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Russians: The People behind the Power

3.76  ·  Rating Details ·  287 Ratings  ·  44 Reviews
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 con
Hardcover, 384 pages
Published February 18th 2014 by Twelve (first published April 1st 2013)
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Russians by Gregory FeiferMastering the Art of Soviet Cooking by Anya von BremzenPutin's Russia by Anna PolitkovskayaLost and Found in Russia by Susan RichardsHave Personality Disorder Will Rule Russia by Jennifer Eremeeva
Nonfiction Books for Russophiles
1st out of 24 books — 4 voters
Nicholas and Alexandra by Robert K. MassieCatherine the Great by Robert K. MassiePeter the Great by Robert K. MassieThe Gulag Archipelago 1918-1956 by Aleksandr SolzhenitsynNatasha's Dance by Orlando Figes
Best Russian History Books
197th out of 313 books — 265 voters

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Community Reviews

(showing 1-30 of 967)
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Mar 06, 2015 Abby rated it liked it
“Russia has no need of sermons (she has heard too many), nor of prayers (she has mumbled them too often), but of the awakening in the people a feeling of human dignity, lost for so many ages in mud and filth.” -- Vissarion Belinsky in a letter to Nikolai Gogol, 1847

Gregory Feifer, former Moscow correspondent for NPR, is half Russian, so it makes his attempt to summarize a vast country of people more palatable. Feifer breezes through the hallmarks of the Russian personality -- grandiosity and ind
Eugene Soukharnikov
Dec 18, 2015 Eugene Soukharnikov rated it did not like it
True that Feifer has some Soviet background, namely his mother is Jewish and comes from the former USSR, obviously with ancestors from what once was the Kingdom of Poland (most Russophone, I almost made a Freudian slip or writing a "b" instead of "n" in the word Russophone, Jews are of Polish origin), with all the accompanying historical luggage that comes with this ancestry, and true, that he is with the NPR Moscow outpost, a propagandist service designed with spreading disinformation and hatre ...more
John Oliphant
Mar 08, 2014 John Oliphant rated it liked it
This is a very timely book about the realities of life in Putin's Russia. I started reading it before Putin's invasion of the Crimea, and it provided a good background for how Russian society works and why it would create the kind of modern authoritarianism that the Kremlin practices.

Later chapters get a little repetitive -- too few ideas to sustain them -- but overall I recommend this book for anyone interested in contemporary Russia.
Mar 11, 2016 J.T. rated it did not like it
Recommends it for: no one
Shelves: nonfiction, ergh, russia
I was casually walking through the nonfiction section of my library when I stumbled upon this little red book. Seeing that it was about Russia (and more specifically, about its people), I knew I had to give it a try.


I wish I could say something good about this book, but let me tell you, it was 350 pages of unrelenting negativity*. ‘Putin’s system turned out to be all about dictatorship’ (page 34), Feifer says, and is ‘not based on popular support’ (page 38). ‘Anger is never far from the surfa
Jay Hinman
Jul 08, 2014 Jay Hinman rated it it was amazing
Russians: they’re just like us, or probably desperately want to be us, don’t they? Gregory Feifer’s wide-ranging and deeply felt exegesis of all things Russian posits that a combination of history, repression, endemic corruption and even sheer land mass have molded an otherness that refutes this question as soon as it’s asked. Russians, in the aggregate, most certainly wish to be Russians more than anything else, warts and all. It’s these systemic and historical warts that “Russians: The People ...more
Mar 29, 2014 Amanda rated it really liked it
One book where it was excusable for the author to talk extensively about his (USSR resident) mother (although he did say she was a "dark beauty" like four times...)
Jun 13, 2014 Bonnie rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Some years ago I read "The Russians" by Hedrick Smith. This book was a look at life in the Soviet Union. Some years later I read "The New Russians" about the period during and after the fall of the Soviet Union. Thus I was very interested to read this book about the present in Russia. This book is extremely interesting and timely. I liked it a lot EXCEPT for one part about orphanages and abandoned children. This part was very upsetting and I wish I could forget it since there's nothing I can do ...more
Jul 09, 2015 Rdt rated it really liked it
I liked this book a lot. I have read a lot of books about Russia, have studied Russian and have known a lot of Russians, and this book rings true to the people and society that I know and find so fascinating. Feiffer effectively blends a journalist's view of culture and society with a personal memoir. The personal parts of the book provide anecdotal support for the book's broader view of Russian society and provide a human element.

