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The Last Man in Russia: The Struggle to Save a Dying Nation Hardcover – April 30, 2013


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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 296 pages
  • Publisher: Basic Books (April 30, 2013)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0465074987
  • ISBN-13: 978-0465074983
  • Product Dimensions: 6.1 x 1 x 9.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.3 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (29 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #548,010 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

From Booklist

Russia’s population is plummeting for various reasons, alcohol abuse among them. Statistics on the problem sprinkle this work, and Bullough seeks out explanations that he develops through recent travels in Russia in biographical pursuit of one man, Dmitry Dudko (1922–2004). He was an Orthodox priest whose life span and experiences roughly reflected major events of the Soviet era: collectivization, WWII, the gulag, and the dissident movement. As Bullough journeys to Dudko’s birthplace, seminary, churches, and gravesite in Moscow, and the Arctic sites of his gulag, he portrays Dudko’s character through recollections of acquaintances and Dudko’s underground writings. Able to attract and inspire congregations, Dudko offered hope and mutual trust through an antialcohol message. Unfortunately, Dudko’s popularity also attracted the KGB, which harassed Dudko until he did its bidding. Though not sympathetic to Dudko’s collapse, which he contrasts with the stories of dissidents who went to prison in the 1970s, Bullough portrays it as a result of the waythe Soviet state atomized society and drove it to drink. An inquisitive traveler, Bullough conveys a vividly descriptive impression of contemporary Russia. --Gilbert Taylor

Review

PRI's "The World" Best Books of 2014
“Bullough is a great writer, and anyone who's traveled in Russia will appreciate his deft handling of the surreal scenes one sometimes encounters in the world's largest country.”

New York Times Book Review
“Bullough is a wonderful companion as he traces the course of Father Dudko’s life, visiting the miserable settlements and prisons he left behind…. By the end of the book, you, too, will want to drink shots of vodka with him…. These are the chronicles of a writer who truly knows Russia, and who is not beyond having his heart broken. Amid the reams of writing coming from experts in the offices of distant research organizations, there are too few accounts like Bullough’s, which convey the deep stories in the lives of Russians…. He has unearthed a story of remarkable relevance for today: about the man who walked out of Lefortovo Prison with his hatred of a disintegrating system transformed into a hatred of us.”

The Economist
“Bullough has a good sense of how the traumas of Russia’s past affect its present. His new book is a mixture of travelogue and biography, as he traces the life of Father Dmitry Dudko, an Orthodox priest who exemplified both resistance to Soviet rule and defeat at its hands…. He weaves the woes of past decades into his journeys to wretched villages, along with the lies and greed in the metropolis. Father Dmitry may be all but forgotten in modern Russia, but his old self would have plenty to say about it.”

Financial Times
The Last Man in Russia is a complex interweaving of two stories: alcoholism in Russia, and the destruction of a moral crusader and opposition figure at the hands of a brutal regime…. Bullough has quite a gift for presenting his material in simple and readable prose…. While The Last Man in Russia is more complex than Bullough’s previous work, it is also a broader and more fulfilling read.”

Newsweek
“In Oliver Bullough’s bleak, beautiful The Last Man in Russia, a mix of biography and reportage, Dudko’s journey from defiance to submission to self-destruction becomes the archetypal Russian story: a broken man representing a broken nation.”

Telegraph, UK
“A gritty, deeply embedded travelogue that investigates the culture of drinking, the decline of the Russian family and the experience of trying to remain a man in the Soviet system through a sleuth-like hunt for the real story behind Father Dmitry Dudko.”

Sunday Times (London)
"As he follows the locations of the priest's life, Bullough mixes his own research into Russia's modern history with stories of encounters on the road, a combination as potent as the vodka that is bringing down the nation.... Out of the story of Father Dmitry's life and the reality of a nation drowning in drink, Bullough draws an extraordinary portrait of a nation struggling to shed its past and find peace with itself.

