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10 of 11 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Is Russia somehow cursed?
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...
Published 22 months ago by Antenna

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11 of 13 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Informative and insightful - but "Russia is one of history's greatest failures"? Come on.
I enjoyed reading this book. It masterfully combines everyday personal stories with macro-scale political, social and economic events.

The final chapters of the book, where the author takes the Trans-siberian express to the Russian Far-east, are the absolute highlight - full of fascinating, revealing and insightful personal accounts and analyses...
Published 13 months ago by Amazon Customer


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4.0 out of 5 stars Interesting Analysis, 27 Dec. 2014
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Good read and an interesting analysis of modern Russia. Somewhat schizophrenic in the travelling around the country but insightful summation of Putin's seizure of power the structures he has created and the mood and feeling toward him.
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3 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Superb, 18 May 2014
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A very accessible and in depth assessment of the state if the nation in Russia. Would love to read his thoughts on the current Ukraine crisis.
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5 of 7 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Superb, 1 May 2013
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An excellent book. I have no hesitation in recommending this book to anyone with an interest in Russia and Putin. The book is well written and easy to read. Unlike some books on Putin and Russa, this book gives a balanced view.
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1 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Perceptive and fair, 29 Nov. 2014
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This is a detailed and well researched account of Vladimir Putin's rise to power and consequent career as president. Ben Judah has no illusions of the man with whom he is dealing, but at the same time this is not an attempt at character assassination or vindictiveness. Putin is not presented as some kind of antichrist figure, but he is shown to be man with deep personal insecurities and control issues. A leader who, by putting his closest friends and aides in power has re-created a different kind of autocracy, not so different in effect from the Tsarist one. The question Judah asks through the book is whether, after the initial euphoria of Putin's arrival and stabilization of affairs following the disastrous Yeltsin decade, and his good fortune with rising oil values that injected huge amounts of money into the Russian economy, the bubble has burst. Is Putin having to go to more and more extreme lengths to hold onto power, and to what lengths might he go? We have a portrait of a leader who is calculating and ruthless - very much in the Eastern totalitarian mode - uncluttered by conscience; a man who believes passionately that Russia should be a great nation on the world stage and that individual rights and liberties are of lesser importance. To begin with, it would seem, his people supported him . The issue is for how long that will continue. If you want to better understand Russia and get behind the simplistic media cliches surrounding Vladimir Putin, this is a book to be recommended.
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1 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars . . but you can’t take the KGB out of the man, 15 April 2014
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I read this remarkable but grim and unashamedly one-sided book during the 2014 Ukrainian affair, while no-one was sure how far Putin would go. Taking over after the chaos of the 90s, he has resorted to a Kremlin-controlled state. Proper checks and balances seem increasingly strong-armed by chekists in balaclavas, and right now they even seem to be crossing the border to do their dirty work.
The omens for countries bordering Russia do not seem good. Putin has little to lose or hold him back. On the one side, Ben Judah recalls the KGB’s own analysis that their then lieutenant-colonel possessed a stunted sense of danger. It stymied his career, and one could imagine that it may equally make him ignore the risk of ostracism and flight of precious energy customers in the future. On the other side, as president faced with growing resentment at home, Putin has spent furiously to placate the masses. Apart from increases in welfare spending and the like, the projects in Sochi and Vladivostok have been seen to be symptomatically of dubious priority and massively over-paid due to corruption. The state remains so dependent on oil for its income that, as a result of his actions, it has to sell at $110 a barrel to maintain equilibrium (up from $70 only five years before). With present oil prices slightly below, Putin must at least ensure that countries around him are entirely dependent on his exports, or else. That implies some degree of Kremlin control. Achieving this under the guise of protecting ethnic Russian communities outside Russia has provided the perfect context.
The majority of Russians may be behind him. The author talks of a fragile, fractured and frightened nation already prone to paranoia and still shell-shocked from the fall of the Soviet Union. The country watches European influence and NATO encroaching from the west, an internal unwanted invasion of Muslims from the Caucasus, and the threat of China from the east. It thinks that China might one day actively eye the three quarters of Russia’s landmass (i.e. east of the Urals) that Moscow subjugated only in the last 400 years. The last serious Sino-Soviet conflict was less than 50 years ago.
