Brzezinski knows he's in over his head; what he comes to realize is that "so is the entire country." The government of Boris Yeltsin is under the thumb of seven powerful men known as "the oligarchs," and a crime boss from Chechnya -- even as his homeland is under siege by Russian troops -- has set himself up as one of Moscow's most powerful warlords. Meanwhile, the gap between haves and have-nots is widening into an abyss. Among Moscow's elite, solid-gold bathroom fixtures are de rigueur, while in Vladivostok, the last stop on the Trans-Siberian railway, local citizens must buy water by the pail from Russian mafia chieftains.
Brzezinski's irreverent, swashbuckling account captures the greed and desperation of the time. He bribes his way aboard a Russian submarine. He survives a freak radiation spike at Chernobyl and travels four hundred miles on a private plane for lunch with a gorgeous robber baroness. He's set upon by Ukrainian thugs, who leave him tied with electrical cord in a bathtub. Fortified with vodka, he crashes ultranationalist Vladimir Zhirinovsky's birthday party. And he visits a camp of "Young Pioneers," in which children play an elaborate game to learn theprinciples of a free market -- with disastrous results that foretell the chaos in store for the Russian economy.
Just as "Liar's Poker" shone a torch on investment banking in the eighties, "Casino Moscow" paints a lurid, hilarious picture of a capitalist market gone haywire and an era marked by boundless hope and despair.