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“A riveting, immensely detailed biography of Putin that explains in full-bodied, almost Shakespearian fashion why he acts the way he does.” –Robert D. Kaplan   The New Tsar is the book to read if you want to understand how Vladimir Putin sees the world and why he has become one of the gravest threats to American security. The epic tale of the rise to power of Russia's current “A riveting, immensely detailed biography of Putin that explains in full-bodied, almost Shakespearian fashion why he acts the way he does.” –Robert D. Kaplan   The New Tsar is the book to read if you want to understand how Vladimir Putin sees the world and why he has become one of the gravest threats to American security. The epic tale of the rise to power of Russia's current president—the only complete biography in English – that fully captures his emergence from shrouded obscurity and deprivation to become one of the most consequential and complicated leaders in modern history, by the former New York Times Moscow bureau chief. In a gripping narrative of Putin’s rise to power as Russia’s president, Steven Lee Myers recounts Putin’s origins—from his childhood of abject poverty in Leningrad, to his ascension through the ranks of the KGB, and his eventual consolidation of rule. Along the way, world events familiar to readers, such as September 11th and Russia’s war in Georgia in 2008, as well as the 2014 annexation of Crimea and the ongoing conflict in Ukraine, are presented from never-before-seen perspectives.  This book is a grand, staggering achievement and a breathtaking look at one man’s rule. On one hand, Putin’s many reforms—from tax cuts to an expansion of property rights—have helped reshape the potential of millions of Russians whose only experience of democracy had been crime, poverty, and instability after the fall of the Soviet Union. On the other hand, Putin has ushered in a new authoritarianism, unyielding in his brutal repression of revolts and squashing of dissent. Still, he retains widespread support from the Russian public. The New Tsar is a narrative tour de force, deeply researched, and utterly necessary for anyone fascinated by the formidable and ambitious Vladimir Putin, but also for those interested in the world and what a newly assertive Russia might mean for the future. 


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“A riveting, immensely detailed biography of Putin that explains in full-bodied, almost Shakespearian fashion why he acts the way he does.” –Robert D. Kaplan   The New Tsar is the book to read if you want to understand how Vladimir Putin sees the world and why he has become one of the gravest threats to American security. The epic tale of the rise to power of Russia's current “A riveting, immensely detailed biography of Putin that explains in full-bodied, almost Shakespearian fashion why he acts the way he does.” –Robert D. Kaplan   The New Tsar is the book to read if you want to understand how Vladimir Putin sees the world and why he has become one of the gravest threats to American security. The epic tale of the rise to power of Russia's current president—the only complete biography in English – that fully captures his emergence from shrouded obscurity and deprivation to become one of the most consequential and complicated leaders in modern history, by the former New York Times Moscow bureau chief. In a gripping narrative of Putin’s rise to power as Russia’s president, Steven Lee Myers recounts Putin’s origins—from his childhood of abject poverty in Leningrad, to his ascension through the ranks of the KGB, and his eventual consolidation of rule. Along the way, world events familiar to readers, such as September 11th and Russia’s war in Georgia in 2008, as well as the 2014 annexation of Crimea and the ongoing conflict in Ukraine, are presented from never-before-seen perspectives.  This book is a grand, staggering achievement and a breathtaking look at one man’s rule. On one hand, Putin’s many reforms—from tax cuts to an expansion of property rights—have helped reshape the potential of millions of Russians whose only experience of democracy had been crime, poverty, and instability after the fall of the Soviet Union. On the other hand, Putin has ushered in a new authoritarianism, unyielding in his brutal repression of revolts and squashing of dissent. Still, he retains widespread support from the Russian public. The New Tsar is a narrative tour de force, deeply researched, and utterly necessary for anyone fascinated by the formidable and ambitious Vladimir Putin, but also for those interested in the world and what a newly assertive Russia might mean for the future. 

30 review for The New Tsar: The Rise and Reign of Vladimir Putin

  1. 4 out of 5

    Matt

    My latest selection in the forty days of biography reading takes me into the life of a current world leader, President Vladimir Putin of the Russian Federation. Seen as as staunch anti-American and anti-West, Putin's rise and hold of power in Russia came about through interesting means, as recounted by Steven Lee Myers. Having lived and worked through the political metamorphosis of the USSR, Putin's story is one that the reader will likely find captivating as well as frustrating, as Lee pulls no My latest selection in the forty days of biography reading takes me into the life of a current world leader, President Vladimir Putin of the Russian Federation. Seen as as staunch anti-American and anti-West, Putin's rise and hold of power in Russia came about through interesting means, as recounted by Steven Lee Myers. Having lived and worked through the political metamorphosis of the USSR, Putin's story is one that the reader will likely find captivating as well as frustrating, as Lee pulls no punches while offering a well-rounded piece, full of first-hand accounts and behind the scenes vignettes. How long Putin will hold the reins of power is anyone's guess, though the recent inauguration of Donald Trump may have finally created a leader with whom Putin can co-exist happily. I mean, he did pave the way to rig the US election, didn't he? Born to meagre parents during the waning days of Stalin's reign of terror, Vladimir Vladimirovich Putin arrived after his siblings all perished. Raised to respect his father and love his mother, Putin soon found himself drawn to all things athletic, with a special fondness for judo. Putin's love of this form of martial arts would prove symbolic in the decades to come, as its focus is to use the momentum from one's opponent to win, rather than direct attack. Putin's attention in school found him able to enter post-secondary with little hesitation, where his studies and physical acumen soon drew the attention of the KGB. Well-suited for the group, Putin was secretive and able to hold himself in check, entering training school on the outskirts of Moscow, where he would not reveal his identity while learning the art of deception and espionage. He was soon sent to East Germany with his wife and young family, where he took up a post in Dresden, learning the language and the culture in the mid-80s. Putin witnessed the declawing of the Soviet Bear and the disintegration of Communism in Germany first hand while in Dresden, as the dominoes began to fall and the region began falling into turmoil. Called back to Moscow, Putin brought his family back and waited to see what would come of his homeland and communism, the only ideology known to generations of Russians. When all hope seemed lost, Putin joined the FSB, the organization that rose from the KGB ashes, and sought to accept things as best he could. Catching the eye of Boris Yeltsin, the new Russian president and man who sought to steer the country out of the doldrums. Putin's success grew exponentially when he abandoned the Russia of his childhood. Lee attributes Putin's first taste at political power to his choice to serve as deputy mayor of Petersburg, one of the largest cities in the country. Putin was able to shape policies and helped to create stability under a quasi-democratic system, something that many citizens could not yet properly understand. However, as with any new system, corruption was the only language spoken and Putin found himself in the middle of scandals as his boss sought to hold onto power however possible. Seeking to make more of a name for himself and still being touted as a man with potential, Putin headed to Moscow and worked alongside Yeltsin, eventually taking a role as head of the FSB, which led to a position on the National Security Council. Yeltsin was loved in the West, but had an iron fist as he ran the newly minted democratic Russia, tossing aside opposition and weak prime ministers who would not do his bidding. When Putin was given the chance at being PM in 1999, many saw his selection as the kiss of death. Putin accepted and tried to work alongside Yeltsin, as changes in the country continued to take effect. When Yeltsin's health took a turn for the worse, fate would offer Putin the chance to rise up and assume the role of President of Russia, which began a taste of real power and something that he would never willingly cede, even when constitutionally guided. Putin's ascension to the Russian presidency brought him more power than he had ever had and, for a time, offered Russia a vibrant leader with fresh ideas. Seen as new blood for Russia, Putin was hailed by the world as a leader with whom others could work and under which democracy had a real chance. However, as Lee insinuates throughout the book, it was this elevation that turned Putin from the quiet man into the autocratic leader known today. Power surely corrupts and Putin did not take long to grip the reins of power tightly. Opposition, while praised in democracy, was all but silence or bullied into submission, be it within the Russian borders or on the world stage. Putin turned the country away from its democratic toddling and towards a return to the centralized power structure that kept Stalin as leader for so long. Critics were shunned, jailed or worse, and Putin sought to quell the criticism of world leaders by tossing out his own epithets. Infamous stories of poisonings and repressive acts to pull neighbouring countries in line were coloured only by Putin's war with Chechen rebels, whose fight paralleled the radical muslim fighting that Bush 43 faced in his two illegal wars in Asia. Putin was prepared to paint himself as the protector of Russia, though drew up his own rules and form of democracy to fit his own needs. Perhaps a saving grace, Putin sought not to rewrite the constitution to fit his megalomania, but agreed to abide by the two-term limits as president, with his own little twist. In a game of bait and switch, Lee elucidates how Putin was able to bring Dmitri Medvedev up the ranks to run as president, then have himself chosen as Russian Prime Minister. While PM, Putin ran the show and left Medvedev to act as a figurehead. Lee offers numerous examples of Putin's wrangling and eventual puppeteering as Medvedev willingly allowed his apparently underling run the show, only to orchestrate this own return to the presidency thereafter. Brilliantly executed, though baffling as he snubbed all this democratic, Putin mastered the art of appearing to follow the rules only to twist them to his favour. A return to power then allowed Putin to shove constitutional changes to the length of the presidential term through the Duma, allowing him six year terms and a tighter grip on all this Russian. This is where he stands now, with new elections expected in 2018, so far a foregone conclusion. New examples of suppression of critics emerge during this presidential resurrection, including Pussy Riot, a rock band whose scandalous songs saw them put on trial as the world watched. Putin proved drunk on power and would not accept guidance from anyone, only further isolating himself from his fellow leaders and increasingly from the public. However, as the apt reader and political scientist will realise, even with increasing dislike for the president, without a viable alternative, Putin's reign as the new dictatorial tsar will not end, even if he must play another round of bait and switch to lead well into his eighth decade. I am no expert in international politics, but it seems apparent, through all I know and from what Lee has presented so well in this book, that Putin sought to fill the vacuum left by communism with his own form of autocratic rule. Swinging the pendulum away from the ideological left to a deeply entrenched right-of-centre approach, Putin has been able to fill the minds of his citizens with the fear that was common during the Stalin era, where opposition disappeared as soon as it arose. Ice picks to the head have been replaced with polonium pellets in food and vicious attacks by Russian forces. Lee shows the disintegration of support by those world leaders who would have, at one time, been staunch allies (Bush 43, Chirac) and eventually became guarded or spoke out openly against the way Putin acted on the world scene. While Lee's book appeared on newsstands before the 2016 US General Election, it is interesting that Russia (read: Putin) might have played a role in bringing The Great Xenophobe to power, which is currently stirring up Capitol Hill with allegations. Whatever comes of it, Putin has shown that he will not allow anyone to stand in his way when he wants something. He is apt to take it and worry about the consequences later. Troubling? Maybe a little for a country that is still reeling from decades of have its citizens unable to shape the political landscape. Lee's writing is so fluid and easy to comprehend that I am left to praise him for this piece. The biography is so full of information, though told in such a way that the reader is not overwhelmed. These attributes keep the reader wanting to learn more and delve deeper into the life of this world leader. The attention to detail that Lee provides is indicative of extensive research and thoughtful preparation, which keeps the reader informed and entertained at the same time. Vignettes flow together with ease and Putin's persona grows with each building chapter. While it is hard not to inject bias into the writing, Lee does try to round out the narrative as best he can, though it is hard not to see the power intoxication that Putin develops. Any reader curious about this more elusive world leader need look no further than this piece, which offers much insight into where Russia is headed, with no real opposition that can quell the Putin superstructure. While criticism continues to mount within the country, until a formidable political opposition can present itself, Putin and his cronies will rule with an iron fist, needing no curtain to isolate themselves from the world. Kudos, Mr. Myers for this brilliant piece. I can only hope that many will take the time to read this and see the monster behind the idyllic mask who has turned Russia on its head yet again. Like/hate the review? An ever-growing collection of others appears at: http://pecheyponderings.wordpress.com/