The most instructive part of the book for me was the description
Adele Fasick
Mar 27, 2014 Adele Fasick rated it liked it
Shelves: history
With the crisis going on in the Ukraine, this is a good time to read Gregory Feifer's book about the Russians and the social forces that shape their attitudes to politics and power. The book by journalist who has worked in Russia and whose family has Russian roots gives many details about the authors friends and family, some more relevant than others, but I found it filled with fascinating details that help me to understand what is going on in Europe.
Jan 12, 2016 Christen rated it liked it
It was uneven in writing but good. I think I had issues with the sequencing and for some reason the history of beginning of Russia came at the end of the book and not the front. I didn't like how he structure the chapters and I found the more interesting information come towards the end of the book. This is a book for people who know Russian history because the author doesn't go into much detail, unless it serves his purpose, for which I can't tell what it is.

I know that his family background i
Jun 05, 2015 Aaron rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Russians really was an enlightening read. It gave me an insight and perspective into what modern day Russia is really like that I did not have much of an inkling of before. I love when I pick up a book and read about something that I had little or no prior knowledge of before. It is such a journey of discovery!

The rampant corruption and path back towards Soviet-era Russia that is currently prominent in Russia was something I did not realize. And Putin's role in all of it and the sham of a democr
This was such an interesting read! I'm still trying to grasp Russian history and generally the books I stumble on or add to my 'to-read' list don't cover the past two decades or so of more recent events, much less get the viewpoint of the people, so this book caught my eye right away. Gregory Feifer has personal ties to the country which I also enjoyed very much - I find that family history that the author shares in these books really help me connect to the bigger picture. He did mention that he ...more
Sep 01, 2014 Carrie rated it it was amazing
For anyone who has ever been to Russia or been interested in this fascinating country, this is a great book that gives all the historical perspective and insight you could imagine in an honest fashion. The best part is that it's through the eyes of a Harvard-educated, former NPR reporter who spent extensive time there and also has a rich background of his own. His mother is Russian and his father, also a book writer and journalist, spent a lot of time there, too.

Disclosure: The writer, Gregory
Jul 21, 2014 Cheyanne rated it really liked it
This ambitious book attempts to explain Putin's Russia in the context of a culture that has tolerated corruption, bad government, and extreme economic inequality for centuries. The result is a bit uneven, but always informative and often revealing. Gregory Feifer is well-equipped for the task: his mother is a Russian emigre; his father was an American foreign service officer in the USSR; he studied Russian history with leading scholars at Harvard; and he spent several years reporting on Russia f ...more
May 03, 2016 Greg rated it really liked it
Who are these people forcing this rating down to a 3.74 stars? This being Goodreads, the average is 4 stars, subpar is like 3.95 stars, and horrible is 3.85 stars. Are they Putin's internet goons?

This book was very informative and readable, though really, really depressing. Life in Russia is described kind of like life in Kafka's The Trial. The system doesn't care about you but it's somehow always stacked against you, and every aspiration leads to a dead end. Buy a new car? There are metal filin
Kerry Miller
Apr 23, 2014 Kerry Miller rated it it was ok
Please, tell me again about how the cold winters have shaped the Russian national character. [eye roll]
Aug 17, 2014 Murray rated it really liked it
Shelves: general-history
Russians is an example of journalistic non-fiction done right. Gregory Feifer offers a surprisingly deep insight into the culture and identity of a people.

This sounds awfully simple in a condensed statement. The success of Russians lies in separating a personal narrative from two oft-repeated gravitations with this form; the first, toward anecdotal or colloquial portraiture with little substance; and second, a reportage of events. Feifer has navigated a line straight down the middle.

The single
Aug 28, 2015 Sheri rated it really liked it
Shelves: a-must-read
This is a very interesting read on a part of Russian history that I have never read about before. It's very nice that it does include some pictures at the start of all chapters. It's nice to put a picture to who your reading about.

Really don't want to give any spoiler alerts so I'll just say what a tortured life to have grown up as Stalin's daughter. To never be able to escape Stalin's history and live your whole connected to such a monster!

If your interested at all in Russian history then I wou
Robert Davidson
Jun 22, 2014 Robert Davidson rated it it was amazing
A very absorbing book written by a journalist with extensive experience in Russia. Endemic corruption, a flawed legal system and a succession of power hungry Despots make life quite miserable for a lot of ordinary Russian people. He delves into the history of the country to help explain the inability of Russian society to escape their past despite the efforts of many brave people many of them journalists who have ended up shot by thugs. The Author's mother is Russian and her story is very intere ...more
Feb 17, 2016 Sillerdis rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: non-fiction
Sobib inimesele, kes ei ole Venemaaga eriti kokku puutunud ja kelle teadmised on väga üldised.

"Kas teil seda odekolonni on?" küsib klient habemeajaja juures ja hingab habemeajajale näkku. Habemeajaja raputab pead ja hingab omakorda kliendile näkku: "Ei, meil on ainult seda."

