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42 of 51 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Personal and political meet in a memorable, compelling read
Like a short story by Chekhov, Gregory Feifer's fascinating new book manages to encompass a vast landscape of human complication -- and the expanses of the world's largest nation -- within relatively few pages. At its core is the author's own family story across three generations. Feifer's grandparents saw their lives destroyed in Stalin's purges; his parents (an...
Published 12 months ago by A reader in Washington, D.C.

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20 of 24 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars A Simplistic Stereotypical View of Russia
I didn't get the sense that "Russians" is a balance critique of Russia, nor did I get a better understanding of the country. I purchased "Russians" hoping to learn about the Russian psyche, and how Western European culture differed from Eastern European culture, but unfortunately what I got was a book that is written from an American world view that reinforces...
Published 10 months ago by Shellback


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42 of 51 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Personal and political meet in a memorable, compelling read, February 20, 2014
This review is from: Russians: The People behind the Power (Hardcover)
Like a short story by Chekhov, Gregory Feifer's fascinating new book manages to encompass a vast landscape of human complication -- and the expanses of the world's largest nation -- within relatively few pages. At its core is the author's own family story across three generations. Feifer's grandparents saw their lives destroyed in Stalin's purges; his parents (an American journalist and a Russian university student) lived an unlikely Cold War romance amid Khrushchev's U.S.S.R.; and the author himself has vividly experienced the highs and lows of Communism's collapse and the rise of a new authoritarianism. Around this framework, he builds the larger saga of contemporary Russia. Feifer has traveled as widely and delved as deeply as any journalist of his generation, and he recounts his experiences vividly and with frequent humor. This book will offer insights to historians and policymakers while also informing and entertaining the ordinary reader.

The matryoshka doll on the dust jacket is an apt symbol of what's inside: "Russians" is a compact book that contains multitudes, and that amuses even as it reveals.
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20 of 24 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars A Simplistic Stereotypical View of Russia, April 20, 2014
This review is from: Russians: The People behind the Power (Hardcover)
I didn't get the sense that "Russians" is a balance critique of Russia, nor did I get a better understanding of the country. I purchased "Russians" hoping to learn about the Russian psyche, and how Western European culture differed from Eastern European culture, but unfortunately what I got was a book that is written from an American world view that reinforces stereotypes. The author dwells on Russian oligarchs, poor infrastructure, alcoholism, corruption, cold weather and Putin and the people the author interviews never have anything good to say about their country.

It is as if I was born and raised in a foreign country and I wanted to write a book about the US. While collecting my research I decided to visit the richest parts of Manhattan and San Francisco and then made trips to the poorest parts of Appalachia, Chicago and the American Southwest. After my trip across America my views about the US would probably be very negative and by most accounts my research would not accurately represent America as a whole. This is the perspective the author uses in "Russians".

I did learn from this book that the Russian central government has less control over the populous the further one lives from Moscow, but the author does not explain why the Russian people tolerate such authoritarian regimes. The author also mentions that most Russians were resoundingly opposed to the NATO bombing of Serbia, but he does not explain why. Russians is an interesting read, but you will learn just as much by reading the news on a European website.
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38 of 48 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars Oh, those Russians!, May 2, 2014
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This review is from: Russians: The People behind the Power (Hardcover)
We get from the cultures mostly what we project into them. I'm a Russian-American who lived in Russia for 30 and in the US for 15 years. I disagree with the style and conclusions of this book. I believe this is a distorted picture of the Russians as people. This is a purpose-oriented 'warning reporting', and this is -- by my definition -- ideological. He has a measuring stick - the US - and then he applies it against Russia, without even critically comparing them, mostly dismissing many Russian shortcomings (and they do exists!) as pathologies. He is not a serious scholar of the Russian history, through he apparently has a MA form Harvard. He is first a reporter. His views and opinions are of an NPR-style journalist with a nose for negativity, and the NPR is already critical of Russia. He lived and traveled in Russia for some years, but it does not make him Rebecca West.

Feifer keeps knocking down Putin as someone with limited abilities. This would be a terrible advice for Obama. I believe there has been an avalanche of negativity vis-a-vis Russia in the U.S. which caused the Obama administration to be inclined to react negatively even before the Ukrainian crisis started. Today the U.S. is treating Russia as a pariah state, and it is becoming a self-fulfilling prophecy. According to the author, Putin is a kind of nasty-king-of-the-horrid-people. He portrays the ordinary Russians as inhibited, trapped by their history. He highlights and even overemphasizes Russian problems (authoritarianism, cronyism, corruption, alcoholism, backwardness, etc.) and warns Western countries not to have any `illusions about what kind of country they are dealing with.'