  2. 5 out of 5

    Trish

    During the election pre-season in America, I was as surprised and intrigued at the support for Donald Trump as the rest of the thinking universe (not the pundits, of course). As I laughed at his unscripted policy-free speeches and intentionally note-worthy off-the-cuff remarks, I remember thinking I would love to see the effect of his ‘shock and awe’ campaign on someone like Putin. I thought Trump would be too unpredictable and outspoken for Putin. I am ready to take that back. In a weird kind o During the election pre-season in America, I was as surprised and intrigued at the support for Donald Trump as the rest of the thinking universe (not the pundits, of course). As I laughed at his unscripted policy-free speeches and intentionally note-worthy off-the-cuff remarks, I remember thinking I would love to see the effect of his ‘shock and awe’ campaign on someone like Putin. I thought Trump would be too unpredictable and outspoken for Putin. I am ready to take that back. In a weird kind of way, both men, neither political operatives at the start of their careers, are a similar kind of not-liberal, not-conservative, whatever-works nationalist kind of politician. And both have created a cult of personality to facilitate a kind of one-man rule. Myers allowed me to catch this glimpse of Putin at his start in government as an ordinary man unused to and previously uninterested in political power. When he began in the Sobchak Leningrad government, he may or may not have been involved in skimming from contracts he arranged with the newly burgeoning private sector after the dissolution of the Soviet Union. He certainly was in a position to do so, and many of the people he awarded contracts did so: he formed firm friendships and nurtured loyal apparatchiks in Leningrad that reappear throughout his political career. But it is also true that Russia in the early 1990’s was a wild place with many crime lords jockeying for power. Putin’s family was targeted at least once. Putin did not at that time appear to have the trappings of new wealth, though we learned only recently of monies in his name from the Panama Papers. It is possible that his wealth accumulated from later dealings. It has always been difficult to understand why Putin was reputed to enjoy such wide public support in Russia, but I realize now that our media reporting emphasized bad judgment and outcomes while Russian media outlets emphasized good intent and nationalism. Myers gives a far more nuanced picture of Putin growing into his role as president—prime minister—president again in this book. If Putin didn’t begin as a friend to oligarchs, he gradually relaxed into the role. He began as a man with he stated goal of “making Russia great again.” He could see that some people were gaming the system by purchasing national reserves of commodities improperly priced and selling them at more realistically priced international values. This was not illegal at the time, just morally suspect. Rather than trying to fix the system of laws that allowed this rape of mineral and energy resources to continue, Putin selectively applied legal and taxation rules on the books to hamper, entangle, or otherwise inhibit the activities of people who did not work closely with him. Myers charts the hardening of Putin’s character, from his shock and dismay upon learning that Yeltsin had chosen him as a political successor to his chagrin upon learning that his chosen successor, Medvedev, had both an opinion and a weakness that didn’t partner Putin well. And what was very clear in Myers’ telling was the perception of U.S. foreign policy decisions by Russians and Putin. By the time Edward Snowden comes on the scene late in the book, we laugh at Putin’s pleasure in pointing out political dissidence and jail is not just a Russian thing.”Ask yourself, do you need to put such people in jail, or not?”Putin was more confident during his second presidency and yet the moment he assumed power the second time his poll ratings began to fall. It was the moment citizens realized that there was really no conversation, no political discussion going on. It only takes twenty years for a political climate to change irrevocably: ask Hillary Clinton. In twenty years, young people with no historical memory bring a new clarity to what is happening right now, with no regard to what came before. Pussy Riot called out Putin; Sanders’ supporters are calling out Clinton. Putin operated, and operates now, by relying on a close and loyal group of political “friends” from his time in the FSB and his time working for Sobchak in Leningrad. Loyalty is so prized that it would not surprise me to learn that some of the political murders committed during Putin’s reign were not “ordered” by himself. It seems entirely possible to me that elements in a large bureaucracy might prove their loyalty by eliminating static that was damaging to the leader. The problem with a large bureaucracy is that it can take on a character of its own and is not easy to change. A really strange event occurred early in Putin’s first presidency: the bombing of the apartment buildings in Moscow and the sacks of FSB-sourced explosives found in the apartment building in Ryazan. These incidents have never been satisfactorily explained, and could be an example of a bureaucracy grinding out [imperfect] solutions to perceived problems that impact Putin & Co. In a case like that, or in the case of sheer incompetence (also an enduring feature of large bureaucracy), it is not hard to see Putin keeping mum out of loyalty to those he is protecting. Some actions, like poisoning political opponents or shooting reporters in the the stairwells of their buildings, are simply too crude, destructive, and beneath the dignity of someone in power to imagine they are a “command.” Bill Browder’s account of his time making money hand-over-fist in the 1990’s in Russia, Red Notice, mentioned that powerful figures known to Putin wanted the real estate on which those apartment buildings were built and were meeting resistance. Whatever the truth of the matter, this did not have to originate in the Kremlin to be horrifying in its motivation. It does appear, however, that it was condoned by the Kremlin since a good explanation was never uncovered. One of the things that motivates Putin is the expanding power of NATO in Europe. Putin still thinks in terms of great powers and feels he is being hemmed in by Western Europe nibbling away at his satellite countries. It is hard not to sympathize. Certainly that is happening, and will continue to happen in a Clinton presidency, further exacerbating Putin’s bellicosity, and sense of infringement and inferiority. Russia is a huge country. “Too big, really” says Ian Frazier in his big book Travels in Siberia . Putin says its size and different cultures is the reason there cannot be a representative democracy like that in America. Since even America doesn’t seem to the have the process working very well at the moment, it is difficult to pretend to know what difficulties arise when trying to restore the kind of power that was shattered by the overthrow of the tsar in twentieth century Russia. The only thing I would concede is that ruling Russia must be a very difficult job, particularly when one is looking backward. One must look ahead, not backward, when one is leading, it seems to me. I feel like I have gotten a terrific education reading this book and am much better able to parse news coming out of Russia, Europe, and the Middle East today. I can now put Putin into the context vis-a-vis U.S. diplomatic relations. Clinton must be the last person Putin would want to see be elected president in the United States, and in some ways Trump is as unpredictable as Putin has claimed he has tried to be. But I am not recommending a vote for Trump. I think a better choice might be neither of these two.

  3. 4 out of 5

    Chrissie

    On completion: The author of this book, Steven Lee Myers, was the New York Time's Moscow Bureau Chief until 2007. As a journalist stationed in Moscow he has followed all that has happened in Russia in close detail. In this book he traces Putin's rise to power, his years in the presidency from 2000 as well as his collaboration with Dimitry Medvedev during 2008 through 2011. The book is detailed, well researched, extremely thorough and could not be more up-to-date! Even events of 2015 are included On completion: The author of this book, Steven Lee Myers, was the New York Time's Moscow Bureau Chief until 2007. As a journalist stationed in Moscow he has followed all that has happened in Russia in close detail. In this book he traces Putin's rise to power, his years in the presidency from 2000 as well as his collaboration with Dimitry Medvedev during 2008 through 2011. The book is detailed, well researched, extremely thorough and could not be more up-to-date! Even events of 2015 are included. The presentation is chronological. The book provides a complete summary all that has been in the news concerning Russia over the last decades. What exactly? Examples follow: - Gorbachev's reign - Yeltsin's reign - the wars in Chechnya - missile defense discussions - the sinking of the submarine Kursk in the Barents Sea - the Moscow theater siege and hostage crisis (2002) - the suicide bombing of two domestic Russian aircraft in 2004 - Ivan Rybkin's kidnapping in 2004 when he accused the Putin administration of complicity in the 1999 bomb attacks in Moscow which led to the Second Chechen War - the Beslan school siege and hostage crisis (2004), - the expropriation/dismantling of the Yukos Oil Company in 2005 - the poisoning and death of Alexander Litvinenko (2006) - the Russian offensive in Georgia in 2008 and of course - the recent annexation of the Crimea (2014). So you think the list is long? I have named but a few of the many, many incidents cited in this book, all of which have received widespread media coverage. So the book is a great summary of all that has been reported in the news, but the question is if it gives anything new. So many of the ‘crimes’ committed remain without conclusive proof. What exactly is fact and what hearsay? The result is you can believe whatever you want to believe. Russians have chosen to believe one version, and we with what we define as a freer press and more democratic way of life see the events differently. Read in one sweep, you are left thoroughly dismayed by what has occurred in Russia after the fall of the U.S.S.R. One is left frightened by where the world stands today. Do I now understand Vladimir Putin? I certainly have not gotten into his head! That is impossible; no one is privy to his inner thoughts, and you certainly cannot rely on what he or what he allows the Russian media to say. His control over the media is tight; only recently has any dissent been able to be voiced via the net. Everything personal is covered up. Extremely little is known about his two daughters. Marilya was born 1985, is married to the Dutch Jorrit Faassen and has one child. Yekatarina was born in 1986. She remains unmarried. Vladimir married his wife Lyudmila in 1983. In 2013 the termination of their marriage was publicly announced. The decision was said to be mutual. It is the total lack of information that is most chilling. Do not expect much information about either Putin’s personal thoughts or family! It is his actions we can observe, and one can only make educated guesses at what has happened behind the scenes. Why is it that Putin has such strong popular support? This was one of the questions I hoped would be answered by reading this book. I do understand the people’s support when he first came in to power - he spoke of eliminating corruption; he promised to get rid of the oligarchies. He reduced taxes. He increased wages. But now? 85% of the people support him. Corruption remains rampant and the standard of living for the large majority remains low. The masses scarcely care what happens to the stock market….. Putin’s almost complete control of the media, the total obliteration of all dissent, the lack of conclusive evidence proving his complicity may explain much, but I also believe one has to understand how Putin plays to the people’s strong sense of patriotism, their inherent love of their country. This comes to the point where it isolates them from rest of the world. While the book shows all this, the question itself is never directly answered head on. The audiobook is well narrated by Rene Ruiz. Clearly and not too fast, but given the book’s detailed content and many, many foreign names it is very hard to follow in the audio format. I recommend reading the paper book instead. Due to its extensive political, business and economic detail, the book cannot be seen as a light read, even in the paper format! Only occasionally does ironic humor lighten the load. Yes, I am glad I read the book, but it was a very hard read. ************************************* I have listened to about 25%: I have to be upfront about this - the book puts me to sleep sometimes. So many people I don't recognize. Lines that leave me confused. An overload of facts for my puney brain. Yeah, I guess I am learning about what Putin has done to get where he is today....but do I know the man now? And how much will I remember? I don't think a non-fiction book has to be this dry. I will continue........ Maybe if I complain it will improve????????!

