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Midnight in Siberia: A Train Journey into the Heart of Russia

3.77  ·  Rating details ·  1,837 ratings  ·  335 reviews
Far away from the trendy cafes, designer boutiques, and political protests and crackdowns in Moscow, the real Russia exists. Midnight in Siberia chronicles David Greene's journey on the Trans-Siberian Railway, a 6,000-mile cross-country trip from Moscow to the Pacific port of Vladivostok. In quadruple-bunked cabins and stopover towns sprinkled across the country s snowy la ...more
Hardcover, 336 pages
Published October 20th 2014 by W. W. Norton Company (first published January 1st 2014)
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Nov 07, 2014 rated it it was ok
Spoilt by the author's cultural arrogance. There is something 'off' in the tone of this whole book....but this sentence encapsulates it - 'I can't believe, looking backward twenty years, that I saw Russia as cold, oppressed, backward country, emerging from decades of terror amd on the cusp of enjoying the wisdom of America's way of life and system of government.'

The author may respect the Russians and value their culture in his own way, but his mind-set that the American way of life and governme
You've watched American talk-shows, right? The author and narrator of this book is now host of NPR's Morning Edition. Before that he was NPR's Moscow bureau chief for 2.5 years. After concluding his post as bureau chief he took a second cross-country trip on the Trans-Siberian Railway from Moscow to Vladivostok, the basis for this book. He also throws in a few tidbits from his earlier travels. Tidbits, that is the word to be emphasized. The whole book reads as a talk-show program. Chatty, humoro ...more
Oct 23, 2014 rated it it was ok
Shelves: nonfiction, travel, 2014
I wanted to like this so much more than I did.

First, it surprises me that someone who is educated, well-traveled, and who has lived several years in Russia can start from so strong a basic premise that of course all Russians should want their country to be just like America. Throughout the narrative, Greene seems continuously surprised when every Russian he meets doesn't instinctively seem to feel that America is better than Russia, and American democracy is better than any alternative.

(I can un
Mikey B.
Feb 02, 2015 rated it liked it
This book describes a train journey across Russia and the people met.

The author works for Public Radio in the U.S. and was stationed in Russia for a few years; he made two trips from Moscow to Vladivostok.

There are interesting interviews but overall I felt this book like an introduction 101 course to Russia.
- overall there was a lack of depth
- I became tired of the author’s constant refer-back to his own country – such as comparing the landscape to Denver, to Pittsburgh...
- also tiresome was hi
Dec 05, 2014 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I was disappointed that there was relatively little travel narrative involved (perhaps 30%), with the rest portraits of "average" Russians he met along the way. That having been said, Greene does an excellent job in carrying out his intention of getting across how those encounters changed his perception of Russia and its likely future. Critics of his American-centric outlook fail to note that at the end he accepts that, unlike say post-war Japan, it's not a matter of installing a western-style d ...more
Jan 02, 2015 rated it it was ok
Both the title—Midnight in Siberia—and subtitle—A Train Journey into the Heart of Russia—are misleading. This book is neither a travelogue nor a train story. Rather, it is a kaleidoscope of encounters with ordinary Russians. How a train journey along the Trans-Siberian Railway makes the narrative special is not clear at all: the author could have met the same group of characters in any park or café in Moscow where he worked as an NPR bureau chief. Siberia, so prominently featured on the cover, i ...more
Laura Zlogar
Nov 07, 2014 rated it did not like it
Unless you have an inordinate desire to read everything you can about Siberia, you probably don't want to read this book. All too obvious is the fact that this is the author's first book. While he heaps thanks to his editor for all of her help and guidance (to find a voice, for instance), I kept wondering what the first draft looked like if this was the much improved version. The voice David Greene found is naive, judgmental, and superficial. The structure of the book--each named after a person ...more
Dec 04, 2017 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: politics, russia
I was a bit disappointed by this book. One of my goals is to take the Trans-Siberian railroad from Moscow to either Vladivostok or Beijing. Despite the title, only 40% of the book takes place in Siberia -- and only about 10% or less on the train. Most of Midnight in Siberia consists of interviews with Russians about the fate of their country. David Greene does creditable job making the interviews interesting, but it wasn't what I was looking for. ...more
I was disappointed by Midnight in Siberia. Having been to Russia, but only visited its two major cities Moscow and St Petersburg, I was keen to read about change in the rest of the country. David Greene is an American journalist for NPR* who had been working in its Moscow Bureau, so I expected him to be not only knowledgeable about the country, but also to be able to access people and places unavailable to mere tourists such as myself. What I was not expecting was for him to use his book to snee ...more
Jun 12, 2015 rated it did not like it
Poorly written, naive and patronising attempt to summarise people quickly and with little research. Observations of people are fine - but the author is attempting to force his observations, through his own, oddly uninformed lens, into representing the largest country in the world.
Main issues:
Irritating phonetic spelling of Russian throughout; overuse of quotes from the author's non-Russian, cynical and witless wife as though she were a voice of authority; questionable interview tactics; odd choi
Marianka Campisi
Dec 24, 2014 rated it liked it
Shelves: scans
This book inspired me to know more about Russia, its history and its felt like a great bridge in between the things that I already knew, and the things I would love to know more about.

