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4.2 out of 5 stars68
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on 16 July 2012
The strengths of this book is that it is written by a Russian journalist living in Russia and it is up to date. Most accounts of Russian politics, and Putin in particular, are by non-Russian analysts so I was intrigued to see if a Russian account would throw up anything different. Masha Gessen's view that Putin schemed, bullied and manipulated to establish an authoritarian regime with himself at the centre is not new. However, she suggests some interesting insights into Putin's mind-set and the processes through which he was recruited to, and then took control of, the power networks that claimed Russia. Along the way she tells some good stories about people and scams from the chaotic post-soviet period that enabled Putin to rise unseen to the top. She also tells us what it was like to be part of the opposition protests that took place between the Duma and presidential "elections".

This is a journalistic account and Gessen makes it clear from the outset that she is strongly opposed to the Putin regime. It is not an impartial analysis that you could quote for an academic essay but it is very readable and, in the end, quite optimistic. I recommend it to anyone interested in Russian politics.
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on 7 April 2012
This is one of the best books on modern Russia I have ever read. Masha Gessen follows the mysterious background of Vladimir Putin, Russia's strong man, and discovers many unknown facts - and most of them rather frightening ones. It's a must to read for everyone who takes an active interest in Russia. But the book is so well written it can also be read by people who just want to generally know what's going on in world politics.
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on 5 August 2012
If you are in any way a Putin admirer then best you don't read this book. I had learned to totally dislike and mistrust Putin before reading this book, but did not feeel I knew that much about him. Books such as Putin's Russia by Lilia Shevtsova only seemed to skim the surface as I suspect she was very much looking in from the outside in the same way that most western authors/journalists/observers would be doing. However, with this book I have the strong feeling that it is written by someone with a real understanding of what is going on as only a national of the country can do.

Gessen is clearly a skilled journalist who, for me, has clearly described what she sees and feels in no uncertain terms and I finally feel I have got to know Vladimir Putin. He's a very dangerous and very unlikeable animal.

There is, however, one aspect of modern Russian life I still am not clear about and that is whether the inner workings of the Kremlin are still pulling all the strings or not. I feel that there are some bodies behind Putin who have, as it were, simply unleashed him for him to do as he wishes.
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on 30 April 2012
Reading this extraordinary book I kept thinking of The Resistible Rise of Arturo Ui, Bertolt Brecht's recasting of Hitler as a Chicago greengrocer and gangster. Putin as here depicted has the same unswerving greed, obsessive ambition and total banality. He has absolutely no shame.

Everyone with the remotest interest in politics, Russia or just the future of the world should read this book. For years the media in the West have shut their eyes to the true nature of Mr Putin's Russia. Liberal opinion has sort of assumed that he was entitled to the benefit of the doubt - long after there was any doubt to have the benefit of - from decades of practice in giving the benefit of the doubt to the Soviet Union. For years it was only some far-right-wingers who, to their credit, noticed and wrote about the enormity of what was being inflicted on the Russian people.

This includes theft on a titanic scale, both of money and elections, the calculated destruction of democratic structures and the rule of law, and the murder of Russian citizens when short-term political considerations suggest it. It is all dispassionately set out here.

As an account of Mr Putin's gruesome career it is hard to fault this book. For a start it is beautifully written. This is not just in the sense that it is elegant and cliché-free and reads as compellingly as a novel, but, more importantly, in that Ms Gessen manages to get across complex matters clearly and succinctly - and some of the shenanigans by which various enormous sums of money reached various back pockets were complex.

She is also fair. She obviously loathes her subject, but she attributes particular atrocities to him only where there is clear evidence. She also maintains a proper distance from some of the less wholesome opponents of the regime, whom she has nevertheless grilled as part of her research.

Given the life expectancy of articulate opponents of Mr Putin, who tend if not sent to the labour camps like Khodarkhovsky to get poisoned or gunned down like Politovskaya, Ms Gessen is also enormously brave. She did not retire to the West to research in a library, she stayed in Russia and she deserves our deep respect for that alone.
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VINE VOICEon 17 March 2014
This was a timely read, in light of events in Ukraine/Crimea in the last few weeks. The author, a Russian journalist with, unusually, joint Russian and US citizenship, shows how Putin emerged from relative political obscurity to become head of the FSB in 1998 then Yeltsin's successor as President in 2000; how many of those who had supported him ceased to support him when they realised his true nature, and how he pursued them vengefully using various semi-legal or illegal processes. It also describes how he has suborned the political and judicial systems to his personal rule. In short, the author concludes that he has basically restored Soviet norms and assumptions of arbitrary rule, but within a system based on his personal rule, not the rule of an identifiable political ideology such as communism (the dominant ideology, to the extent that there is one, is a form of state capitalism, but Putin appears to stand for nothing).

