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Sale Of The Century: The Inside Story of the Second Russian Revolution [Paperback]

Chrystia Freeland
3.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (8 customer reviews)
Price: 14.99 & FREE Delivery in the UK. Details
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Book Description

3 Mar 2005

This is the first account of Russia's second revolution - the country's dramatic, wrenching transition from communist central planning to a market economy. Written by one of the finest writers on contemporary Russia, it is told by interweaving high politics with glimpses of the revolution's impact on the lives of ordinary people.

Beginning with a sharp portrayal of the dismal living conditions in the Soviet Union, she moves on to the romantic early days of the capitalist transformation. This was the height of market euphoria when, despite the chaos of everyday life, a prosperous future seemed within easy reach. Woven through the book are remarkable stories - of Yeltsin's use of popular psychics, of the might of the 'robber barons' who form alliances with criminal mafia gangs, of Machiavellian politicians who 'have dealt with the devil and believe they have made a good bargain'. In the final stage of the book, Freeland chronicles the end of the first wave of Russia's capitalist revolution, detailing the economic crisis currently rumbling through the country.

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Product details

  • Paperback: 400 pages
  • Publisher: Abacus; New Ed edition (3 Mar 2005)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0349112606
  • ISBN-13: 978-0349112602
  • Product Dimensions: 12.9 x 19.9 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 3.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (8 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 333,224 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Amazon Review

"Everything Marx told us about communism was false. But it turns out that everything he told us about capitalism was true". So says one Russian friend of Chrystia Freeland, author of the remarkable Sale of the Century: The Inside Story of the Second Russian Revolution, which tells the story of "Russia's flawed capitalist revolution" from Boris Yeltsin's election as president of Russia in 1991 to his resignation on the last day of 1999.

Freeland spent three years as the Moscow bureau chief for the Financial Times between 1995 and 1998, leaving her uniquely placed to write one of the first accounts of Russia's exhilarating, but also painful and desperate transition from communism to capitalism in the final years of the 20th century. She charts the initial hope inspired by the young reformers led by Anatoly Chubais and Yegor Gaidar, who introduced the free market "shock therapy" in 1992 which kick-started the Russian capitalist economy, to the corruption and cynicism of the oligarchs like Vladimir Gusinsky and Boris Berezovsky, who got rich quick by seizing the valuable remnants of the old Soviet economy and (in some cases literally) making a killing. Freeland tells a fascinating story as she travels the country from the Siberian gas fields to the inner sanctums of the Moscow oligarchs. In the process she comes to realise that "Russia had freed itself from communism but not from the communist legacy; it had constructed its own capitalist system, only to discover it had built the wrong kind." This is an absorbing and highly readable book detailing history in the making, as one the world's most powerful nations teeters on the brink of renewal or disaster; if Marx could read Sale of the Century, he would undoubtedly applaud. --Jerry Brotton --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.


We now have a superb piece of reportage on the central years of the oligarchic era - which may prove, at least in its pure form, to be coterminous with the Yeltsin period ... This book ... is a tremendous illumination of early Russian business methods... Freeland's account of the central deal of the era... reads, at times, like Tom Wolfe's A Man in Full (John Lloyd, NEW STATESMAN)

If Marx could read SALE OF THE CENTURY, he would undoubtedly applaud. (Professor Jerry Brotton)

This could so easily have been a deeply inpenetrable book. The shenanigans involving the assorted sell-offs, buy-outs and changing alliances in Russia in the past ten years have been so complex as to leave even dedicated readers feeling confused. Chrystia Freeland's achievement in SALE OF THE CENTURY is thus all the more remarkable in weaving a gripping narrative out of all the anarchy and chaos. (INDEPENDENT)

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Customer Reviews

3.8 out of 5 stars
3.8 out of 5 stars
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
16 of 16 people found the following review helpful
Amongst the many books on this subject which I have read, I found this to be a remarkable book. The content will astonish even the most staunch market capitalist, but also the clarity of style and story-like weaving of the author's approach makes this book difficult to put down. Chrystia Freeland explains (often amusingly) the complicated subject of how and why Russia got into such a mess after Yeltsin, in August 1991, "clambered onto a tank" proclaiming freedom and prosperity to the Russian people. This difficult to understand subject has been delivered in an easy-to-take pill. A step by step illumination unravels the wheeling/dealing psychology and self-justification of the grabbers and the frustrations of the motivated Young Reformers with whom they made their uncomfortable alliance. The Prologue, a moving personal story of a Kazan orphan being adopted by a Canadian family, sets the mood. The book then rapidly moves into a roller coaster world of cold-hard business, obstinate red-managers, Machiavellian civil servants and bewildered politicians. Various oligarchs and ordinary Russians are singled out and their stories are told candidly in journalistic style. One can't help but admire the plots and sub-plots which, if they were not factual, would make for far fetched fiction. The icing on the cake comes with the closing chapter, simply called "Conclusion". It recalls the exhilarating but sad fact of how it all went sour but goes on to uncover, if not predict, the revival of the old Slavonic idea of the Russian spirit.
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8 of 8 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Respect to the author on an amazing insight 19 Jun 2001
I approached this after a friend's recommendation and I can honestly say that it is the best book I have read in the past year. This reads just like a flowing novel on what is traditionally a dour and complex topic (in my opinion). Chrystia manges to capture all the detail surrounding the fall and rise including glimpses of Kremlin life that all too often seem a wayward leap from my Western reality. Completely captivating and difficult to put down. Read it.
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10 of 11 people found the following review helpful
This is a fascinating and readable account of how Russian capitalism came about. I worked in Russia from 1995-99 (auditing & venture capital) so I was intrigued to read about a period that I had experienced and but not fully understood.
In my opinion it is incredibly difficult to write a good book about recent events in Russia, and this is a real achievement. Complex events are explained with clarity and verve. The author's access to many of Russia's senior businessmen and politicians provides strong primary historical evidence of events that I had thought were shrouded in mystery. The Russian oligarchs that colluded with the state to take valuable companies at knockdown prices (hence "Sale of the Century") are incredibly indiscreet (or brazenly frank) in interviews with Freeland about their often corrupt practices.
Whilst there are some terrific books about the 1917 revolution (e.g. Figes), it is wrong to have the same expectations of a book about recent events because we still trying to make sense of them. Freeland has emphasised the events that she experienced directly, or that are well documented, but there is a great deal left for other writers to cover.
It is a page-turner, and always readable, but there are times when, in adding local colour, Freeland over-embellishes. The descriptions of Tverskaya's prostitutes and some out-of-Moscow trips are clichés that do not ring true. More seriously, the lack of contact with mid-ranking entrepreneurs and the Russia outside of Moscow skews the book's perspective - although this is a failing shared by Russia's political elite.
This is probably the definitive guide to Russia's high politics from 1991-99 and I recommend it strongly.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The book that awoke my interest in Russia 1 Nov 2009
This was the first book that I purchased on the post communist Russia. It remains probably the most easily readable and generally succinct account of the massive changes that took place in Russia during the period 1991 -1999.

Freeland's account of the role which Gaidar and Chubais had in bringing about some of the momentous econmic and political changes of that time is first rate.

Although we now have a growing volume of literature covering this period, Freeland's book remains a 'classic' of it's kind.
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