  4. 4 out of 5

    Mikey B.

    This is an excellent biography of Vladimir Putin. Perhaps the best way to describe him would be “relentless control”. Particularly to those who oppose him in any way. He turned Russia away from its purported trajectory of “chaotic democracy” in the 1990’s to become what it is today - a full-fledged dictatorship in the Russian mold. As the author suggests Putin has become more Tsar-like than communist. The new FSB is made up of former KGB agents, which was where Putin’s career started – and then This is an excellent biography of Vladimir Putin. Perhaps the best way to describe him would be “relentless control”. Particularly to those who oppose him in any way. He turned Russia away from its purported trajectory of “chaotic democracy” in the 1990’s to become what it is today - a full-fledged dictatorship in the Russian mold. As the author suggests Putin has become more Tsar-like than communist. The new FSB is made up of former KGB agents, which was where Putin’s career started – and then collapsed with the disintegration of the Soviet Union. Putin then went on to become a government official in St. Petersburg. The author chronicles the early background and career of Vladimir Putin. You can feel Putin’s confidence growing as he ascends the power structures and accumulates more and more clout and authority. After he became President the first target was the television media that went under state ownership and became very restricted in its news broadcasts. Putin does not convey much humor, unless at the expense of others (several examples are provided in this book). He violently subdued Chechnya. This made him popular and seen as a strong-man in Russia. A central theme through-out this biography is that Russians want, need, and admire a strong-man. What Putin does not comprehend is that many of his actions have made him despised in the West. The cold-blooded killing of journalists and members of the opposition, the incarceration of Mikhail Khodorkovsky, Putin’s friendship with Berlusconi, the military incorporation of Crimea to Russia, the campaign of “homosexual propaganda”, plus many other features (the incredible corruption) have decreased Putin’s status in Western democracies. But some of these, like Crimea, have made Putin very popular within Russia. Putin has also become very adept and effective at blaming the U.S., NATO and the Western democracies in general for causing problems within Russia – and Russia’s “territories”, like Ukraine. He effectively lashed out at George Bush and later Barack Obama for the purported democracies that they were to set-up in the Middle East (Iraq, Libya, Syria). Interestedly it is only in the later years, after the 4 year Presidency of Dmitri Medvedev that Putin began to display the cult of personality – Putin’s macho-man image. During the first 8 years of his Presidency (2000 – 2008) he was somewhat unassuming – more preoccupied with repressing dissent and controlling the media, the war in Chechnya, and persecuting the wealthy oligarchs. Putin is now effectively building a very conservative Russia well linked to the Orthodox Church. This book forcefully demonstrates how Putin has become both director and producer of his Russia.

  5. 5 out of 5

    Jennifer

    This book was an almost overwhelmingly detailed account of Vladimir Putin's life and rise to power. Although there were times reading this that I felt I was drowning in a profusion of minutiae, I actually found that it was a good way to learn. The details made the narrative that much more memorable for me. I absolutely feel that I gained an understanding of Putin as a leader, but perhaps less so as a man. Which brings me to my only real complaint about this book: The author, Steven Lee Myers, wa This book was an almost overwhelmingly detailed account of Vladimir Putin's life and rise to power. Although there were times reading this that I felt I was drowning in a profusion of minutiae, I actually found that it was a good way to learn. The details made the narrative that much more memorable for me. I absolutely feel that I gained an understanding of Putin as a leader, but perhaps less so as a man. Which brings me to my only real complaint about this book: The author, Steven Lee Myers, was the New York Times's Moscow Bureau Chief for several years. As a journalist, Myers's writing style is almost wholly fact-driven. And that is all it is. There is very little analysis here. If you are looking for a deep dive into Putin's psyche, or theories as to what drives Putin, you will not find it in this book. Myers provides the necessary facts for you to make your own gander at deconstructing the Russian president, but you will have to do it on your own. For example, Myers explains that Putin has been deeply impressed by the Russian political philosopher Ivan Ilyin, frequently quoting him in speeches and prompting CIA analysts to read up on the obscure Russian thinker. But Myers's exploration of Ilyin is cut short there. I would have liked even five more paragraphs summarizing the direction of Ilyin's thought, since it likely provides valuable insight into Putin's world view and perhaps therefore his motivation, but that summary never came. Nevertheless, I did learn an enormous amount about Russia's recent history and Putin as its leader. I have a far better understanding of current events in Ukraine as well as Russia's recent (and, having read this, totally unsurprising) encounters with the U.S. military at Russia's western doorstep in the Baltic Sea. 4 Stars.

  6. 5 out of 5

    Steven Z.