"Midnight Train to Siberia" is a window to the life of people in Russia from an American point of view, a portrait of a country that is struggling to find its identity. Most of the people that David Greene encounters share the difficulties of being born in a time of change, their mixed feelings about Pu
May 05, 2015 rated it it was ok
I had high hopes for Midnight in Siberia, as I have read and enjoyed several travelogues that take place on the Trans-Siberian Railway. The premise was sound, and the people he met along the way that he uses to tell the story were interesting and deserved far more attention than they received. The writing was mediocre, and when combined with cringeworthy naivete and obsequious obeisance to the "We Are the World" dogma of political correctness (the author works for NPR, enough said), was enough t ...more
Christine Merrill
Apr 16, 2020 rated it really liked it
Somehow this book made me want to go to Russia, despite...being very clear about the coldness of the climate and the people, the difficulty of the journey and the way of life. An immersive and interesting piece of travel writing--and as someone who loves to travel but kiiiiind of hates reading most travel writing, that is high praise!
Tara O'Donnell
Jan 22, 2021 rated it liked it
I was looking forward to reading Midnight in Siberia because I enjoy Greene’s segment on NPR (and his lovely voice), but this was ultimately very disappointing.

While he provides some cool insight on the Trans-Siberian Railway experience, I found myself constantly cringing at his arrogance and patronizing tone during the interviews with locals. Greene can’t seem to comprehend that people willingly live outside of the United States.

Honestly, this deserves two stars, but the Buranovskiye Babushki
Irma Sturgell
Jan 12, 2015 rated it liked it
I hoped for much from this book as I enjoy listening to NPR and David Greene. I was disappointed. Having read Ian Frazier's "Travels in Siberia" probably ruined me as it was far superior in style, tone and information gathered from the reading. This book seemed like Mr. Greene's well kept travel diary, like the ones I keep on trips with one exception. He was inordinately fixated on Vladimir Putin. Granted, Putin is not a likable guy, in fact likely very dangerous. But does it seem slanted to hea ...more
a bit of traveling on the siberian express, and a bit about the railroad itself, and a bit about history of the railroad and history of russia/ussr/russia. but lots about individual russians today (2011-2013) with fairly interesting interviews and analysis by author. and interesting reporting on using translators and being a not-very-good russian speaker/reporter in russia.
some takeaways: 2011 street protests and rallies for a differnt leadership than the same old putin regime author greene says
Dec 25, 2014 rated it it was ok
Recommends it for: Nobody
Recommended to Gail by: Other reviewers
Shelves: mediocre
I knew I was in trouble with this book on the first page of the Prologue. The second sentence used the wrong word: "at" instead of "as." This was not the only error, as I found tons. I began writing them down thinking that I was going to contact the author/publisher. It seemed as if the publication of this book was rushed. It's badly in need of a proofreader.
Between bad spelling, missing words, incorrect usage and the fact that it's not really a train story, it was a disappointment.
May 10, 2015 rated it really liked it
a.) Author visits home of ex-cop who was wrongfully accused of abducting a girl, who became paralyzed when he escaped authorities who were torturing him during an interrogation:
"'I do my best for my son,' Lyudmila says, almost apologetically. She points to the wheelchair in the corner of the room. 'He can't walk. The doorways in our flat are too narrow for the wheelchair. It doesn't fit in the bathroom, so I lift him up and put him on the toilet. It's not easy.' She's smiling. 'He's a big guy!'"
Vicky Hunt
Nov 05, 2018 rated it did not like it
Snow Job: Political Travel Agenda

Turn on your radio and listen to NPR for about 8 hours. No, you wouldn't do that? Well then, why would you listen to this book? Remember the 'talking heads' label that became popular in the eighties? Imagine one of those talking heads on a train across Russia. 

