Penguin Books, established in the UK in the mid 1930s, is known for publishing a wide range of material, from classic literature to reference texts. "The Penguin Russian Course" falls into the latter category. The book was adapted from a 1958 Russian course from the U.S.S.R. in 1961.
The text assumes no prior knowledge of the Russian language on behalf of the student, and therefore starts with the Russian alphabet (not nearly as scary as it looks) and basic vocabulary and grammar. There are thirty lessons in total, each one building off of what has been taught in the previous ones. Each lesson begins with a list of words (nouns, verbs, adverbs, prepositions, etc.) before going into an explanation of various aspects of grammar. It is well known that Russian is not the easiest language to pick up, but this book does a superb job of introducing new concepts in a reader-friendly way.
After the grammar section is a block of Russian text which puts into action what the grammar section has explained -- and these increase in length and complexity as the course progresses. After the text there are two sets of exercises: one which involves translating sentences from Russian into English, the other translating from English to Russian.
Near the end of the book there is a key to all of the exercises, and after that, some grammatical tables with noun, verb, and numeral paradigms that summarize everything taught in the lessons. Finally, there is also a very useful English-Russian and Russian-English dictionary. Here you will find all of the words contained in each of the lessons, which is supremely useful for the times when a word is right at the tip of your tongue but still eludes you.
All in all, the Penguin Russian Course easily competes with any contemporary self-study Russian course that I have seen. The Russian texts aren't particularly relevant today, given that they're mostly to do with life in Soviet Russia, but it's certainly interesting to get a glimpse into the past. I would say that the biggest cause for concern -- though not really a flaw, considering the nature of learning languages from text only -- is that the pronunciation guide, though perfectly adequate, will not give the student a completely accurate idea of what Russian sounds like. But seeing as how there are endless audio and textual resources online, this really isn't much of a problem at all.
If you've got the desire to learn a highly useful language, I would recommend this book. Assuming, of course, that you can find it.