Putin has aggravated the tough (now calmed) Wild West situation he inherited from his mentor Yeltsin, but in new ways. Had he gracefully stood down in 2012 he might have been regarded as Russia’s most successful leader ever, overseeing (thanks to oil and gas) a massive rise in affluence during his reign. Instead, he will infamously go down in history as the man who propelled centralised state control over the majority of economic riches, as well as the media and the opposition. His crushing of any political interference from the oligarchs, appointing old friends and colleagues he could trust, not to mention his ‘castling’ with Medvedev, destroyed his credibility for ever. The country suffers a massive flight of capital by those that profited from the sell-offs of the 90s. Judah describes how it is now run by a network of cronies inclined towards patronage, official hooliganism, gangsterism, criminality and corruption, with the noted presence of leather-coated siloviks or apparatchiks from St Petersburg (per Putin’s own origins) in strong positions. The vertical system is inevitably creaky, as it was under communism. The critical gas and oil industry is starting to lag for lack of investment or the type of impetus once provided by Putin’s nemesis during the 90s, Khodorkovsky (once jailed, now exiled).
The book is a lesson on how not to run or develop an organisation, let alone a state. Russia claims to be a ‘managed’ democracy. In reality, according to Judah, the omnipresent United Russia party is ‘plastic’ and has no say. The country, bereft of strong institutions, is furthermore subjected to ‘manual control’ by its leader so as to avoid any chaos stemming from the process of democratisation. Merit has been replaced by loyalty in a vertical structure dictated to by a resented Kremlin. In the rest of the country, Moscow shares this resentment.
There are positive surprises, despite all this. These include the dramatic rise of the Orthodox Church, NGOs and free internet. But Judah doesn’t always have a lot to say for the opposition such as it exists. Navalny comes across as suspect although savvy (his labelling of United Russia as the party of Crooks and Thieves has stuck extremely well). Some other leaders appear deliberately and cynically tolerated in order to make United Russia appear a better option. Not that any of this matters; election rigging appears rife, and although regional governors are once again elected, the Kremlin has retained an ominous oversight. Although the author dismisses Medvedev as a lackey, he doesn’t actually criticise him to any great extent, and even attributes to him several positive points. I found the chapter on him in the middle of the book particularly interesting.
Judah doesn’t offer much hope. Unless Putin is ousted by his own circle (any scenario similar to the lead-up to Tsar Nicholas II’s demise seems unlikely), he seems destined to stay in power until 2018, if not 2024, and surely the situation he has created seems unalterable by peaceful means any time soon. It’s all very sad.
My criticisms of the book lie in its lack of balance, avoiding trying to better understand the motivation behind Putin’s moves, and lack of mention at all of Russia’s known talents in science and industry and explaining why they have not had more effect. But it is a great read and highly recommended all the same.
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2 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars An eye-opening book and a fascinating read., 27 Aug. 2014
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I bought this book to try and understand what motivates Putin to wreak havoc in Ukraine right now, and while the book does not relate to that subject it paints a fascinating picture of modern-day Russia that under Putin faces an uncertain future. Highly recommend!
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4 of 6 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Ben Judah = exam life saver, 8 May 2013
This review is from: Fragile Empire: How Russia Fell in and Out of Love with Vladimir Putin (Hardcover)
Super easy to read ( I read it front to back in 24h), it was probably the most useful book I read in my preparation for my third year module on Russian politics!! Absolute life safer.
Fragile Empire by Ben Judah was a gripping read, and total inspiration into such a fascinating place.
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1 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Superb analysis, 8 Mar. 2014
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Nicholas B. Gibbs "Nick Gibbs" (Brussels, Belgium) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: Fragile Empire: How Russia Fell in and Out of Love with Vladimir Putin (Hardcover)
The new Russian middle class has woken up, along with many in small towns and villages outside of Moscow, to the lie that is Putin's 'stability'. Rabid state corruption, broken public services and a 'dictatorship of law' that is rotten to the core. Brilliantly researched and masterfully assembled, this analysis of all that is wrong with Putin and 'his' Russia is compelling, thought-provoking and superbly entertaining. Judah keeps the writing flowing at a cracking pace, that by the end you wish he wouldn't stop.
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1 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Putin - the godfather?, 21 Aug. 2014
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B. Zabavnik (down town shepherds bush beneath the BBC) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: Fragile Empire: How Russia Fell in and Out of Love with Vladimir Putin (Hardcover)
Read it and weep, how did they mislay the revolution? Russia seems lost in a soviet dream not realising that empire is now past history and they need to get on with life. Putin seems to be a latter day resurrection of his namesake Ras. However it seems Russia is repeating its mistakes in not providing for democratically elected new leadership they are just rehashing the old leadership. This book seeks out the dilemmas of life in today' s Russia.
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1 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A very well researched critique of the political scene in the Russian Federation, 24 Mar. 2014
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This review is from: Fragile Empire: How Russia Fell in and Out of Love with Vladimir Putin (Hardcover)
Initially I wondered how someone who was only 26 years old had enough background knowledge to write a convincing book on the political situation in Russia. As I read through the book I realised that it was well researched and the conclusions were almost certainly valid. I started with reservations that the evidence might be chosen to fit the conclusions.
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