In my view, "Russians" lacks empathy to the Russians. He is not respectful or fond of Russia. His tone is of is one of patronizing superiority. I quote: "Living in Russia often seemed to me an ongoing lesson in precisely how NOT to conduct politics, business and almost every other human endeavor." He sounds like a British `sahib' who arrived to India in 1850 who writes home about benighted `natives' and their curious ways. Perhaps `racist' would be an exaggeration but I consider the book biased and Russophobic.

He draws heavily on the thinking of scholars like Richard Pipes whose views I consider semi-racist, because of the idea that the totalitarianism, expansionism and backwardness had been imprinted on the Russian DNA. The main point of Feifer and Pipes is that the ordinary Russians are trapped by their history. After the Revolution, the people were not victims of an alien ideology. They were participants in the construction of a new autocracy because the legacies of serfdom, tsarist autocracy, and backwardness proved too strong. Feifer comes back to anti-Western backwardness over and over again. In short, books like that increase fear and resentment on both sides. Enough of blackening Russia - it would benefit America too.
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7 of 9 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars Very Disappointed, August 16, 2014
This review is from: Russians: The People behind the Power (Hardcover)
Unfortunately, the author does not even scratch the surface about what it is like to live in Russia. I am also a Russian-American and thought I would find this book interesting. After the first couple of chapters in which the author unceasingly criticizes Russia, I thought this is just the beginning and it will get better. However, the book only gets worse with the author repeating every stereotype about how awful Russia is.

The author self-indulges in his unique Russian experience and weaves in his Russian relatives and laments that his second cousins "within the decade ... lost almost all interest in me." Maybe it was not that they had lost interest, but that they not could bear the condescension of the American cousin against his inferior and backward Russian relatives?

The last couple of chapters proceed at length to demonize Putin and portray him as the primary 21st villain. The author tries to justify his portrayal, but the arguments are pseudo-intellectual and it comes across as just being very naive.

There are many better books about Russia available on Amazon. Here are a couple:

For history: Russia, People and Empire by Geoffrey Hosking
For current relations: The Limits of Partnership by Angela Stent
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Putin bashing and the lawless nature of the russian mafia / corrupt officials., August 28, 2014
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This review is from: Russians: The People behind the Power (Hardcover)
The author obviously hates Putin. The first half of the book could be described as Putin bashing and the second half dealing with the lawless nature of the russian mafia and corrupt officials. Much of the book was repetitive and could have benefited from stronger editing, making it shorter but more powerful.

The sense I got was a country frozen in pre-1917 revolution social development with a strong feudal system that only works as well as the leader. A benign dictator can be a very efficient system of government. But it does not support long term stability and obviously it is terrible way to live if you are on the outs with those in power. The authors builds his case on anecdotes, but it is fairly strong case. Until Russia starts to recognize institutions and laws as having a value and power beyond that of an individual ruler they will continue in their feudalistic governance.

I did not realize how much Putin and his cronies run Russia like their own private fiefdom. But discussing with people who often trade with Russia their response was this is dead on correct.
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10 of 14 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars This view of Russia is a must read--especially today, March 25, 2014
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While a bit heavy on personal stories past and present, Feifer's portrait of Russia is perhaps more accurate than even the US State Department might care to admit. For American's unfamiliar with how Russia's history and culture still play a defining role today, this book brings the complicated elements to life--from the country's political leadership to the common man or woman on the streets of Moscow or the farms in rural communities.

From a western perspective it is all a bit sad, but we must fundamentally understand the web of events, people, politics and culture that makes this country tick. And for those who thought the collapse of the Soviet Union would open the country to western ideas, innovation and our concept of democracy and capitalism, Feifer makes it clear that change will come slowly to Russia, even under the best and most enlightened of circumstances.