    If you are seeking an explanation for Russian President Vladimir Putin policies, domestically and externally, you should consult Steven Lee Myers recent book THE NEW TSAR: THE RISE AND REIGN OF VLADIMIR PUTIN. According to Myers it was the Ukrainian Presidential election of 2004, coming on the heels of the Beslan school massacre of September 3, 2004 that pushed Putin to recalibrate his plans. When Chechen terrorists seized close to 1000 people on the first day of the school year, resulting in th If you are seeking an explanation for Russian President Vladimir Putin policies, domestically and externally, you should consult Steven Lee Myers recent book THE NEW TSAR: THE RISE AND REIGN OF VLADIMIR PUTIN. According to Myers it was the Ukrainian Presidential election of 2004, coming on the heels of the Beslan school massacre of September 3, 2004 that pushed Putin to recalibrate his plans. When Chechen terrorists seized close to 1000 people on the first day of the school year, resulting in the death of 334 hostages, 186 of which were children, Putin was beside himself. With repeated Chechen terror attacks inside Russia, and a war that was not going well, Putin resorted to his predictable stonewalling excuses. Outside Russia events did not go Putin’s way either. Already resentful of what he perceived to be western encroachment in the traditionally Russian sphere of influence in the Baltic, along with the election of Viktor Yushchenko as the Ukrainian president, a man who favored NATO membership and closer ties to the west, the Russian leader was forced to face another uncomfortable situation fostering a drastic shift in Russian policy. Myers, a New York Times reporter spent seven years in Moscow during the period of Putin’s consolidation of power, has written a remarkably comprehensive biography of the Russian president that should be considered the standard work on this subject. The books title, “The New Tsar” is a correct description of Putin’s reign that even included a Tsarevitch, Dimitri Medvedev, as Putin’s handpicked successor as President of Russia in 2008. For Putin the greatest catastrophe of the 20th century was the collapse of the Soviet Union, a belief that provides tremendous insight into his policies. Emerging from the corruption and incompetence of the presidency of Boris Yeltsin, Russia by 1998 was in deep trouble economically and politically. Yeltsin also hand-picked his successor, a former KGB operative, who was stationed in Dresden, East Germany in 1989, Vladimir Putin. Meyers presents an objective approach to Putin’s life before the Berlin Wall came down. Putin would grow up listening to stories of his father, Vladimir, fighting on the western front during World War II and being wounded by the Germans. His mother, Maria survived the siege of Leningrad and escaped into the countryside. The harrowing experiences of his parents left an indelible impression on the young Putin. His father suffered with a limp after the war, and his mother was overly protective of her son. Putin had a slight build as a child and turned to the martial arts to deal with bullies. His success at Judo provided Putin with a certain toughness and a means of asserting himself. Putin craved orthodoxy and rules, neither of which he found in religion and politics. Myers stresses Putin’s education in economics and law school, but more importantly he points to Putin’s time in the KGB when he was stationed in Dresden. While being posted to East Germany Putin was exposed to the Stasi and their practices. Putin was involved in intelligence operations, counter intelligence analysis, and scientific and technical espionage. The KGB’s goal in East Germany was to gather intelligence and recruit agents who had access to the west, especially individuals who had relatives near American and NATO military bases. Putin was heavily involved in recruiting and running agents to determine East German support for the Soviet Union. In 1987, Putin who was very popular with his superiors was promoted to Lieutenant Colonel and the Dresden Station Chief’s senior assistant, or enforcer. Myers traces Putin’s actions as Mikhail Gorbachev instituted Glasnost and Perestroika and his reaction to events in November, 1989 as the Berlin Wall came down. Two years later, the Soviet Union finally gave way after a failed coup against Gorbachev, and Yeltsin emerged as the dominant political figure in Russia. Putin’s reaction to events led him to resign from the KGB. The future “Tsar” was now cast adrift. In contemplating Putin’s career one must ask, how he progressed from being a former intelligence operative to President of Russia in seven years. Myers does an excellent job framing Putin’s behavior and beliefs following the collapse of the Soviet Union. Rising to the position of Deputy Mayor of Leningrad he attached himself to the coattails of a former law professor at his alma mater, Anatoly Sobchak. It was during Sobchak’s administration that Putin, because of his economics background negotiated no bid contracts with newly created corporations that involved numerous kickbacks and extensive fraud. Leningrad’s treasury was almost empty and casino gambling was seen as a source of revenue. This would lead to organized crime and the emergence of the new corporate oligarchs controlling the local economy. Myers points to rumors of Putin’s involvement, but can’t make a definitive case. It was at this time that a number of these new oligarchs that emerged under Yeltsin, businessmen like Yuri Kovalchuk and Vladimir Yakunin whose metal company received licenses to export aluminum and non-ferrous metals grew very close to Putin, and years later would become titans of Russian industry. Putin’s role in Leningrad’s economy increased under Sobchak and more and more cronies from his KGB past were given prominent positions in the city’s government. Myers refers to these men as the “St. Petersburg boys,” who would emerge as important players when Putin assumed power. Sobchak’s goal was to make his city the friendliest to foreign investment in the entire country. Putin’s goal was to help create a new “window to the west,” the first major transformation of its kind since Peter the Great. Putin would operate in the background with no fanfare and little emotion. He knew how to slice through the bureaucracy and Russia’s opaque laws and used his Leningrad experience as a primer on how to get things done. Putin would remain in Leningrad until 1996 when Sobchak was not reelected mayor. Putin was without a job, but Yeltsin would be his savior. Yeltsin’s own support in the presidential election of 1996 were the bankers, media moguls, and industrialists who had acquired controlling interests in major industries in return for keeping Yeltsin’s government afloat. Putin was appointed to the Presidential Property Management Directorate to oversee the legal issues as he was in charge of reasserting the government’s control over certain properties and dispensing with others. Seven months later Putin was put in charge of investigating abuses of Russian property and restoring order, and ending the corrupt schemes that were destroying the Russian economy. Putin’s work brought him into contact with the FSB (really a new KGB with another name!) and earned a graduate degree with a thesis focusing on Russia’s natural resources. More and more Putin believed that the state had to reassert its control over its own natural resources that were being pilfered by "oligarchs.” This belief would form the basis of Putin’s economic policy once in power as he would use Russia’s vast energy resources as a tool against the west and former Soviet republics that did not conform to his vision of Russia’s spheres of influence. Putin had gained a reputation as a competent, hard-working individual who did not press a particular agenda on Yeltsin. With the corruption in the FSB, the economy imploding, Yeltsin appointed Putin as the head of the intelligence agency, Putin had come full circle. Myers description of Yeltsin’s reign as president is one of economic disaster, corruption on a scale not imagined by many in his inner circle, and navigating from one crisis to another. Throughout it all Putin was loyal and conducted himself in a ruthless and efficient manner that made him essential to Yeltsin’s political survival and he rewarded Putin with the leadership of the Security Council in addition to his duties as Director of the FSB. Myers successfully integrates the second Chechen war into the narrative on top of Yeltsin’s domestic troubles. This occurred at the same time NATO was bombing Serbia because of its actions in Kosovo, and the Russian leadership was powerless to support its Slavic brothers and greatly feared that the west could do the same in Chechnya. Yeltsin could not run for reelection in 2000, so he needed an heir that he trusted. He offered Putin the office of Prime Minister and then he would resign before the election, to provide the little publicly known Putin a leg up on the presidency. Myers does a superb job describing these machinations that resulted in Putin’s elevation. One of his first moves upon assuming office in September, 1999, was to send Russian forces back into Chechnya, after four attacks in and around Moscow that killed over 300 people, a move he would stand by for years despite negative results. Myers discussion of Putin’s reign is sharp and focused and explains many of the problems that the United States faces today with the Russian leader. Putin’s approach to government is his version of the “dictatorship of law” or “managed democracy,” which may reflect some of the trappings of democracy, but are fixed or manipulated to accomplish certain ends. Putin was aided by the strong recovery in energy markets after his election in 2000. With increasing funds in the Kremlin coffers, Putin prosecuted his war in Chechnya in a vicious fashion. This would produce a series of terrorist attacks that would cost Moscow dearly. When Putin’s leadership and tactics were questioned during terrorist attacks at a movie theater on October 23, 2002 in southeast Moscow that resulted in the death of 130 hostages, and the terrorist siege of a school in Breslan in North Ossetia, the Russian President stonewalled any explanations for his military responses. This was Putin’s pattern in a crisis, as was evidenced earlier when the nuclear submarine Kursk sank in 2000 with the loss of 118 men. Despite these disasters and the Chechen war that was turning into a quagmire, Putin’s popularity could not be questioned, in large part because reporters, commentators, or politicians who raised issues or made negative comments about Putin, tended to disappear. Putin had a carefully crafted image supported by his media friends who would not pursue the truth concerning the assassinations of Anna Politkoyskaya, a journalist critical of Putin, Alexsandr Litvinenko, a former FSB operative who exposed corruption and bribery in the agency, among numerous others. Myers does a commendable job explaining the second “rape” of the Russian economy, the first under Yeltsin that produced the first wave of oligarchs, the second under Putin. Names like Yukos, Gazprom, Rosneft, and their CEO’s are explored in detail and the reader acquires an inside look at how Putin dealt with economic threats to his regime as he sought to recover the state’s assets. However, at the same time he allowed many of the “St. Petersburg boys” access to new wealth, creating a second wave of “new” oligarchs. The trial of Mikhail Khodorkovsky, the head of Yukos, the largest oil company in Russia is emblematic as to how Putin operated. The end result is that Putin gained control of all aspects of the Russian economy, and of course with the attendant corruption, his own wealth accumulated tremendously, estimated at about $40 billion by Russian journalists and the CIA. As an editorial in Kommersant opined, “the state has become, essentially a corporate enterprise that the nominal owners, Russian citizens no longer control.” When Putin first rose to power many hoped a strong relationship between the United States and Russia would result. Putin was very supportive following 9/11 and approved of American military bases in former Soviet republics to conduct the war against al-Qaeda and the Taliban. After meeting Putin for the first time, President George W. Bush had a positive reaction as he said, “I looked the man in the eye, I found him to be very straight forward and trustworthy…..I was able to get a sense of his soul; a man deeply committed to his country and the best interests of his country.” Bush was either naïve or uninformed about Putin and the course he pursued. Putin grew angry at the United States when the Bush administration refused to alter provisions of the 1972 Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty (ABM), and the eventual American withdrawal from the treaty. Further, Putin was against the American invasion of Iraq and the overthrow of Saddam Hussein, and this was capped off with the Ukrainian election of 2004 where reformers and government protestors wanted to move closer to the west and become members of NATO. Putin’s frustration and anger at the United States further increased when President Bush decided to negotiate with Poland and the Czech Republic for bases for a Missile Defense System. This led to the February, 2007 Putin speech at the Munich Security Conference where the Russian president excoriated the Bush administration in what Myers describes as similar to Winston Churchill’s Iron Curtain speech. With the economic collapse of 2008 and its effect on the Russian economy, Putin would only blame the United States. Further, the election of Barrack Obama, the Russian invasion of Georgia, trade disagreements, events in the Ukraine and Crimea, and the current Syrian crisis, it is not surprising that it seems we are now witnessing a second Cold War. Putin could not run for reelection in 2008, but as Myers points out, like Yeltsin he also had an heir, Dimitri Medvedev, a former head of Gazprom, and an individual who appeared to be easier to deal with. However, with Putin as Prime Minister pulling the strings, Kremlin policy remained the same, accept with a softer face. During his presidency Medvedev was consistently forced into the background be it the 2009 economic crisis, the Russian invasion of Georgia, and other issues-Putin just could not stay in the background. Medvedev’s speeches were vetted by Putin and it was demeaning for the Russian president as he was now overshadowed by his Prime Minister. After reading Myers’ book, the reader should have a handle of who Putin is and what he believes in. I agree with Gal Beckerman’s description of Putin as a man who represents his country, represents stability, and “stands against the chaos of the street; one man who still believes in the unique power of the state personifies its sovereignty and its prerogative to defend its interests; one man who embodies calm, measured authority resists the emotional swell of undisciplined, angry people, and understands that the appearance of forcefulness and obstinacy can be as powerful as an actual show of force.” After digesting Myers’ narrative of Putin moving from crisis to crisis, some self-created and some external to Russia, it becomes clear that he simply believes that “he’s the last one standing between order and chaos,” whether he is dealing with protesters challenging his return to the presidency during and after the 2012 elections, “Chechen separatists, E.U.-loving Ukrainian politicians or the West as a whole, working through nefarious pro-gay N.G.O.’s or NATO.” (New York Times, November 2, 2015) Putin’s greatest gamble according to Myers was his illegal seizure of the Crimea in reaction to the violence in Kiev on February 2, 2014. Protestors had taken to the streets forcing Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych to flee the capitol. Putin was presiding over the closing ceremonies of the Sochi Winter Olympics and saw events in the Ukraine as a western plot to deny Russia the accolades that it deserved because of the success of the games. Incensed, Putin met privately with a few trusted advisors and planned to foster the breakup of the Ukraine by seizing the Crimea. The Russian invasion began on February 27, 2014 negating the argument he employed against President Obama about unilaterally invading countries as the US had done in Afghanistan, Iraq, and Libya. Putin correctly calculated that since that the west would not react as it had in 1990 removing Saddam Hussein’s forces from Kuwait, as it had not acted against the Russian invasion of Georgia in 2008. Putin’s fait accompli would not be reversed and his rationale of protecting “ethnic Russians” was domestically popular and would later be used to justify Russian military moves in Eastern Ukraine. Even after the dubious referendums in Crimea, Donetsk, and Luhansk; in addition to the Russian shoot down of a Malaysian airliner, Putin was convinced the west would do nothing, and he would rally his country against the foreign conspiracy to isolate Russia politically, and hurt her economically with sanctions. Not only did Putin not worry about western actions, it seemed he no longer cared as is evidenced by the current situation in Syria as Russian planes continue bombing to prop up the regime of Hafez el-Assad, as opposed to his public position of fighting ISIS. Myers conclusion that Putin no longer cared to rule pragmatically as he had done during his first two terms in office, and would focus on reasserting Russia’s power with or without the recognition of the west, is correct. Myers should be commended for his work and anyone interested in understanding, the “new tsar” should consult it.

