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on 4 August 2005
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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on 19 June 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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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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Covering perhaps the single-most important and radical period of events and change in the economic and political history charting the transition from the straight-jacket of communism to the free-wheeling world of capitalism. Although the Young Reformers, particularly Antoly Chubais and Yegor Gaidar, had a very clear vision of their ultimate attainments, the route through was chaotic, by-the-seat-of-the-pants stuff that on reflection was both dangerous and hit and miss.

The book details how the privatisation process was abused allowing the emergence of the extremely rich, powerful oligarchs whose absolute control of Russia is only blunted by the guile, cunning and ruthlessness of Vladamir Putin.

The author, an experienced journalist with on the site working experience being the Moscow bureau chief for the Financial Times during the turbulent 90's whilst the privatisation struggle was in full tilt, has written a first class account of this monumentus transition out of communism into capitalism, warts and all. In the process of the commentary the reader is told of the erratic Boris Yeltsin, many of those who were fleet-footed enough to become fabulously wealthy such as Roman Abramovich, and Boris Berezovsky, together with some of the old Red Barons who were cute enough to become oligarchs themselves such as Viktor Chernomyrdin and Vagit Alekperov.

This is a very good book, well researched, informative, giving a great insight into the current Russia.
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on 1 November 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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on 24 October 2000
What separates this book from the bunch is that it can be read like a novel. And, indeed, the last 10 years in Russia's politics and big business has been like a Mexican sope opera. As the FT editor in Moscow, Freeland has more information about the behind-the-scene dealings than most foreigners, and even for the most informed observers of Russia, events will be connected in a fascinating way in this book. Moreover, it is an easy read. It is swallowed in three days.
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on 2 February 2011
Some people have a hard time making sense of this period of Russian history. Judging by this book, Ms Freeland is one of them. This book is just a bunch of anecdotes loosely bundled together with a few threads of poorly thought out analysis. It is obvious from the very beginning that she doesn't really understand her subject, and has made up her mind that despite all their foibles (i.e. robbery of the state and Russian people) the oligarchs are really can-do go getters who, along with a massive injection of the worst kind of bandit capitalism, were just what Russia needed to get it back on it's feet.
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on 19 December 2002
It is a great tale about what probably really happened behind the scenes. For those living in Moscow during this period and who took part it is a great summary.
In terms of economics explanation, it probably is a little bit too simplistics, but I don't think that's the purpose of the book.
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on 3 May 2010
I was very disappointed with this book. The writer's style is formulaic, stringing adjectives together unimaginatively (must everything Soviet be dull or grey?) and very often I found myself wondering how much of the text is fact reported first-hand or conjecture (something I often feel these days when reading current North American writers' works). I find it stylistically irritating when authors repeatedly begin sentences with conjuctions - it doesn't inject journalistic pace, it's just annoying.

I looked for a book on this subject for quite a while and chose this one based on the reviews - so I'm trying to redress the balance here. I tried three times to get stuck in to it and failed each time. Not a compelling read, by any means.

My copy will be going to Oxfam!
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