From a series of official interviews with the man himself in 2000, and from interviews from some of his former friends and associates, a picture emerges of Putin as he was under the Soviet system. Essentially he was an unremarkable young man, but with a self-confessed tendency from boyhood towards violence when he did not get his own way. He unsuccessfully volunteered his services to the KGB when he was still at school and was in turn sought by them while at university. During the years of Gorbachev's perestroika and glasnost, Putin was a minor KGB operative in Dresden in East Germany, gathering low level information from newspapers and attempting to persuade Latin American students to become spies. The fall of the Soviet Union seems to have left him initially bewildered and confused as it meant the relatively sudden collapse of the system that had made him what he was; in the 1990s, he played lip service to notions of reform and democratisation and seems to have been able to fool enough people to get on, including the oligarch Boris Berezovsky, who effectively made him what he became towards the end of that decade.

All this certainly explains Putin's recent actions - along with a large number of his fellow countrymen, he hankers after the certainties of the Soviet system, but unlike them he has a firm grip on the levers of the state with which he can make reality fit with his vision. He has no compunction about the methods he uses in order to achieve this, as he has been used to getting his way after nearly a decade and a half at the top of the Russian state and effectively thinks he can get away with almost anything. He follows a very old (as old as the Tsars) Russian political tradition of completely blackening all political and personal opponents. Seen in this light, his actions in almost certainly sending troops into the Crimea, while denying having done so, abrogating Ukraine's treaty rights, and portraying the Ukraine authorities as fascists who are supposedly suppressing the rights of Russian speakers, make a kind of sense. An important book at the current time.
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on 11 July 2015
I give this two stars because it's a readable account that gives some flavour of the times, much as a historical novel will. I give it no more than two stars because it is a hatchet job from page 1. I don't doubt Putin's a nasty chap to cross, with some fairly unpleasant habits, but there are two things I find unacceptable in Gessen's approach. One is her habit, on just about every page, of trading in innuendo and unsubstantiated allegation. The other is her ignoring Russia's remarkable economic progress - impacting on rising living standards after the years of casino capitalism under Yeltsin - under Putin in the eight years prior to the global crash of 2008.

Her bias is all the more disturbing given the expansion of NATO over the past 15 years: Poland, Hungary and Czech Republic in 1999; Bulgaria, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Romania, Slovakia and Slovenia in 2004; Albania and Croatia in 2009. A dangerous game is being played out; a nuclear power being pushed into a corner by an America that couldn't give a fig for democracy - in Russia or Ukraine - other than as a stick to beat Russia with. Amidst this scary scenario, The Man Without a Face needs to be read with great caution.
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on 12 March 2015
This is a poor book about a serious subject, Putin's corruption of a nascent democratic country into a gangster state run by the president and his cronies. The book meanders back and forth from different time periods and appears to be a collection of stories about Putin's Russia strung together with little analysis and a lot of irrelevant details attached. At times the book adopts the writing style of the magazine to which the author is a contributor, Vanity Fair. Do we really need to know that a marginal political figure had "hollywood looks and a chiselled jaw." If you are looking for an in depth analysis of the Putin period, this is not the book for you.
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on 29 August 2012
This was a great read telling me the background to the rise to power of one of the most powerful men in the world. I found out a great deal of what I did not know about the political situation in Russia and how a vitual unknown could be promoted to a position he was then able to retain.
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on 4 April 2012
I enjoyed reading this book and felt that it was written very well. Masha provides an interesting background of Putin including his involvement with the KGB, his time as mayor of St Petersburg to his presidency or Russia.

It is diffucult knowing what to believe about Putin as the western media is never going to give the real story. This book being written by a Russian who has lived there during Putin's reign makes the book seem more believable than what western media would. Parts of it I found biase as the writer is anti-Putin, so as with other stories you are never going to get the full truth. All in all, though, I found the book to be very open and thought provoking and a good insight into how many Russians feel about the Putin.

It is very up to date and includes thoughts about the most recent election held in Russia which caused many protests within Moscow and St Petersburg which Masha talks about being involved in.
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on 20 June 2015
I'm shocked both by the contents of this book and by the fact that anyone can even consider leaving negative reviews slandering the author as a "feminist lesbian" and trying to defend the vicious monster who is V. Putin. I'm afraid that the facts are there in black and white. Every speculation Gessen makes is solidified with immaculate reasoning, personal experience or first hand accounts. All of the accusations made against Putin in this book are wholly believable and greatly numerous and whilst it appears that they are all in fact true, if even one of them stands up then the world needs to stand up too and pay attention and remove this modern day tyrant. The countless government murders we have sickeningly come to expect do not come as much of a surprise {Gessen also covers in some detail the troubling truths of the Litvinenko assassination in London just half a mile from my front door} but the personal, putrid embezzlement through and exploitation of the Russian people's basic right to live and the shameless and unguarded special election management employed by the horror of Putin and his dictatorship made my skin crawl and pulled my eyes wide open to what the world is facing in this man.
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