many years of on-the-ground reporting from multiple points across Russia's vast landmass, Greg Feifer takes us from the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991 to the aftermath of Vladimir Putin's re-election for a third term as president in 2012. There is something in this book for anyone and everyone who wants to understand what lies behind the stereotypes of today's Russia."—Fiona Hill, director, Center on the United States and Europe, Brookings Institution and co-author of Mr. Putin: Operative in the Kremlin

"This is one of the best-ever books written by an American journalist trying to make sense of Russia. Full of wonderfully poignant family reminiscences, acute cultural insight, and off-color Russian jokes."—Stephen Sestanovich, author of Maximalist: America in the World from Truman to Obama

A luminous study of a land and its people. Feifer gives a vivid portrait of today's Russia from the bottom up-based on numerous conversations with Russians, his intrepid travels to Russia's far-flung regions, and his own family history, intimately and wonderfully told. Feifer's analysis of Russia's political system is gloomy. Corruption, thuggishness, and mafia-style rule flourish under Mr. Putin. But what makes this book stand out is Feifer's sympathy for ordinary Russians, caught between an autocratic tsarist-communist past and an uncertain globalizing future. They emerge from "RUSSIANS as enterprising, stoical, brave, and adaptable, with a capacity for loyalty and friendship, and above all survival, in a country that both bewitches and defies the West."—Luke Harding, Guardian, author of Mafia State: How One Reporter Became an Enemy of the Brutal New Russia

Kirkus Reviews
2013-12-19
Former NPR Moscow correspondent Feifer (The Great Gamble: The Soviet War in Afghanistan, 2009) returns with an analysis of the Russian character derived from his family history and many years of research and travels. In a volume that's very current--the author delivers commentary on both Pussy Riot and Edward Snowden--Feifer presents a series of topics that, combined, paint a stark and only mildly hopeful portrait of Russia. Poverty, drinking, cold and punishment--these are among his principal subjects. Throughout, the author uses a variety of techniques: memoir, interviews with significant Russians and others in the region, summaries of key historical events, and anecdotes about and documents from family and friends (his father is also a writer about the region). Feifer is resolutely anti-Putin, condemning him continually for returning the country to some of its nastier ways after the fall of the Soviet Union and the elevation of hopes in the West. (He writes that Putin's abilities are "feeble at best.") In the opening chapter on poverty, the author offers some grim evidence about living conditions in the country: inefficient health care (HIV-AIDS is a major problem), racist hate crimes, the breakdown of infrastructure and corruption everywhere. Conversely, he follows with a chapter about the vast wealth in the country, mostly from energy; the author (and others) recognizes that Russia's dependence on energy income presents a long-term problem. The Russian fondness for vodka, writes the author, may be a cliché, but it's one based on oceans of evidence. Feifer chides the Russian government for doing little about the problem, and he writes about Russian families, the roles of women, the attitudes toward gays and other minorities, racism and anti-Semitism. He highlights the cronyism and the pervasive corruption, and he warns Western countries not to have any "illusions about what kind of country they are dealing with." Dark but skillfully painted pictures at an exhibition.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781455509645
  • Publisher: Grand Central Publishing
  • Publication date: 2/18/2014
  • Pages: 384
  • Sales rank: 50,708
  • Product dimensions: 6.00 (w) x 9.10 (h) x 1.40 (d)

Meet the Author

Gregory Feifer is a former Moscow correspondent for National Public Radio who has reported from Russia for almost a decade. During its resurgence under Putin, he filed from other former Soviet republics and across Russia, where he observed the effects of the country's vast new oil wealth on an increasingly nationalistic society as well as Moscow's rekindling of a new Cold War-style opposition to the West. In 2008, Feifer covered the Russia-Georgia war from the breakaway Georgian region of South Ossetia and traveled to Siberia, Belgrade and Berlin to produce a series on the Kremlin's use of Gazprom, the Russian gas monopoly, as an instrument of foreign policy.

Before joining NPR in 2005, Feifer-whose mother is Russian-lived in Paris and New York, and has written for numerous outlets, including The New Republic, The Washington Post and World Policy Journal. He witnessed the coup d'etat attempt against Mikhail Gorbachev in 1991, and later, on a fellowship from the Institute of Current World Affairs, examined the end of the Yeltsin era and Russia's subsequent transformation into an authoritarian state.

Feifer is the author of The Great Gamble, a history of the Soviet war in Afghanistan and coauthor of Spy Handler with former KGB colonel Victor Cherkashin. He lives in Boston with his wife Elizabeth, son Sebastian and daughter Vanessa.

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Customer Reviews

Average Rating 4.5
( 3 )
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Sort by: Showing all of 3 Customer Reviews
  • Posted April 5, 2014

    Failed to meet expectations

    I was disappointed. Feifer offers some interesting anecdotes and judgments about Russia. But the linkages between the two are not always apparent. Its narrative is too disjointed.

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  • Posted April 4, 2014

    Excellent Book

    I found it clearly written, riveting and educational. For the layperson (e.g. me), it was perfect. A really good combination of history, current events--and personal anecdotes, which are always helpful to put a point across, and certainly interesting.

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  • Posted March 21, 2014

    Objective Book about the People of Russia

    It is an excellent book about the conditions inside Russia today. The author is from Russia and was an NPR correspondent. Therefore, there could be nothing closer to the truth in his writings in this book. He appears to write about the situation in Russia about the average citizen there without prejudice. The book opens with the privileged oligarchs who live there and then focuses on how the rest of the people live.

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Sort by: Showing all of 3 Customer Reviews

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