‘The Last Empire’ wins third Pushkin House Russian Book Prize

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The Last Empire by Serhii Plokhy was declared the winner of the Pushkin House Russian Book Prize 2015 on 18th May. Lord Browne of Madingley, chair of the judges, announced the decision at a ceremony at Pushkin House, the main centre for Russian culture in London.

The Last Empire: The final days of the Soviet Union (Oneworld) was in competition with five other books published last year, written by authors from the UK, Ukraine, Poland, the US and the Netherlands.

Lord Browne, the businessman and chair of the Tate Galleries, said: “We have found a worthy winner in Serhii Plokhy. He has brought to life events that are of great relevance to our understanding of the ongoing conflict between Russia and Ukraine. The book is beautifully written, well researched and above all engaging. It is a book that is hard to put down and one that readers will find themselves returning to again and again.”

The Pushkin House Russian Book Prize, in association with Waterstones and now in its third year, rewards the best non-fiction writing on Russia and was established to encourage public understanding and intelligent debate about the Russian-speaking world.

Bridget Kendall, the BBC diplomatic correspondent and a member of the jury, said: “This is a fascinating and easily accessible read, both for those who know little about this period, and for those who know a lot. It is well structured, with a compelling narrative divided into clear chapters. It is easy to pick up and hard to put down.”

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On Christmas Day 1991 Mikhail Gorbachev resigned as president of the Soviet Union. By the next day, the USSR was officially no more and the USA had emerged as the world’s sole superpower. Serhii Plokhy presents an account of the preceding five months of drama, filled with failed coups d’état and political intrigue. Homing in on this previously disregarded but crucial period and using recently declassified documents and original interviews with key participants, he shatters the established myths of 1991 and presents a bold new interpretation of the Soviet Union’s final months. Plokhy argues that contrary to the triumphalist Western narrative, George H. W. Bush desperately wanted to preserve the Soviet Union and keep Gorbachev in power, and that it was Ukraine and not the US that played the key role in the collapse. The consequences of those five months and the myth-making that has since surrounded them are still being felt in, Russia, Ukraine, the US and Europe today.

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Serhii Plokhy is the Mykhailo Hrushevsky Professor of Ukrainian History and Director of the Ukrainian Research Institute at Harvard University. A leading authority on Eastern Europe, he has lived and taught in Ukraine, Canada, and the United States. He has published extensively in English, Ukrainian, and Russian. For three successive years (2002-2005) his books won first prize of the American Association for Ukrainian Studies.

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