about the series
Russian Through Propaganda (and its continuation, Russian Through Poems and Paintings) is a new series of textbooks that take a somewhat different approach to Russian, emphasizing rigorous knowledge of grammar, the ability to read original literary texts, and appreciation of the language's historical and cultural context. The series is geared towards ambitious students whose goal is long-term mastery of the language through a highly structured approach.
Each volume represents a semester's worth of intensive college-level Russian, and each is divided into 50 daily lessons that build clearly upon one another. And, while grammar remains the center of attention, there's fun enough to be had along the way: Books 1 and 2, which focus on the Soviet era, are replete with propaganda posters whose slogans illustrate the grammar at hand, and Books 3 and 4, focusing on the Imperial era, are richly illustrated with paintings that illustrate important aspects of Russian history and culture.
Many students' chief motivation in studying Russian is to one day be able to appreciate Russian literature in the original. This series introduces unadapted readings in Russian at the end of Book 2 (Soviet-era poetry and prose, including the likes of Akhmatova, Zamyatin, and Shalamov), and turns to the classics in Books 3 (Pushkin, Lermontov, and Chekhov) and 4 (which features a condensed version of Dostoevsky's Crime and Punishment). All readings feature parallel vocabulary notes.
One of the guiding principles in writing these books was to present things as clearly as possible, while also refusing to oversimplify. These books are therefore indeed challenging, to the extent that they attempt to present grammar topics in their true complexity, from the very beginning, to help assure students' long-term success with the language, while avoiding the seemingly ineradicable misconceptions that often arise when beginning students are given "rules of thumb" that may seem practical, but which often skirt the real issue at hand. These books assume that students are serious about learning Russian, and tries to lay out Russian grammar and word formation as straightforwardly as possible, without playing games or hiding the ugly truth!
So, the approach may be different from that taken by the average "communicative" textbook; beyond this, the texts in the book are genuine and completely unadapted, from the first propaganda slogan to the excerpts from "Crime and Punishment." This is all challenging — while also, it is hoped, interesting and rewarding. But, students who want simplified readings or more communicative textbooks to supplement this series should of course realize that such resources are available in great abundance. The approach taken in this series is arguably much harder to come by.
• intended for ambitious beginners, or for intermediate and even advanced students who are looking for a comprehensive and highly structured review of the language
• assumes its readers are interested in long-term mastery of the language, within the rich historical, cultural, and literary contexts that often draw students to Russian in the first place
• structured as a series of 50 daily lessons per volume, which build upon one another and give a clear sense of progress
• takes the time to explain challenging grammar topics (such as verb conjugation, verbal aspect, motion verbs, and subjectless constructions) in depth, striving to provide the full picture as clearly as possible
• carefully describes Russian idioms and what Russians “really say,” as well as the misconceptions that arise when we rely excessively on English translations
• richly illustrated by Soviet-era propaganda and advertising posters, whose slogans serve as examples of each lesson’s grammar, giving even beginning students glimpses of “real Russian”
• cultivates a familiarity with Soviet history, culture, and ideology that is essential for understanding Russia, both past and present
• strewn with Russian proverbs and popular sayings, chosen to illustrate the grammar at hand
• features useful tables of all relevant forms (especially verb conjugations), and marks all stresses
• includes a number of conversation topics and daily exercises in each lesson, with answer key, along with additional worksheets and audio files available for free online
• includes a learner's Russian-English dictionary in the back with all chapter vocabulary
• carefully "tags" all verb entries by conjugation type, giving students (over time) a clear sense of what conjugation and stress patterns exist in Russian verbs, and allowing them to more easily assimilate new verbs in the readings
about the author
That's me (Mark Pettus). I majored in German and History at Vanderbilt, with a minor in Russian, then spent a year in St. Petersburg, Russia, on a Fulbright Scholarship. I then earned a Ph.D. in Slavic Languages and Literatures at Princeton University, where I studied Czech and Polish in addition to Russian. Today, I teach all three languages (and quite a bit of literature in the process) as a Lecturer at Princeton. In total, I've spent over five years in Russia, including around two years as a translator, both in Moscow and St. Petersburg.
I'm often asked by students why I began studying Russian. The answer is simple: I wanted to read Russian literature in the original. I was also interested in Russian history and culture in general, and was also determined to spend as much time living in Russia as I could so that my speaking ability could catch up with my knowledge of grammar.
This all helps explain the approach I've taken in these books, whose real focus is to prepare serious students to work with real Russian texts and, ideally, to study in Russia themselves — which, in my view, is the only way to achieve true fluency in this very difficult language. In structuring the books, I've tried to take full advantage of my own experience as a Russian learner, explaining as best I know how (and without pulling any punches) some tricky topics that took me years to make sense of myself.