Üks teine mees, kes on tundide kaupa viinajärjekorras seisnud, otsustab selle asemel Kremlisse minna ja Gorbatšovile korraliku keretäie anda. Kui ta tunni aja pärast tagasi tuleb, küsib temalt sõber, kes ikka veel sealsamas s
Jun 20, 2014 Alex added it
This is an interesting book about the character of the Russian people, written by an NPR correspondent with some family ties to the country. Very cold winters, poverty, vodka, Slavophile Russian Orthodoxy vying against Western Enlightenment values all help form the Russian character. There is speculation about the origin of the dependence on a strongman leader. The country was formed by inviting a Swedish strongman king to form Kievian Rus’ from a collection of weak Slavic tribes. Harsh winters ...more
Tanel Vari
Jul 19, 2016 Tanel Vari rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Väga hea ülevaade tänapäeva Venemaast segatuna populaarteaduslikku ja isiklikku kastmesse. Ma ei imesta, et trollid seda siin maha teevad, sest kuigi autor Venemaad armastab ei ole tal sugugi sooje tundeid selle poliitilise eliidi jaoks. Võib olla valus lugemine, aga minule tundub aus. Tänapäeval mil uudised vahetuvad hulgakaupa ja suurtel vahemaadel on osa sellest raamatust juba iganenud, kirjutatud on see ikkagi 2014-15 aasta seisuga. Aga seda huvitavam on mõnikord vaadata ajamasinasse.
bibliotekker Holman
Jul 04, 2014 bibliotekker Holman rated it really liked it
I started reading this during the Olympics and finally completed it. Feifer, an NPR correspondent with a Russian mother and American father writes about a country that increasingly works against its people and its own self interest as one of the most chaotic kleptocracies on the planet. On the 4th of July, it makes me appreciate the imperfect country we have with much that we often take for granted. Invariably, I enjoy books written by NPR correspondents for their style and depth.
Peter Mcloughlin
A little disappointed in this one. It always seems that the authors of travel books always seem to reflect the state of our relations with the country they study. This book is one of those. We do not have good relations with Russians at the moment and this book paints a somewhat unflattering picture of them. It had some nice incites into the people of Russia but I felt it tried to paint the picture in ominous shades to match the world situation. All in all not bad if somewhat biased.
Apr 28, 2014 Francisco rated it liked it
3.5 stars. Interesting, mingling Russian history, current phenomena and personal stories, but maybe too choppy. Apart from that, and knowing that Putin is no saint, Feifer is too naive concerning international politics, believing that Russia is ALWAYS wrong, while the USA are ALWAYS disinterested, the hero in the movie. And you know that such radical dichotomies don't exist in real life.
Sep 01, 2014 Linda rated it liked it
On a river cruise in Russia I was seeing only the tourist attractions. The onion-domed cathedrals, palaces, and gardens were impressive, but this book opened my eyes to the poverty, domestic violence, and corruption running so rampant. There is also the personal story of the author's Russian mother and grandmother.
Apr 14, 2016 Mike added it
I read this book because I had heard Feifer interviewed and liked what I heard. He is a Russian specialist of about my age.

Unfortunately, the organization of this book drove me up the wall. Digression seemed to follow digression. They were well-written digressions, but I felt the book was spinning its wheels.

Others might like this. I could not.
May 25, 2016 Marie rated it liked it
This book started out well with incisive profiles of Soviet/Russian government and the lives of its citizens. Unfortunately, the last few chapters of the book descend into 100% negativity, which made me wonder about the author's objectivity. In addition, the descriptions of bureaucratic infighting under Putin needed a good, sharp editorial knife.
Dec 07, 2014 Peterandsusan rated it really liked it
Powerful book about the people and current government of Russia. Can get depressing at times as the cycle of corruption and tyranny sap the soul. Interesting fact: vodka sales are a major source of income for the Russian government.
Mar 18, 2014 Rose rated it it was amazing
Fascinating look at contemporary Russia through ordinary people met By Mr. Feifer. As the son of a Russian mother,the author is able to be see the real Russia. Plenty of intesting facts and stories, some sad and some humorous.
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“Vladimir Putin shot out of obscurity in 1999 by exploiting growing nostalgia for the USSR, fueled by the disappointment, uncertainty and crisis that brought Yeltsin’s reform era to a shuddering halt. Once in power the following year, Putin set about building an authoritarian regime whose control would expand for more than a decade, until soaring corruption on top of another economic downturn—a much smaller one, triggered by the global financial crisis of 2008—prompted another backlash.” 0 likes
“Fear has also been used to carry out a redistribution of wealth—which is to say back under the control of the state, where Putin is chief among a collection of officials whose roles more closely resemble those of Mafia dons than public servants.” 0 likes
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