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Flowery and uncritical
on 4 June 2010
Mr Khodorkovsky, the protagonist of the book, is a difficult and controversial man. Not, however, an impression you would get from this work of Martin Sixsmith, who has little but praise to pile upon the well-known oligarch. Truly, the man is intelligent, as well as enterprising -- he is also ruthless, has relied extensively on political clout as well as physical coercion, and all his movements towards openness and democracy have been accompanied by statements that "I'm doing it because it's profitable". One can, just about, discern these characteristics behind Sixsmith's prose, but only if one knows where to look. For an unprepared reader this will be a narration of a struggle between good and evil, plain and simple: the positive qualities of Khodorkovsky and his team are reiterated again and again, inconvenient facts, as well as facts that indicate that Khodorkovsky's success maybe isn't the result ONLY of his personal brilliance are mentioned only in passing. The page count gives some of the picture: a 100 pages are accorded to the growth of Menatep and acquisition of Yukos, to 18 years of Khodorkovsky's active and complicated business life and 200 pages to the 5 years following his arrest in 2003.
Truly, the man has suffered, unjustly, at the hands of a cruel, insecure and greedy regime, and its leaders. This should not lead one to make him into a saint, which in his early years he was clearly not. Read Sixsmith as a spin-master's laudation of a sympathetic businessman, but do not rely on it for a balanced factual account. Not that you are in much of a danger of such a mistake: the characteristic style of the prose makes the genre of the book quite clear.