A chilling and unflinching portrait of one of the most fearsome figures in world politics.
In 1999, the “Family” surrounding Boris Yeltsin went looking for a successor to the ailing and increasingly unpopular president. Vladimir Putin, with very little governmental or administrative experience—he’d been deputy mayor of St. Petersburg, and briefly, director of the secret police—nevertheless seemed the perfect choice: a “faceless” creature whom Yeltsin and his cronies could mold in their own image. Russia and an infatuated West were determined to see in him the progressive leader of their dreams—even as Putin, with ruthless efficiency, dismantled the country’s media, wrested control and wealth from the business class, and destroyed the fragile mechanisms of democracy. Within a few brief years, virtually every obstacle to his unbridled control was removed and every opposing voice silenced, with political rivals and critics driven into exile or to the grave.
Masha Gessen has experienced and reported this history firsthand, and brings it up to its present moment of unrest and uncertainty. Her spellbinding account of Putin’s rise and reign will stand as a classic of narrative nonfiction.
A Slate and San Francisco Chronicle Best Book of 2012
"[An] absorbing portrait… Gessen is most illuminating when she details the historical accidents that allowed an unexceptional bureaucrat to rule Russia." –The New Yorker
“Part psychological profile, part conspiracy study… As a Moscow native who has written perceptively for both Russian and Western publications, Gessen knows the cultures and pathologies of Russia… [and has] a delicious command of the English language… A fiercely independent journalist… Gessen’s armchair psychoanalysis of Putin is speculative. But it is a clever and sometimes convincing speculation, based on a close reading of Putin’s own inadvertently revealing accounts of his life, and on interviews with people who knew Putin before he mattered.” –The New York Times Book Review
“In a country where journalists critical of the government have a way of meeting untimely deaths, Ms. Gessen has shown remarkable courage in researching and writing this unflinching indictment of the most powerful man in Russia… Although written before the recent protests erupted, the book helps to explain the anger and outrage driving that movement.” –The Wall Street Journal
“Thanks to her fearless reporting and acute psychological insights, Masha Gessen has done the impossible in writing a highly readable, compelling life of Russia's mysterious president-for-life.” –Tina Brown, The Daily Beast
"Powerful and gracefully written… Gessen's book flows on multiple tracks, tracing Putin's life back to boyhood, the story of his hometown of St. Petersburg, and finally the last quarter-century of Russian history… For all of the ghoulish detail, Gessen's account of Russia is not overwrought… [she] displays impressive control of her prose and her story, painting a portrait of a vile Putin without sounding polemical." –San Francisco Chronicle
“Engrossing and insightful.” –Bloomberg
"Gessen shines a piercing light into every dark corner of Putin's story… Fascinating, hard-hitting reading." –Foreign Affairs
“[An] incisive bildingsroman of Putin and his regime… Alongside an acute apprehension of the post-Soviet dynamics that facilitated Putin’s rise, Gessen balances narratives of Putin-as-bureaucrat and Putin-as-kleptocrat with a wider indictment of the “Mafia clan” that retains him solely as its Godfather.” –The Daily
“Illuminating… Gessen sprinkles telltale signs of the Putin who would eventually emerge and rule Russia with an iron fist…It is with these explosive revelations that Gessen truly excels… [She] presents her case calmly, picking holes in Putin’s character, his policies, and his rule without stooping to hysterical condemnation… an electrifying read from what can only be described as an incredibly brave writer.” –Columbia Journalism Review
“A chilling and brave work of nonfiction… Gessen has succeeded in convincingly portraying the forces that made Putin who he is today.” –Bookpage
"Although Gessen is enough of an outsider to write beautifully clear and eloquent English, she is enough of an insider to convey, accurately, the wild swings of emotions, the atmosphere of mad speculation, the paranoia, and, yes, the hysteria that pervade all political discussion and debate in Moscow today." –The New York Review of Books
“What Gessen sees in Putin is a troubled childhood brawler who became a paper-pushing KGB man and, by improbable twists and turns, rose to the top in Russia… [She] does not attempt to weigh up Putin’s record but rather examines his biography, mind-set and methods… as a thug loyal to the KGB and the empire it served who never had a clue about the Earth-shattering events that blew the Soviet Union apart.” –The Washington Post
“An eye opening story with all the drama and intrigue of a novel.” –Popmatters
“Written in English but with Russian heart, Gessen focuses on the places and institutions that bred the nation's most resolute leader since Stalin… Some might say that Gessen's interpretation is political. Of course it is… but more importantly, it is thorough. She has seen fellow journalists killed, has been harassed herself, and yet continues to write from Russia… Her urgency is felt on nearly every page.” –Bookforum