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Fragile Empire: How Russia Fell in and Out of Love with Vladimir Putin Hardcover – 19 Apr 2013


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Product details

  • Hardcover: 352 pages
  • Publisher: Yale University Press (19 April 2013)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0300181213
  • ISBN-13: 978-0300181210
  • Product Dimensions: 24 x 16.6 x 3.8 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (33 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 340,219 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Review

'This is a rich and powerful book.' --Tony Brenton, Standpoint, 1st June 2013

'Having worked as a Reuters reporter, a think-tank analyst and a freelance journalist, Judah has the skills to prep the dirty ingredients of Russian politics and cook up a narrative feast.' --Oliver Bullough, Literary Review, 1st June 2013

'Judah's portrait of Putin's fragile empire is analytical, historically informed and wise. He shares his glancing impressions lavishly, and does not conceal his sadness and disgust.' --Rachel Polonsky, Evening Standard, 30th May 2013

'Ben Judah, a young freelance writer, paints a more journalistic - and more passionate - picture in 'Fragile Empire'. He shuttles to and fro across Russia's vast terrain, finding criminals, liars, fascists and crooked politicians, as well as the occasional saintly figure.' --The Economist, 9th May 2013

'Judah has travelled far and wide. He's talked to men and women in all walks of life ' and, what's more, he's listened. There's a real freshness and vividness to his reportage, a real conviction in his analysis of a society in which daily life is an endless round of disappointment and frustration.' --Michael Kerrigan, The Scotsman, 18th May 2013

'A beautifully written and very lively study of Russia that argues that the political order created by Vladimir Putin is stagnating - undermined by corruption and a failure to modernise economically. Judah's reporting stretches from the Kremlin to Siberia and has a clear moral sense, without being preachy.' --Gideon Rachman, Financial Times, 29th June 2013

'Judah is an intrepid reporter and classy political scientist [...] His lively account of his remote adventures forms the most enjoyable part of Fragile Empire, and puts me in mind of Chekhov's famous 1890 journey to Sakhalin Island.' --Luke Harding, The Guardian, 27th June 2013

'Judah's portrait of Putin is devastating [...] the opposite of dry Kremlinology. Interviews with senior politicians, oligarchs' daughters, louts and petty criminals include revealing cameos, as when a politician throws down $30 to cover the $10 bill in a cafe -- just for show.' --George Walden, Bloomberg, 4th July 2013

'Judah is an intrepid reporter and classy political scientist [...] His lively account of his remote adventures forms the most enjoyable part of Fragile Empire, and puts me in mind of Chekhov's famous 1890 journey to Sakhalin Island.' --Luke Harding, The Guardian, 27th June 2013

About the Author

Ben Judah was born in 1988, less than three years before the collapse of the Soviet Union. He studied at Oxford University and has travelled widely in Russia and Central Asia. He has reported from the abandoned Gulags of Kolyma, tracked a Yeti in Tajikistan, and covered the Georgian war and the revolutionary collapse of Kyrgyzstan. His work has featured in the 'Financial Times', the 'Economist', 'Prospect', 'Standpoint' and 'Foreign Policy'. He reported for Reuters in Moscow before joining the European Council on Foreign Relations in London as a Russia analyst. He is currently a visiting fellow at the European Stability Initiative.

Customer Reviews

4.2 out of 5 stars
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

9 of 10 people found the following review helpful By Antenna TOP 500 REVIEWER on 2 Aug. 2013
Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
Aged barely three when the Soviet Union collapsed, how did Ben Judah manage to interview so many people, from oligarchs and former leading politicians to the destitute unemployed of the failed collective farms near the Chinese border? Clearly, he must have enormous energy and confidence, aided by fluency in Russian.