  7. 4 out of 5

    Mona

    This is an excellent historical review of Russian political scene. Biography - not so much.  Pros: 1. Very well written and chronologicaly organized narrative. However, it does require reader 's time and attention as there are lots of facts. 2. Author gave really good overview of political events in Russia (1950's-2015), this will help people with little knowledge about it to understand the context.  3. Lots of details. I was not aware of some of them, especially how extensive Islamic terrorist att This is an excellent historical review of Russian political scene. Biography - not so much.  Pros: 1. Very well written and chronologicaly organized narrative. However, it does require reader 's time and attention as there are lots of facts. 2. Author gave really good overview of political events in Russia (1950's-2015), this will help people with little knowledge about it to understand the context.  3. Lots of details. I was not aware of some of them, especially how extensive Islamic terrorist attacks were in Russia. Those events are described primarily in order to criticize the behavior of main character, but I still learned a lot.  Cons: 1. Certainly, objectivity was not author's goal. This is clear starting with the title and throughout every page of this book. I sincerely doubt that any American can objectivity write Putin's biography, so I knew what to expect. However, putting at least occasionally some good characteristic of the main character would make it more believable and less propaganda- like. There are no people who are exclusively good or exclusively bad in this world.  2. I reviewed bibliography and what strikes me is how few direct sources author had and how few interviews he conducted himself. More then 95% of the book is based on newspaper articles and books of other authors. It's nice to have it combined and selected for you, but still it's second hand information and third hand conclusions. 3. Very little information about Putin's family and personal life. Granted- author could not do much about it as this information is kept secret.  Overall, highly recommend for someone interested in Russia and its political scene. But if reader looks for objective look at Vladimir Putin persona - I would look elsewhere. 

  8. 5 out of 5

    Ctgt

    I've been fumbling with this review for several weeks and still can't seem to come up with anything resembling coherency so I apologize in advance. How does a man of modest beginnings and seemingly mundane abilities end up as one of the most powerful men on the planet? This books attempts to answer that question and for the most part does a very good job. Of course with anyone whose background begins with the KGB, can you ever be sure of having the whole story? With Myers working for the New York I've been fumbling with this review for several weeks and still can't seem to come up with anything resembling coherency so I apologize in advance. How does a man of modest beginnings and seemingly mundane abilities end up as one of the most powerful men on the planet? This books attempts to answer that question and for the most part does a very good job. Of course with anyone whose background begins with the KGB, can you ever be sure of having the whole story? With Myers working for the New York Times as correspondent and Moscow bureau chief during many of the crucial years of Putin's rise to power this is probably as close as we can get. Jam packed with information, the beginning plods along almost sedately-family background, a teenager walking into a KGB office to volunteer his services, a far from spectacular career in the KGB. But his career reaches a tipping point when he is named an adviser to Anatoly Sobchak, the first democratically elected mayor of St. Petersburg. It is here in St. Petersburg where he begins to create a network of cronies who follow him throughout the rest of his career.....and it is here where the shady money deals begin. He moves on to the Yeltsin administration and the rest is history. 9/10

  9. 5 out of 5

    Tudor Ciocarlie

    For almost 50 years the life of Vladimir Putin had nothing uncommon about it. He was a faithful student of the soviet educational system, a faithful member of KGB and of Soviet Russia, then a faithful servant of Anatoly Sobchak, the first democratically elected mayor of Saint Petersburg, and then, a faithful deputy and servant of Boris Yeltsin. Then, to the surprise of everyone, including Putin’s, he was nominated by Yeltsin as his successor. Unfortunately, Putin is not a democrat (like Yeltsin For almost 50 years the life of Vladimir Putin had nothing uncommon about it. He was a faithful student of the soviet educational system, a faithful member of KGB and of Soviet Russia, then a faithful servant of Anatoly Sobchak, the first democratically elected mayor of Saint Petersburg, and then, a faithful deputy and servant of Boris Yeltsin. Then, to the surprise of everyone, including Putin’s, he was nominated by Yeltsin as his successor. Unfortunately, Putin is not a democrat (like Yeltsin was) and his undemocratic ways found fertile soil in the Russian people. So almost overnight Putin became the most powerful man in Russia, then by consolidating and multiplying this power he became the head of the state with the most power in the world. Fortunately for Russians he loves Mother Russia more than anything in the world, but unfortunately for them and for the rest of the world, he identifies himself with his country, so every affront to him is one against Mother Russia and he believes that everything he feels and thinks is what Russia is feeling and thinking. He is clearly a dictator and what happens in Russia has nothing to do with democracy. But reading this book I was thinking that it could have been much worse. Can you imagine the world in which Donald Trump has in his hands as much power as Putin has in his right now?

  10. 5 out of 5

    Jean

    I enjoyed this book and felt it gave me a good review of current history and a good understanding of Putin. Not sure if Myers intended it or not but I was left with the feeling that Putin would not hesitate in triggering a war with the West. Myers has indicated Putin has reached a reckless state and has nothing to lose. Myers did an excellent job revealing the change in Putin after he obtained power. Steven Lee Myers was a reporter for the New York Times stationed in Russia for many years during I enjoyed this book and felt it gave me a good review of current history and a good understanding of Putin. Not sure if Myers intended it or not but I was left with the feeling that Putin would not hesitate in triggering a war with the West. Myers has indicated Putin has reached a reckless state and has nothing to lose. Myers did an excellent job revealing the change in Putin after he obtained power. Steven Lee Myers was a reporter for the New York Times stationed in Russia for many years during Putin’s rise to power. Myers reveals Putin’s life as a child, through his schooling and his role at the KGB. The author also discusses Putin rise to power and to the Presidency of Russia. Myers shows how Putin’s use of perks of power to create a complex system of cronyism, nepotism, and corruption; then Putin claims this is the Russian way of life. Myers shows when civil war broke out in Chechnya, Putin’s strong-arm tactics and hard line stance against terrorism swung popular opinion his way. Myers shows how Putin’s speeches increasingly harkened back to the worst part of the cold war era. I was most interested in the takeover of the Crimea and Eastern Ukraine. Myers ends the book with the haunting lyrics from a Great Patriotic War song that was conveniently used for the appropriation of the Crimea. The book is well written and researched and portrays an effective profile of a powerful autocrat. Myers has maintained a neutral portrayal throughout the book. The book is fairly long at about 23 hours. I read this as an audiobook downloaded from Audible. Rene Ruiz did a good job narrating the book.

  11. 4 out of 5

    Hans Klis

    Despite the dense information presented in this book, Myers turns his biography of Putin and Putins Russia into an exciting tale of corruption, intrige and ultimately the death of the Russian dream after the collapse of the Soviet Union. I read The New Tsar back to back within a week, utterly mesmerized by the research and readability of this hefty tome. Anyone interested in Russian (geo)political maneuvering this past years should read this book.

  12. 5 out of 5

    Conor Ahern

    So this book was informative, but it felt like it was told at a remove. I suppose this is to be expected of a secretive and powerful man, but it read like an elaborate retelling of tons of journalism and public information. It's odd that we know so much less about our current leaders in this age of supposed transparency than we knew of so many of our more prolix forebears. I guess I was dissatisfied that this book, in spite of its bulk, failed to divulge much about Putin's mindset or disposition. So this book was informative, but it felt like it was told at a remove. I suppose this is to be expected of a secretive and powerful man, but it read like an elaborate retelling of tons of journalism and public information. It's odd that we know so much less about our current leaders in this age of supposed transparency than we knew of so many of our more prolix forebears. I guess I was dissatisfied that this book, in spite of its bulk, failed to divulge much about Putin's mindset or disposition. People glibly call Putin a 'psycho,' which seems part based in fact, part based in admiration, and more than a little bit a holdover from Cold War animosities and distrust of Russian counterbalance to Euro-American hegemony. But aside from his desire to maintain absolute power and his childish need for approval from the West, I'm not sure we were given that, so much as we were presented with the facts and encouraged to make our own conclusions, not that much different from before grappling with this 600-page tome. Maybe that's what good journalists do--Steven Lee Myers was, after all, the NYT bureau correspondent for the Moscow desk--but it felt detached. I gather that The Man Without a Face: The Unlikely Rise of Vladimir Putin is pretty good; maybe that will scratch this itch?

  13. 4 out of 5

    Robert Lintzen

    A great book to understand how Putin got to power in the 90s and 2000s and his (possible) motivations behind recent actions like the annexation of Crimea. It gave me great insights on how Russia is currently functioning and how Putin is being kept in power. The thing that keeps me from giving this book 5-stars it that it seems a bit of a one-sided view. It is difficult to get an honest understanding when this book is being written from the American side with the assistance of people like Boris N A great book to understand how Putin got to power in the 90s and 2000s and his (possible) motivations behind recent actions like the annexation of Crimea. It gave me great insights on how Russia is currently functioning and how Putin is being kept in power. The thing that keeps me from giving this book 5-stars it that it seems a bit of a one-sided view. It is difficult to get an honest understanding when this book is being written from the American side with the assistance of people like Boris Nemtsov. That being said I thoroughly enjoyed the book and definitely recommend it if you are eager to learn more about Russia after the Soviet Union.