Sunday Telegraph (London)
"Part biography, part history, Oliver Bullough's book is also an attempt to demarcate the front lines of the battle for the Russian soul.... The subject matter is rendered palatable by Bullough's brisk, lucid style and his skilful interweaving of historical context with his own rich experience of Russia. He has a talent for sketching the people he meets, often administering a welcome dose of humour, and he appreciates the absurd, in the best Russian tradition.
Bullough's questing, roving spirit is admirable.... An ambitious and wide-ranging journey into the heart of a great, sad country."

The Guardian
"More than a thesis on the economics of grain distillation, The Last Man in Russia is a contemporary history refracted through the story of one extraordinary man.... Weaving together the narrative strands...and bolstering them with solid research, [Bullough] charts the decline of the Russian nation. He is particularly good at conjuring key moments, vivid characters and credible dialogue, and at flipping between the small incident and the big picture.... Imagining is a whole lot easier with such a lively, well-written and commanding narrative to guide us."

The Christian Science Monitor
“Bullough has tracked down some of those past and present brave souls who have stood up to the monstrous pressures and violence; doing so, Bullough has renewed his own and our faith in the tradition of Russian dissidents’ remarkable integrity…. The writing is sparkling and his appreciation for the real heroism of so many Russians is enough to give us hope against hope that the people will free themselves from their increasingly corrupt and incompetent government. The unreasonable and wonderful faith that Bullough, Navalny, and the persecuted rock band Pussy Riot seem to share is that as bad as Russia is now, as locked down as it is now, it can’t stay locked. There are too many keys in circulation that will open the door to Mother Russia’s revival.”

Daily Telegraph (London)
"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.... 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.... The Last Man in Russia is distinguished by the excellence of its writing and its lucid, unsparing gaze.

Literary Review
"Eccentric but beguiling.... [Bullough] has a fine eye for telling, classically Russian scenes and moments."

Times Literary Supplement, UK
“A very engaging travelogue-cum-biography.”

Kirkus Reviews
“In a vivid, colorful account of his journeys, Bullough starkly chronicles the visible evidence of Russia’s despair in abandoned villages, ruined farms, shuttered factories and ubiquitous drunkenness…Part biography, part travelogue, a perceptive, sad and very personal analysis of the decline of a once-great nation.”

Publishers Weekly
"Pursuing Father Dmitry’s story takes Bullough on a crisscross journey of modern day Russia, affording glimpses into the lives of Russians, which is rich with vodka but little else, least of all hope.... While most of what Bullough finds in the past and the present shows why one Russian priest told him, “I look at the future with pessimism,” the book does end with a glimmer of hope, which is a fitting tribute to Father Dmitry and to Bullough’s ability to find and illuminate a story worth telling."

Library Journal
“A compelling read, Bullough’s book is a must for anyone interested in the sociological, psychological, or personal effects of faith and political change on a nation struggling to find its identity and sustain hope.”

Russian Life Magazine
“Dudko's story is indeed a fascinating one and worthy of the space and time that Bullough gives it. And the manner of his telling - as much a modern travelogue far off beaten Russian paths as a biography - is both unusual and engaging. For in understanding Dudko, we better understand all that Russians have been through…the book ends on a high note, with the nascent hope that filled 2011's winter demonstrations.”

Booklist
"An inquisitive traveler, Bullough conveys a vividly descriptive impression of contemporary Russia."

Andrew Meier, author of The Lost Spy: An American in Stalin’s Secret Service
“Few in the West dare take note of ‘the Russian cross’: the birth and death rates that head in opposite directions and forecast a grim future for the world’s largest country. But Oliver Bullough travels Russia with eyes wide open. The Last Man in Russia is an archeological dig in search of a moral compass. Tracing the life of a single priest—from believer to dissident to apologist for the state and even Stalin—he lays bare the troubles haunting the ‘new Russia.’”

Customer Reviews

3.8 out of 5 stars

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

44 of 47 people found the following review helpful By N. Thornburgh on May 10, 2013
Format: Kindle Edition
Ignore the trolls who are voting this book down because they only want to hear sweet, positive things about Russia: this is actually a fantastic book.

Oliver Bullough is one of the foremost writers covering Russia and the Caucasus today. I've never met him, but I first came across his writing in Let Their Fame Be Great, which is still among the best things I've ever read about the Caucasus. That set the bar perhaps unreasonably high for this second book, but this is absolutely a worthy successor.