He covers quite effectively Putin's sudden and unexpected rise to power. For years an unremarkable KGB official, Putin was in the "right place at the right time" when Russia needed a strong leader after the "Wild West" capitalism of the 1990s in which many people lost their secure jobs or savings to become destitute, law and order broke down and outlying republics began to revolt. "After ten years of total chaos....he brought social order and economic stability", with a marked rise in living standards for many, aided by the rising revenue from oil exports.

The strongest section is the very topical information on how Russians have fallen out of love with their modern "Tsar". The opposition slogan, "a party of crooks and thieves" has adhered firmly to Putin's "United Russia". Shocked by corruption and the inefficiency of the over-centralised "vertical" control of power from Moscow, with its lack of concern for peripheral regions treated like colonies, many people have become disgusted by Putin's personal enrichment, his transparently devious moves to wangle a third term or more as President. They begin to see through the PR fantasies which portray him as an athletic sex symbol catching outsize pike and guiding flocks of geese to safety.

Judah does not try to conceal the flaws and divisions in the opposition. The charismatic Navalny sounds like a bigoted skinhead in his Islamophobia.
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6 of 7 people found the following review helpful By T. Burkard VINE VOICE on 12 July 2013
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Ben Judah's portrait of Putin's Russia is an uncomfortable read. Despite the affluence of the middle class--especially in Moscow--Russia remains a deeply divided country where corruption, alcoholism, drug addiction and racial divisions have created a seething sense of doom. Although Putin's United Russia 'party' controls television, the internet and press are still free. Moscow has a lively liberal opposition, but it is excluded from the Duma (the Russian parliament) and has no legal foothold in the system. Putin has become an impotent czar, who has little control over his corrupt officials. Had it not been for the massive improvements in living standards and incomes since Yeltsin's days, Putin would never have reached the peak of popularity he achieved in at the end of his second term in 2008. Now that he is back after the Medvedev interim, his support has dwindled to the point where it is assumed that there was massive fraud in the 2012 elections. One of the key issues that has driven down his popularity is the amount of money he has transferred to the Muslim areas like Chechenya: the vast majority of Russians would like to cast them adrift. Putin's recent adventures in Ukraine are no doubt driven in part by his need to recapture public support; it may well prove successful, as Russians are nationalistic to a degree that western Europeans find difficult to fathom.

Putin comes in for a lot of criticism, and admittedly it's hard to feel too much sympathy with a former KGB man. Judah recognises the difficulties he faces, but he offers very little in the way of hope. The opposition is fragmented, and there is no other leader of national stature. Enduring civic institutions cannot be built overnight, and it's hard to see that Putin has many options.
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17 of 20 people found the following review helpful By deeaychsevenfive on 24 Dec. 2013
Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
'Fragile Empire' is a copiously researched (from travel and interviews as well as written sources), meticulously footnoted, and comprehensively indexed account of how Vladimir Putin's stated intentions, upon becoming President of Russia in 2000, to construct a 'dictatorship of law' and 'vertical of power' failed. More than that, it provides snapshots of often overlooked, out-of-the-way places deep within the Russian Federation, presenting evidence of both the relative weakness of state structures and the pervasiveness of corruption and disorder; and shows clearly how living standards and the social expectations voiced in the provinces are a world away from those of the liberal intelligentsia in Moscow. The book's conclusions, while bleak, are not apocalyptic, and the author appears to have a strong gap of the subject, demonstrating good judgement throughout. The one section in which I found the arguments presented not to be altogether compelling was that concerning the 'Orange Revolution' in Ukraine: I this was approached rather too much from a Russocentric/geopolitical perspective, downplaying non-geopolitical motivations for the protests that resulted in a rigged election being annulled. But it is perhaps unfair to expect an author with such a depth and breadth of knowledge about Russia, writing principally about Russia, to have an immediate grasp of the Byzantine complexities of its neighbour and mother... But: all in all, this is an outstanding work, and perhaps the best presentation of 'where Russia is today, and why it is there' that I have read, and I greatly look forward to reading more from the author in future.
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