  14. 4 out of 5

    Sherri

    What kind of person is Putin? What’s his history? What’s happened in Russia since he has been in power? I really didn’t know, other than the snippets I read the news now and then about poison or Olympic doping or Crimea or election interference. So I decided I needed to read a book to fill in the gaps. This book was the perfect choice. Though the book does not attempt to be completely unbiased (he calls Putin the “New Tsar” in the title), Myer does a good job staying balanced and pointing out w What kind of person is Putin? What’s his history? What’s happened in Russia since he has been in power? I really didn’t know, other than the snippets I read the news now and then about poison or Olympic doping or Crimea or election interference. So I decided I needed to read a book to fill in the gaps. This book was the perfect choice. Though the book does not attempt to be completely unbiased (he calls Putin the “New Tsar” in the title), Myer does a good job staying balanced and pointing out when he moves into areas of speculation. He also manages to be comprehensive (on Putin’s life and Russia’s history during Putin’s life) while still keeping the book readable and interesting. I learned a lot and never lost interest. I don’t think I’m giving anything away to say that the book confirms that Putin is basically a crime boss trying legitimize his actions under the false claim of democratic government. He’s been responsible or connected to some terrible things (poisoning, jailing or exiling the political opposition, dismantling the free press in Russia, killing journalists, election fraud, invading Crimea, shooting a passenger plane out of the air over the Ukraine, fostering and tolerating widespread corruption that has made him and his cronies obscenely rich, and on and on). For anyone who values democracy and a free press, I think this is an important book to read to understand how these things can be eroded and dismantled. If you are going to read the book, you should know that it ends with coverage of the Boeing 777 passenger plane that Russia shot down over the Ukraine which means there is no discussion of Russia’s attempts to interfere with the 2016 US presidential election. My only complaint about the book was the narrator. I listened to the book, and the narrator’s voice grated on me for the first couple of chapters until I got used to it.

  15. 5 out of 5

    Peter

    Steven Lee Myers, a New York Times Russian affairs correspondent, brings us The New Tsar: The Rise and Reign of Vladimir Putin (2016) is a natural followup to a reading of Bill Browder’s Red Notice, a book about one businessman’s experiences in Putin’s corrupt and absolutely powerful “democratic” government. Will this biography present Putin as a leader consistent with Browder’s experience—brutal, venal, and cold-hearted—or will Putin be at the minimum on the pussycat scale? The title is a helpf Steven Lee Myers, a New York Times Russian affairs correspondent, brings us The New Tsar: The Rise and Reign of Vladimir Putin (2016) is a natural followup to a reading of Bill Browder’s Red Notice, a book about one businessman’s experiences in Putin’s corrupt and absolutely powerful “democratic” government. Will this biography present Putin as a leader consistent with Browder’s experience—brutal, venal, and cold-hearted—or will Putin be at the minimum on the pussycat scale? The title is a helpful hint. This is a must-read for anyone interested in geopolitics in general, and Russia in particular. It is thoroughly researched and written by an acknowledged expert. In spite of the dense details provided, it reads easily and it gives us a picture of the man who is able to fool both his nation and his international opponents into thinking that he is everything but what he is—a snake in a suit and a covert chameleon able to make others see in him whatever they want. Perhaps the surprising part of Putin’s life story is how low-level he was until the late 1990s. A small and brawling youth, he joined the KGB with stars in his eyes and rose to a lieutenant colonelcy. But he was posted to dead end jobs, his last in East Germany during the 1991 collapse of the Russian empire. He was considered brave but too much of a risk taker—doing things that would put him in the limelight if they failed. He was essentially a middle-of-the-road background figure in a job requiring anonymity. So what brought this lackluster shadow to prominence? Of special importance was his alliance with the democracy movement in Russia, particularly his support of opposition to the putsch in 1991 when hardliners tried to defeat oust Gorbachev and Yeltsin came to his aid. At the time Putin was chief of staff to Anatoly Sobchak, the mayor of St. Petersburg and a darling of the democracy movement; this put him in the right place at the right time. That Putin would support democracy is surprising and undoubtedly opportunistic. In spite of his pronouncements in favor of democracy, he has shown little tendency in that direction. Putin resigned from the KGB in 1991. Soon he was interviewed in a documentary about Sobchak and the new Russia, bringing him to national attention. Perhaps Putin’s first sniff of the joys of corruption was a barter deal he arranged to import food to St. Petersburg: in 1993 the “shock therapy” intended to convert Russia quickly to a market economy had disrupted the national economy and food shortages emerged in St. Petersburg. While the bartered goods left Russia, little food returned—the difference went into the pockets of the contractors (including, presumably, Putin). A scandal ensued, but Putin successfully avoided any direct connection even though he was responsible for negotiating the contracts. This established a pattern for Putin’s future—he would be “clean” while others did the time. When Sobchak lost his bid for reelection in 1996 Putin was once again out of a job. But his reputation as an effective behind-the-scenes fixer had brought him to Boris Yeltsin’s attention. He moved from St. Petersburg to Moscow and climbed on the Yeltsin bandwagon as Yeltsin’s deputy chief of staff, just as Yeltsin’s health began to fade. His primary responsibility was to ferret out corruption in the machinery of governance, a case of the fox in the henhouse. In the same year Putin submitted a “Ph.D. dissertation” to the St. Petersbug Mining Institutute. Apparently Putin never took any course at the institute and the thesis was a ghost-written and plagiarized effort to pad his resumé, a common practice by Russian officials. The topic was the use of Russia’s natural resources as a source of future economic growth, a theme Putin has vigorously pursued. Within four years of hist attachment to Yeltsin, Putin rose to become Russian President, a remarkably rapid climb. In 1998 Yelsin appointed Putin as director of the Federal Security Service (FSB), the KGB’s successor. Putin did not want to return to the covert world, but he loyally accepted the post and became Russia’s superspook, with access to all of its intelligence information and power over its intelligence resources. In 1999 Yeltsin appointed Putin to be his prime minister. Soon afterward Yeltsin resigned and Putin became interim President; this was the first transfer of leadership in Russia without death or coup. This abrupt rise to power was a reward for Putin’s lip service to democracy, his reputation for absolute loyalty to his boss in a country known for intrigue and betrayal, and his extreme competence at doing his master’s bidding. Putin’s first term held hope for rapprochement with the West, but as time passed his focus shifted to maintaining and increasing his power. Putin’s announced goal appears to be stability through statism—the use of a strong central state to create a stable social and economic environment, thus avoiding the instabilities that unfettered capitalism (and unfettered corruption) induces; Putin describes his political philosophy as “managed democracy,” seeing himself as the savior of stability and order—the operative word is “managed.” What Putin ignores is that his “managed democracy” equates Russia’s health with his own, and it has engendered both economic and social instability: the failure to enforce laws fairly and equally has created a fear and vulnerability; the rise of the oligarchs (encouraged by the fire sale prices of state-owned enterprises) had created divisions between the people and the “one-percenters,” but Putin’s way of beating them into line has added to popular uncertainty about the rule of law; the blatant corruption of a cooperative state bureaucracy has only increased fears of expropriation and imprisonment. As Putin’s fist has tightened, even strong supporters like Yeltsin have expressed their dismay; less favored critics have died in unusual circumstances. In order to exert the control Putin has over Russia Putin has created a massive war chest for bribes, intimidations, and the machinery of “legal” theft. The source has been Russia’s oil and natural gas industry, the vehicle of Russia’s growth in his dissertation. After the privatization of oil and gas companies in the early years of the new Russia, Putin gathered the industry back under the state umbrella, using the state oil company, Gazprom, to purchase private companies at discounted prices. The discounts have come from intimidation and outright expropriation. The abuse of power involved has been immense (see Browder’s Red Notice for one man’s story). Putin’s extension of power outside of Russia is, of course, the West’s primary concern. In 2005 he rigged elections in Ukraine in favor of his man and against the “orange” candidate; the result was the “Orange Revolution,” a popular uprising that ousted Putin’s man and established an independent democracy now weakened by Putin’s occupation of the Crimean Peninsula and his support for ethnic Russian rebels in eastern Ukraine. In Chechnya his military brutality has suppressed a nationalist movement, but in its place an Islamic movement has emerged. His “assistance” in Syria has protected the Assad regime from Islamic fighters but at the expense of the rebels against Assad. His interference in Georgia has undermined the “Rose Revolution” there. These all have been a source of international tension and a clear indication of Putin’s wish to restore Russia’s previous hegemony. Putin is a complex man, a composite of opposites: he has no ideology—he seeks no return to communism nor is he devoted to democracy and a market economy; he seems more directed to creating a new Tsarist Russia than to the initial ideals of the democracy movement. His internal inconsistencies define his character: he purports to be an advocate of democracy, including its major institutions like the secret ballot, elections of officials, and open debate—yet he quickly suppresses these when they conflict with his goals; he is an advocate of the rule of law so long as he can manage its application (he once described his government as a “dictatorship of law”); while he does not seem to seek riches for himself, eschewing displays of wealth and apparently “owning” little property—he encourages illegal acts to expropriate the property of others, typically those who oppose him, both as punishment and as a source of his war chest for bribes and inducements. In 2008 the conclusion of Putin’s second term required that he leave office. His prime minister, Dimitri Medvedev, was elected President and Medvedev appointed Putin as his prime minister. This was, of course, a charade designed to allow Putin to continue running the show while paying lip service to the Russian constitution’s term limits. Regrettably, President Obama seems to have bought the shift and cosied up to Medvedev as if he was the real center of power. Obama was not our only president to be duped by Putin: during Putin’s relatively benign first term he was highly regarded by George W. Bush as a “man I can deal with.” Putin’s chameleon-like quality had once again allowed others to think they had his measure. I think that by now we all have his measure, and this book is an important part of that understanding. Five stars.