First off, you should know that this is primarily a travelogue, interwoven with the fascinating history of a dissident Soviet priest named Dmitri Dudko. Yes, Bullough makes a demographics argument in the book--namely that the moral and social dissolution that followed the collapse of the Soviet Union has sent the country headed for a crisis of underpopulation. But that argument never overwhelms the true beauties of this book, which are the first-person view of the farthest expanses of Russia's north and the exploration of the gulag history that once played out there.

I read books and edit writers for a living. This is, as I actually posted on my Facebook account right after reading it, the best book I've read so far in 2013. But it's not just me: Google the reviews in newspapers and magazine and you'll see that this book has impressed reviewers on both side of the Atlantic.

The biggest irony of these Amazon reviews, of course, is that the people who have clearly taken offense at the premise of the book haven't read through to see that in reality, The Last Man in Russia has a great deal of tenderness for the best aspects of the Russian soul. And, not to spoil anything, but there's an uplifting message by book's end. Read it for yourself. It's a joyful book, and deeply moving.
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Format: Hardcover
A Welsh journalist active in Russia for over a decade, Oliver Bullough became very concerned with the country's demographic crisis, where a low birthrate and high mortality rates from alcoholism is laying much of the country to waste. While many think that this hopelessness dates only from the post-Soviet era, Bullough was intrigued by the story of Dmitri Dudko, a dissident priest who revealed the same problems in Soviet society in the 1970s. THE LAST MAN IN RUSSIA traces the life of Fr. Dudko and describes the present state of many of the places that he passed through.

As a linguist working with minority languages of Russia, I have traveled often to the country as it really is outside of Moscow, St. Petersburg and a few other major cities, and I can confirm Bullough's dismal view of the country's villages and small towns (except that I would add heroin addiction alongside alcoholism as a major problem).

Dudko represents an interesting nexus for Russia's suffering of the 20th century and beyond as he was born shortly after the revolution, spent over a decade in a gulag, and began to build a network of fellow dissidents after the Krushchev thaw. Bullough makes two visits to Dudko's part of the "gulag archipelago", describing in detail what he and other prisoners had to suffered in winter (freezing temperatures) and summer (savage mosquitos) alike. After his release, he began to hold group discussions on religious and social issues, defying the Soviet authorities who demanded that priests only perform liturgical tasks but not build any kind of fellowship among parishioners. It is at these talks that he bemoaned the rise in alcoholism and abortion in the Soviet Union, something that was a problem even then, but kept hidden by the Soviet society.
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful By Mary Stone on October 12, 2013
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
this book had important information about what has been going on in Russian culture for the past 60 years or so. It was very thoroughly reserched. It did not come across like the propaganda that we get from the main stream media. People who think they want socialism or communism need to read this bood to see what it is really like. I had no idea that so many political prisoners had died in Russia. If you are interest in History or Sociology, you will appreciate this book. Also gives you a good look at what a culture with heavy use of alcohol looks like.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful By christine lewis on July 5, 2014
Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
For anyone interested in the recent history of the Soviet Union and the successor states of the Former Soviet Union, this is a must read. Simply the best book on this topic I have ever read, with the possible exception of Catherine Merridale's Night of Stone, Death and Memory in Russia. One of a new breed of history and personal experience mixed, Oliver Bullough tells us his time in Russia and his mission , to track down an independent minded Orthodox priest who bore witness to many of the tragedies and disasters of the Soviet period . The books gives an indication of the problems that Russians faced in post 1991 reconstruction, and should be required reading for anyone dealing with Russian affairs today, or interested in Russian motives and psychology.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful By rosw on January 31, 2014
Format: Hardcover
Today the BBC is running the story of high mortality as a result of alcoholism in Russia.
[...] It says (describing a newly released report) 'The study, in The Lancet, says 25% of Russian men die before they are 55, and most of the deaths are down to alcohol. The comparable UK figure is 7%.'
Reviewers on this site who deny this are simply wrong.

This lyrical travel book takes you on a journey though Russia giving the stories behind for these statistics. Fascinating read.
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