I have a degree in Russian Language & Literature, I am a Russian translator, and I have been visiting and working in Russia since 1990. I can recite a Pushkin poem in Russian from memory, make a mean Russian meatloaf and propose a heartfelt toast at the drop of a hat; and I know never to leave empty beer bottles on the table or give someone an even number of flowers. However, nearly everything in this book was new to me. Olga Fedina takes us on a whistle-stop tour of some of the highlights of Russian popular culture that most foreigners are unaware of, as the title states. My only criticisms of the book are that it could have been twice as long; and the proofreading could have been done more diligently ("Enjoy You Bath"; "advertized"). Each chapter focuses on a movie, book, TV show or person that has been so influential in Russian popular culture that they are constantly quoted in everyday life. A foreigner hearing these quotes would probably think their Russian friends are incredibly witty, without realizing that they aren't being original at all (I have the same experience when my five-year-old daughter says something funny, and then I hear it on one of her cartoons). One of the many great things about the book is that there are language notes at the end of each chapter that give the best relevant quotes in Russian and then explain them.
There are 12 chapters, and I am only familiar with the subjects of four of them: Vladimir Vysotsky, the singer and poet who died from alcoholism; The Twelve Chairs, the satirical book by Ilf and Petrov; the romantic Soviet movie Moscow Does Not Believe in Tears; and Mikhail Bulgakov, the author of The Master and Margarita. Even knowing something about these, and having seen Moscow Does Not Believe in Tears twice, I still learned a huge amount. Fedina provides a great deal of background and context, for example about the directors of movies or the era in which the works of art were produced, yet does it in a concise and entertaining style so that it never drags or sounds informational. She really tries to understand why people behaved the way they did - eg why Vysotsky was so self-destructive - not shying from giving her own opinion at times, but always making it convincing. She will sometimes digress, for example to talk about an only tangentially-related TV show, but again this will be interesting and relevant. Even when she actively dislikes her subject (the rather reactionary comedian Mikhail Zadornov) she still gives us a well-rounded portrait, and her observations about the political and cultural condition of today's Russia are absolutely right, in my opinion - having visited there recently. Although Fedina as an emigre is sometimes understandably nostalgic about (and describes vividly, including all the unusual sights and smells) her childhood in the Soviet Union, she is also clear-headed and doesn't mince words about the disasters that have befallen Russia throughout its history. The common theme that shines through this book is "Laughter through tears", or people producing great art despite (or because of) the suffering they endure in their daily life.
Now that I have read this book, I am inspired to watch all the movies and shows that are discussed in it, so that I can one day say that every Russian knows this... and so do I.