  16. 5 out of 5

    Ailith Twinning

    It's a very interesting read, right up until the last hour or so when it becomes blatant propaganda. I'm not familiar with post WWII Russia really, so I have no idea how true it is, but what I do know about that gets passing mention because Putin walked thru the room is presented in an overtly pro-American way that breaks from reality in tone thru careful choice of how to present something defensible as fact. In other words, this book contains disinformation even in what very little falls under It's a very interesting read, right up until the last hour or so when it becomes blatant propaganda. I'm not familiar with post WWII Russia really, so I have no idea how true it is, but what I do know about that gets passing mention because Putin walked thru the room is presented in an overtly pro-American way that breaks from reality in tone thru careful choice of how to present something defensible as fact. In other words, this book contains disinformation even in what very little falls under fields I know anything about - The early bits of The New Tsar cover the myth of Putin's childhood, and then present him as a sympathetic "I wanna be an action hero!" kind of character. There are slight digs such as saying he probably lost more street fights than he won, a weird tendency of the book to reference him being short repeatedly that is maintained throughout (diminutive gets used a few times), iunno, 5'6 isn't especially short man, and using it to say that Bush "towered" over him is clearly just, well, it's basically lewd, and yes, I do mean it comes off vaguely sexual. But the thing is that these digs are slight early on, spaced out, and Myers more or less sticks to the myths, then going back for a bit of skeptical shading afterwards. Right up until the movement that got him to be Vice President -- where skepticism suddenly becomes "Isn't it likely Putin was in charge of the KGB terrorist bombings in Russia?" It then backs off again right up until the very end where the portrayal is a Putin that has lost his mind, maybe wants to force WWIII, only has power for the sake of power, is old, held together by cosmetic surgery, totally crushed his people, lost his popularity, wants to restore the USSR maybe, and (of course) is an existential threat to the US. When you read that part it becomes impossible to forgive the fact that Myers did a masterful job of avoiding mention of the US wherever possible -- and even when referring to US crimes because Putin did just hand-wave it as an example of Putin using moral equivalence to justify his aggression/crimes/whatever. I won't argue about the merits of Putin, because I don't care; I'm not Russian and he's not my problem -- my own government's problems are big enough to try and deal with. However, I find the overall tone of The New Tsar to degenerate to full-on propaganda by the end, and that offends me; it feels like a violation. With that said, it is still an interesting read. Just -- take it with a grain of salt. And above-all, resist the urge when the US becomes an actual character in the play to take the sides as presented. There's something sinister there. Think, ask questions, hypothesise motive.

  17. 5 out of 5

    Matt Christopher

    Interesting story, but language is pretty blatantly biased. Too much detail, so lost the key pieces of the narrative.

  18. 5 out of 5

    Karoline

    This book was really hard to read. It was more like a college textbook than anything else. So much information and very densely packed. Definitely more advanced than I was expecting.

  19. 4 out of 5

    Bart Van Den Bossche

    Genuinely impressive. Not the man Putin, but this book as a whole. Written from a neutral point of view, taking you through the Life of the new tsar. It outlines how the man went from a little nobody in the ranks of the KGB to one of the most dominant personalities in the current global political landscape. The book not only tackles the easy subjects (corruption, lack of justice, ...) but also puts a fair level of attention to the prosperity Putin brought to Russia in his early days as a preside Genuinely impressive. Not the man Putin, but this book as a whole. Written from a neutral point of view, taking you through the Life of the new tsar. It outlines how the man went from a little nobody in the ranks of the KGB to one of the most dominant personalities in the current global political landscape. The book not only tackles the easy subjects (corruption, lack of justice, ...) but also puts a fair level of attention to the prosperity Putin brought to Russia in his early days as a president. The way this book was written should be seen as an example for modern day journalism. Great mastery of the language and an impressive amount of references (50+ pages).

  20. 5 out of 5

    Shoti

    This is an engaging story about the dull and grey functionary who emerged from obscurity to become the indisputable one-man symbol of Russia in the 21st century. Putin’s quick elevation to power as the heir of Yeltsin was rather unexpected and surprised most in politics. During the chaotic 1990s the Russian society was deeply traumatized by the sudden disintegration of the Soviet Union and badly suffered from the ensuing economic bust. Putin was tasked with reinstating the seeming functionality This is an engaging story about the dull and grey functionary who emerged from obscurity to become the indisputable one-man symbol of Russia in the 21st century. Putin’s quick elevation to power as the heir of Yeltsin was rather unexpected and surprised most in politics. During the chaotic 1990s the Russian society was deeply traumatized by the sudden disintegration of the Soviet Union and badly suffered from the ensuing economic bust. Putin was tasked with reinstating the seeming functionality of the severely battered state apparatus and control. During the war in Chechnya he proved to be a determined leader who is not afraid to fight off the country’s enemies and does not hesitate to take timely actions in favor of Russia’s foreign interests. That resonated well with disillusioned Russians who felt nostalgic for the evaporated grandeur of the Soviet Union and felt humiliated by the country’s desperate state compared to its glorious past. Putin, benefiting from the gradual stabilization of the Russian economy and its energy sector, managed to increase standards of living and put Russia back on the map as a regional/world power. To reinforce his position at the helm he could readily rely on the national pride of Russian people, as well as on their grievances against oligarchs who shamelessly enriched during the horrendous plundering called privatization. Equally important was the private circle of his reliable and trusted friends whom he had formerly acquainted with at the KGB or the Saint Petersburg municipality. Russian people equivocally appreciated the relative stability Putin could bring to them. At the same time, the country has paid a huge price for all these positives. Putin shall likely come down in history as the man who smothered the nascent Russian democracy in his cot. One may ponder whether or not Putin's ‘managed democracy’, which was a sad mockery of any well-functioning real democratic system, was really necessary in the early 2000s to be able to block a possible Communist comeback. It is quite clear though that Putin, once having things under control, was simply too weak to break the unfortunate and centuries-long tradition of Russian tsars and communist general secretaries who always longed for personified absolute power. Most interestingly, Putin remained highly popular. Rigged elections, the cruel oppression of free press, speech and political opponents, the long series of mysterious deaths of Putin’s critics, the brazen nepotism and legal nihilism traversing all layers of society, the international isolation of Russia could not undermine his popularity, except for in some marginal subgroups within the Russian society. Arguably, he could have remained in power even if campaigns and elections had been allowed to be organized more democratically. Will be interesting and also quite frightening to see what is going to happen to the horrendously corrupt authoritarian state, which Putin is going to leave as his heritage, and to the huge stockpile of Russia's nuclear warheads once there is Putin no more...

  21. 5 out of 5

    Nathalie

    As history tends to repeat itself, this work of non-fiction is a great example of how the internal political workings of a great nation such as The United States, Russia or any other influential country should be supervised or at least be transparent enough to be criticized whenever certain notions or tendencies seem to have not the benefit of its people in mind, but the personal gain of its ruler and his immediate surrounding. How this can be established I don’t know, but what is happening in Ru As history tends to repeat itself, this work of non-fiction is a great example of how the internal political workings of a great nation such as The United States, Russia or any other influential country should be supervised or at least be transparent enough to be criticized whenever certain notions or tendencies seem to have not the benefit of its people in mind, but the personal gain of its ruler and his immediate surrounding. How this can be established I don’t know, but what is happening in Russia seems to be the very situation we need to control before it escalates and we are thrown back 80 years in the past to events that I’m not wishing to relive. I just finished reading The New Tsar which is a work that contemplates who Putin was, where he came from, he gradual rise to a position of great power and how he has managed to put Russia into an iron grip. The Iron Curtain may have fallen in the 80’s, but Russia has again fallen victim to the chokehold of a leader that rules not from within the heart but from his dated perception of the world’s politics. Instead of antagonizing the other political powers, Russia could have strengthened its humanitarian position, and be the voice to reign in the power The United States have proven to have. Not in the military sense, but as a voice asking and second-guessing. Putin has had this particular gambit and used it successfully in the possible interference of The United States in the Syrian conflict, but I’m guessing that power and ambition is like an addiction and enough is never enough. The book by the hands of Steven Lee Myers, gives us a portrait of this autocratic leader, albeit an obvious colored one, wherein his actions are painted as is, but the notions behind his actions are clearly put in a black and white manner, wherein Putin is a ghoul who needs blood. This isn’t clear in the first half of the book, where we follow Putin from growing up in Leningrad as a small boy, but evidently very feisty. His nationalism is invoked in his teens as he sets working for the KGB as his goal. The KGB is then an intelligence office, an institution of contra-espionage, customs, security of the political leaders and government buildings. It was as much a state within a state, always searching for enemies, which proclaimed that brilliantly dosed violence was needed to protect the Soviet Union. Putin realizes his dream. When working for the KGB he is sent to the DDR, which wasn’t quite what he had dreamt of, but he took his work seriously. When working in Dresden, he noted that East-Germany was an hard and totalitarian country that he liked. But when the Soviet Union showed signs of disintegrating he stated that the evident military superiority of the West was needed to reign in the leaders of the Soviet Union. His ambivalence was notable even then. After the fall of the Soviet Union, Putin risked living a very glum and irrelevant life. When his work as KGB-officer was no longer needed, he was in conflict with himself of which path he needed to follow now. As it happened, a series of events put him in close contact with the mayor of Leningrad, which was after a referendum, named St-Petersburg again. He tasted the democracy that had fallen into Russian hands and the corruption that seem to go hand in hand with it. He got a taste of being in control, but also how it felt to lose that very position and being forced to return to a uncertain future, much like he had encountered after the Wall fell in Berlin. His steady growth for power hadn’t stopped, only stagnated, when he was called in for a function in Moscow, where he worked under Jeltsin. Jeltsin, who didn’t know what to think of this small and colorless man, grew to like his steadfastness, which ultimately led to his position as prime minister shortly before elections. Putin was the obvious choice. Reigning as president from 2000 until 2008, when Medvedev took over until 2012, Putin’s behavior has been erratic. On one hand he was trying to establish Russia as a great political and economic country, with bonds existing with the Western nations. Conflicts in the middle-east where Western countries interfered, cooled down those aspirations and he got a grudge against anything American as he saw them as the nation that continually sought to undermine Russia’s power. Aside of these events, inland the Kremlin put the media more and more on a leash, wherein nothing objective reached the ears and eyes of the millions of citizens. News was Kremlin-made and opposition scattered and destroyed, in a hundred different ways. This second part of the book, Putin has lost his humans side. He’s painted as a boogey man searching for a conflict that will introduce the 21th century into a great and bloody conflict. I’m not stating that the facts aren’t true, but they are directing the reader into a certain position as I’m not sure whether any man can be as black as he’s proclaimed to be. The reasons behind his behavior as of late, to recall the annexation of the Krim as his latest feat, are not very well stated in this novel, probably because there isn’t enough information yet. Although this was a very good novel to get an insight of Russia’s political and economic playing field, I’m of the opinion that it might be better to try and get insight of someone’s decisions when the person is either dead or at least bereaved of any immediate power. As it stands now, I’m getting the idea of how Putin grew up to be the autocratic he is today, what his influences have been, but I’m not getting that same sense trying to explain his recent actions. They are still too fresh and I’m sure that we haven’t seen the full effect of what has happened.