I left this book just as I left Russia after several visits… feeling glum about the future because of the country's insular orientation and its inability to risk change.
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3 of 4 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Overwhelmingly about those in power, I hoped to learn more about ordinary Russians, May 4, 2014
This review is from: Russians: The People behind the Power (Hardcover)
It was tough deciding if I would give Feifer's book a 3 or a 4 star rating because I respect his work. He put a lot of time and research into this book and it is filled with very interesting information and perspectives for anyone who plans on either traveling or doing business in Russia. However the book to me was unorganized, overly negative, repetitive, in need of condensing and really didn't have much to say about ordinary Russians which the title of the book claims to be about. The entirety of the book was overwhelmingly about those in power.

I loved the stories of his family and relationships he has made throughout his time in Russia; in other words the Russians behind the power. I would love to see Feifer write a book simply with anecdotes about his times in Russia without the one-sided political views. It was disheartening to read about his relationships only to be abruptly followed by dozens of pages ranting about how terrible Putin is. A lot of valleys but very few hills.

I will give "Russians: The People behind the Power" this: the book has gotten me looking into studying more about Russian language and current events.

This book is for: Those who want an account on Russian political history and how it has shaped the Russia we have today.

This book is not for: Those who want to learn more about ordinary Russians and their stories.
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7 of 10 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars If Russia has relapsed into bad old habits under Putin, September 4, 2014
This review is from: Russians: The People behind the Power (Hardcover)
Overall, this was an enlightening book, enlivened by the author's unique perspective from his family's history in Russia, and his widespread travels in the country. But it was marred by a relentless anti-Putin rant running throughout. Indeed, Putin has reestablished the authoritarian strain in the Kremlin's long history -- cronyism and suppression of the press -- but how did this come about? Feifer does not aim his critical eye at the Anglo-American push to "contain" and cripple Russia after the Soviet collapse, reneging on a pledge made to Gorbachev not to push NATO into former Soviet block countries (12 nations so far have been incorporated), nor the "color revolutions" largely sponsored by American covert operations, using NGOs as covers -- all part of Brzezenski's "Great Game" to establish Western hegemony in central Asia. He even credits with a straight face that the anti-missile shield in Poland is for defense against distant Iran -- a claim that Putin justifiably laughs at in ridicule.

If Russia has relapsed into bad old habits under Putin, it is largely the responsibility of the PNAC (Plan for a New American Century) century in Washington, striving to establish American domination globally, rather than a cooperative multipolar world. After losing 20 million dead in WWII, Russia has a legitimate fear of neo-Nazi uprisings on its doorstep (like the anti-Semitic Svoboda party that has grabbed the reigns in Kiev). If find no fault with Putin's argument that Yankuvych could have been ousted in the next Ukrainian election if a majority rejected his policies, or if that were too distant, he could have been impeached according the Ukrainian constitution.

But these democratic remedies were not followed -- rather a fascist coup was instigated with Western support.

By the end of the book, I was suspecting that Feifer might have been -- like so many other American foreign reporters -- in the pay of the CIA or the NED (National Endowment for Democracy), which of course has absolutely nothing to do with promoting democracy, but rather American supremacy.
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3 of 4 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Needed a stronger focus, May 28, 2014
This review is from: Russians: The People behind the Power (Hardcover)
I'm quite interested in Russian history/society, so I was excited to read this book about modern-day Russia. The book started out well, with very interesting chapters about family life, gender relations, alcoholism, and the role of friends in Russian society. I enjoyed this part of the book most. The second half of the book was more focused on the political situation. It went into great detail recounting events with Putin's major allies and enemies. I found it difficult to maintain interest as I'm not familiar with the players, except for Putin, Medvedev, and Khodorkovsky. I think this section could have been edited down a lot. The book is a little uneven; like I said, politics is covered in great detail, but other topics are given only cursory discussion. For example, there is a 4-page section on Jews in Russia, which I felt barely scratched the surface of this contentious subject. My reaction was, why include the subject at all if it's going to get such little attention? Overall, this is a worthwhile book, but I felt like it lost focus in the second half.
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9 of 13 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars usual beltway anti russian propaganda, May 11, 2014
This review is from: Russians: The People behind the Power (Hardcover)
Chapter titles such as: extravagance, poverty, drinking, indolence and inefficiency, cold and punishment, grandiosity and bombast. Does not shed light on the russia of today, the people, nothing. Same blather coming fm current admin--ohhh, them dirty, evil russians. Save your $28 plus tax. Can get this line from any us news outlet, cnn, so forth.
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Russians: The People behind the Power
Russians: The People behind the Power by Gregory Feifer (Hardcover - February 18, 2014)
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