This is where we get the expression "reading the news." Television news reporters are all too often chosen for the wrong reasons, and then read the news on the air, from audio feeds they are presented while
Mar 10, 2017 rated it really liked it
Shelves: travel
Very interesting. I listened to this as an audiobook. The book was written before Trump became President, even before his campaign started. David Greene often wonders why the Russians don't try harder, or don't seem to want it more, to become like the US, to be "free" and democratic. Ironically, in his words, the words of the people he interviews, Putin's words and ideas, you hear Trump. Or Bannon. It's easy to recognize the philosophy behind certain ideas and motives. Russia is not moving towar ...more
Anne S.
Aug 10, 2020 rated it liked it
It was interesting to learn more about the Russian people and the cities in Siberia. My biggest problem with the book was how much the author interjected his own opinions instead of letting the people and stories speak for themselves. What took away from the book even more was the repetitiveness of his opinions.
Elisabeth (Enthralled by the Written Word)
I am so glad I finally read this. Truly enjoyed the insight into Russia’s people, and the journey on the Trans-Siberian Railway. I would give it five stars, but the author’s weird insistence that America’s “way” is better no matter what kinda irritated me. He writes very well, and I appreciated his thoughts, but there was something aloof in his tone sometimes.
Aug 23, 2017 rated it really liked it
This was a wonderful book! I thoroughly enjoyed reading about the author's travels across Russia. it was really cool to read and learn about the lives, culture, and even political differences that appear across the country! I am sure that this book will make a travel junkie very happy. ...more
Mary Louise
Jul 09, 2017 rated it liked it
I'm a fan of David Greene's commentary on NPR, so it was exciting to learn about this book and the personal stories of Russian people with whom he's come in contact. However, I found most chapters to be a bit condescending towards the Russians he interviewed, and he tended to overgeneralize about Russian culture despite his years of living there. His cliche judgements as a foreigner observing the long suffering Russian soul and corruption everywhere have been said before. I'd rather he'd have ex ...more
Gina Mullen
Sep 04, 2017 rated it liked it
Very glad I read it. A very light read - probably too light. I think it would have been better as a shorter book. Some repetition - maybe too much reflection & more diverse interviews would have helped. Still, a decent, quick read!
Taylor Howard
Oct 12, 2018 rated it really liked it
Fun quick read. Recommend it for anyone who loves travel books.
B. P. Rinehart
"They are in effect still trapped in a history which they do not understand and until they understand it, they cannot be released from it." - James Baldwin (A little out-of-context, but trust me it applies here.)

I have read quite a few books written by or about Russians. My introduction to Russian literature was Notes from Underground, which I only read because of its links to my favorite novel Invisible Man. Despite the incidental connection, I became fascinated with Dostoevsky and his literary
Jul 05, 2015 rated it really liked it
Truth be told, the likelihood of me picking up a book about Russian culture and politics is pretty slim. However, a perfect storm of sorts came together for Midnight in Siberia. First, I read a short but glowing review of the book (in Traveler magazine, perhaps?) as an engaging travelogue through wild, snow-covered Russia. Then, I noticed that a familiar voice - David Greene from NPR's Morning Edition - was the author. Those two reasons put the book on my "To Read" list, and I'm glad they did.

Sharon Barrow Wilfong
Sep 05, 2016 rated it really liked it
David Greene is host of NPR's Morning Edition. He spent over two years in Russia as NPR's Moscow Bureau chief. While there he traveled the Trans-Siberian Railway in order to interview people from all walks of life in big towns and small.

This is exactly my sort of book. It is simply about normal people, what is going on in their lives and what they think. He met young and old, yet there were definite things they all had in common.

Outside in public, they were all impersonal in a Bradbury-esque dys
Thomas Isern
Mar 20, 2015 rated it liked it
Shelves: travel-narrative
I see that reviews of this book, in various venues, have been mixed. As is mine. I am interested enough in the current state of affairs at the grassroots in Russia to finish the book and get some things from it. On the other hand, the book is lame on several counts.

First, the template. It's an NPR template: I went here and talked to this person, then I went there and talked with another person, and some of them are cool people, and some of them are scary. This works all right for radio, even lon
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Reading Along Wit...: David Greene: “Midnight In Siberia” 1 6 Oct 28, 2014 04:25PM  

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David Greene is co-host of NPR’s “Morning Edition” and has reported on politics and events in Russia, the Baltic, and Libya. He lives in Washington, DC.

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68 likes · 9 comments
“What we have,” Robert tells us, “is not democracy. It is imitative democracy. We have all the external signs. We have elections. We have a parliament. We have legislation. All the accessories of democracy. But anyone with common sense here knows we live in an authoritarian state. Putin has learned that if he offers the accessories of democracy, his regime can be very hard to accuse. The regime does one thing very well: It doesn’t listen. So there can be free speech, channels of communication. But normally in a democracy, those voices affect decision making. In this country that doesn’t happen.” 4 likes
“Covering the White House, I certainly took my swims in foreign policy, attending numerous summits between Russia’s Vladimir Putin and America’s George W. Bush, who once famously remarked that he looked into Putin’s soul and liked what he saw (a moment when I could almost hear Putin, a former KGB spy, saying to himself, Got him!).” 2 likes
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