  22. 4 out of 5

    Saku Mantere

    Well written and researched, the book is both enlightening and entertaining. The book could be mined for multiple case studies on themes such as social order, corruption and leadership. What strikes me in particular is that, in a society plagued by corruption, corruption keeps everyne in their place; even the leaders can't risk stepping down. Myers, a New York Times Moscow correspondent knows his subject well. At times I felt that he sacrifices journalistic rigor to spinning a good yarn: he attr Well written and researched, the book is both enlightening and entertaining. The book could be mined for multiple case studies on themes such as social order, corruption and leadership. What strikes me in particular is that, in a society plagued by corruption, corruption keeps everyne in their place; even the leaders can't risk stepping down. Myers, a New York Times Moscow correspondent knows his subject well. At times I felt that he sacrifices journalistic rigor to spinning a good yarn: he attributes Putin with psychological states that the author simply cannot have access to, and the text strikes me as a tad judgmental at places (with subject matter like this, few readers need urging to pass judgment in any case). That said, among the best political biographies that I have read.

  23. 4 out of 5

    Dramatika

    A very boring summary of the major well documented events in the life of Putin. Nothing new here, no juicy details, speculations or analysis. I don't now how this mediocre book got such good reviews. There are hardly ever any details on Russia, its history and people which might explain Putin phenomenal popularity among ordinary people. In fact, the book rarely ventures outside Moscow, so the reader never understand the enormous challenge of governing vast and diverse country. The author managed A very boring summary of the major well documented events in the life of Putin. Nothing new here, no juicy details, speculations or analysis. I don't now how this mediocre book got such good reviews. There are hardly ever any details on Russia, its history and people which might explain Putin phenomenal popularity among ordinary people. In fact, the book rarely ventures outside Moscow, so the reader never understand the enormous challenge of governing vast and diverse country. The author managed to not to provide any new insights, which might make the book readable. It is like reading bullet points from the news of the past quarter century.

  24. 5 out of 5

    Shailendra Bhogaraju

    The author clearly narrates the rise of Putin from a humble background to the most powerful man on the planet. His rein is washed by the blood of his harshest critics. He ran the Kremlin like a corrupt company which was infested by his cronies from the KGB with complete control over the media & oil & natural gas companies. The Crimean Crisis of 2014 proved to be his nemesis in the world order which led to his direct comparison to Hitler. His feeling of antipathy towards the west especially the U The author clearly narrates the rise of Putin from a humble background to the most powerful man on the planet. His rein is washed by the blood of his harshest critics. He ran the Kremlin like a corrupt company which was infested by his cronies from the KGB with complete control over the media & oil & natural gas companies. The Crimean Crisis of 2014 proved to be his nemesis in the world order which led to his direct comparison to Hitler. His feeling of antipathy towards the west especially the USA is evident throughout the book. A political strategist aptly quotes "There is Putin and there is Russia. No Putin - No Russia."

  25. 4 out of 5

    Arthur

    Brings nothing new to the tabel.

  26. 5 out of 5

    Vikas Datta

    Quite informative but faintly damning...

  27. 4 out of 5

    Kara Beal

    Detailed, fascinating and disturbing. The story of Vladimir Putin is the history of Russian politics for the last 20 years, so the reader learns a lot of recent Russian history (espionage, war, economic policy, etc.) in this book. Putin began his career as an unremarkable KGB agent, spying mostly on other Russians. Then he became involved in local politics in St. Petersburg as an associate of the mayor of St. Petersburg, and as the mayor rose in prominence in national politics, so did Putin. Eve Detailed, fascinating and disturbing. The story of Vladimir Putin is the history of Russian politics for the last 20 years, so the reader learns a lot of recent Russian history (espionage, war, economic policy, etc.) in this book. Putin began his career as an unremarkable KGB agent, spying mostly on other Russians. Then he became involved in local politics in St. Petersburg as an associate of the mayor of St. Petersburg, and as the mayor rose in prominence in national politics, so did Putin. Eventually, Boris Yeltsin chose him to be his successor because Yeltsin thought Putin was pro-capitalism and otherwise wouldn't do any harm. Yeltsin got more than he bargained for. As soon as Putin became President of Russia, he ruthlessly moved to secure his personal power by oppressing his opponents. Of course, he used the history of autocratic rule in Russia to his advantage, painting himself as the lone defender of the Russian people, economy and culture. Then he expanded his "I can do no wrong" attitude into "Russia can do no wrong." Relations between Russia and pretty much everyone else in the world have gone downhill since. Mr. Myers adeptly explains Putin's reasoning for supporting Assad in Syria, for invading Ukraine to seize Crimea and for generally creating international enemies. Putin feels he can act with impunity internationally (as he does within Russia) and when he's called out by the international community he complains that he's always being picked on by America and he's just standing up to the American bullies, which makes him look like a hero at home in the Russian media (controlled by him). Is Putin despicable? Yes. Is he as despicable as Stalin? No. Does that make me feel better about Putin? Not really. Mr. Myers paints a very believable portrait of Vladimir Putin, using a large number of primary sources. The material seemed balanced. For example, when the author makes note of accusations leveled at Putin (such as charges of political assassinations) he also includes Putin's responses and denials, often using Putin's own words. The book is pretty dense and while I might have edited the book down some for length and omitted some of the detail, I appreciated the author's use of the details to demonstrate Putin's consistent patterns of action in how he ruthlessly treats his opponents, how he unabashedly uses his political power to feed his own vanity and personal coffers and how he has consistently suppressed free speech within Russia. The patterns are clear.

  28. 5 out of 5

    Peter Corrigan

    That was new territory for me, despite having had a long-time near obsession with Russia and it's tortured history. This is more like 'near-history', the newspaper (or now internet) headlines of the past 20+ years synthesized into a coherent and fascinating account of the rise of Putin amidst a period of incredible change and turmoil. To anyone who wants to move beyond the shallow headlines of Russia conspiracies and related nonsense endlessly pushed by the western media, this book would be a re That was new territory for me, despite having had a long-time near obsession with Russia and it's tortured history. This is more like 'near-history', the newspaper (or now internet) headlines of the past 20+ years synthesized into a coherent and fascinating account of the rise of Putin amidst a period of incredible change and turmoil. To anyone who wants to move beyond the shallow headlines of Russia conspiracies and related nonsense endlessly pushed by the western media, this book would be a real investment into some deeper understanding. Remember always however that is was written by a NY Times reporter with much of the liberal mindset baggage required for being part that sadly depleted rag of a newspaper. There is always the base assumption that Russia (and Putin) is the bad guy and the Europeans and America the enlightened ones, despite our constant war-making, spying and economic terrorism (sanctions, sanctions, sanctions, that punish only the little people). It is not an easy read per se, with so many Russian names and a lot of bizarre economic machinations and often horrific events covered. But a few salient points emerge and one is that the West, led by the U.S. did as much to 'cause' the current version of Russia as anything. 'Our' arrogance in assuming we had the right (and the might) to shove NATO right up to the borders of the rump Russian state were a gross miscalculation which reatins the potential to become a much bigger (nuclear) mess with just a few more mistakes. What was the point? Building up an alliance incessantly that had no one to fight except Russia, which was only a shadow of the Soviet Union. The arrogance of western imperialism by Clinton, Bush and Obama is evident in their every interaction with Putin described in the book. We pushed him into enmity in as many ways as he pulled them. I am not sure the book can fully explain Putin as he remains somewhat the enigma that Churchill used to describe the Soviet Union, but you will have much greater insight into why things turned out as they did.

  29. 5 out of 5

    Nick

    A good biography that covers, in fair detail right up to the immediate months after the annexation of Crimea in 2014. It is especially good at establishing Putin's character and motivations early in life and after the collapse of the Soviet Union. This then better explains his actions as President from 2000-2008, when he first began creating for himself a circle of trusted associates. His background as a KGB agent, and work during the Cold War, also makes clear his attitudes toward foreign gover A good biography that covers, in fair detail right up to the immediate months after the annexation of Crimea in 2014. It is especially good at establishing Putin's character and motivations early in life and after the collapse of the Soviet Union. This then better explains his actions as President from 2000-2008, when he first began creating for himself a circle of trusted associates. His background as a KGB agent, and work during the Cold War, also makes clear his attitudes toward foreign governments, particularly western ones, of which he is extremely suspicious and cautious. My only complaints with the book are that occasionally it steps out of chronological order (2 months before the election...3 months before the election...2 months before...etc.). This doesn't happen often, but when it does it was noticeable to me. The other thing, probably not the fault of the author, is how quickly it moves through the years 2012-2014, when he became President again. A lot happened in these years (Crimea, Ukraine, protests, Sochi) and it is all covered, but it goes through without spending too much time explaining how Putin's reactions to these events led to the kleptocratic state there is today. Still, overall this is a good biography, with well-written and detailed prose, complete with endnotes.

  30. 4 out of 5

    Alina

    I've FINALLY finished this book. I need to say, it was a very good book, very detailed and informative. Steven Lee Meyers really did his research. For me, personally, it seemed a little confusing at times as I couldn't keep up with all the names and their respective relations to Putin. It's also not really a biography as it features very few glimpses into Putin's personal life but I wasn't expecting it to be a biography, it's just a warning for everyone wanting to get to know the 'personal' side I've FINALLY finished this book. I need to say, it was a very good book, very detailed and informative. Steven Lee Meyers really did his research. For me, personally, it seemed a little confusing at times as I couldn't keep up with all the names and their respective relations to Putin. It's also not really a biography as it features very few glimpses into Putin's personal life but I wasn't expecting it to be a biography, it's just a warning for everyone wanting to get to know the 'personal' side of Putin. Anyways, I loved to read it (though it took me forever) and I can recommend it to anyone interested in Russia under Putin.

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