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on 20 December 2012
I must confess to having had high hopes for this book but was left disappointed by a number of aspects.

Firstly the positive. For me Russia has and always will, it seems, remain an unknown and mainly dark place of Mafioso and corrupt politicians. This book does little to dispel this and if you'd like an overview of the mid 90's race for state assets this is a good place to start. However, the 6 chapters devoted to the oligarchs are broad brush-strokes at best. I would also like to express my uneasiness regarding inclusions of interviews with them. How forthcoming is the poacher going to be with the gamekeeper? How much can you press such powerful people without fearing for your own safety? In essence, what of themselves are they really going to reveal?

However (and perhaps this attests to the cunning of the 6 subjects) I felt the book failed to really grasp at the back-room deals and in particular the violence associated with this era. Don't get me wrong, Hoffman vaguely references the intimidation and violence ("The Faces in the Snow" incident and the gangs stealing cars off the production line) but fails to really delve into this in any detail. Or did I imagine the violence of this time? A very good example are the killings associated with the "Aluminium Wars" and John Sweeney's quote "after the oligarch (Abramovich) emerged at the top of the trade, the murders stopped." No mention, not one jot.

Of course this leads me to something other reviewers have mentioned, the omission of Abramovich. A great pity as he proved the ultimate adversary outfoxing his mentor and at one stage the most powerful oligarch of the time, Berezovsky. Should we draw the conclusion that Roman is too powerful to consider inclusion? Too secretive? Perhaps, and I think this is the crux of the disappointment for me about this book. Although an enjoyable read I felt that Hoffman was outfoxed and thus, as the reader, so too was I.

I also found his writing style a little haphazard or at least sorely in need of a good editor as phrases were often repeated, sometimes only a paragraph or two apart.

In summary, an enjoyable foray into the dark world of Russian politics and power of the 90's but barely scratching the surface of these intriguing men.
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on 27 March 2015
What a wonderful, wonderful book! The book is written in a refreshing here's-a-bunch-of-stuff-that-happened style. By that I mean that the author just sets out (albeit from a Western worldview) key events from 1990s Russia rather than pushing any particular agenda like seemingly every other book on modern Russia. Nobody comes out of this book looking good. The author masterfully guides you through the chaos, drawing on accounts from an unparalleled list of interviewees that reads like a who's who of the key players in 1990s Russia. And it gets better! Putin barely gets a look-in, appearing only in the last few pages. In our Putin-saturated times, this is a welcome change.
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on 9 August 2010
This book tells you about a half dozen men of various backgrounds who have one thing in common: they succeeded in using the major political disruptions in the Soviet Union and became incredibly rich and powerful in the new Russia - the so-called oligarchs.

I find this subject extremely interesting, as well as puzzling. In spite of close historic ties Russia has to my country, some things about it are still quite mysterious to me. Among other things, I'd really like to understand what that oligarch thing is all about.

Unfortunately, this book is extremely incompetent and badly written.

Let's talk about the style first. In the communist-ruled Eastern Europe, they often published propaganda stories about the supposedly miserable life in the capitalist West. Like how the unemployed John Smith drew the lapels of his holey coat tighter in the freezing New York winter and walked on, going from trash can to trash can, hoping to find some food remains.
This book reminds me of that red propaganda crap from my childhood. It's anti-red, of course, but the style is the same. The author just paints everything black, criticises everything indiscriminately, even things that have nothing to do with politics.
The last thing I want to do is to defend the communists. The Soviet Union was horrible and inhuman, which I know better than any American possibly could. But I just hate ignorant Western authors who whine about everything without really having a clue. For example, Mr. Hoffman meditates over Soviet people using the verb "to get" or "to take" when they meant "to buy", and how that is supposed to be reflecting the Soviet reality where many wares were in short supply. That is outright idiotic because expressions like "I'm gonna get myself a new bike" (in the meaning of "I'm gonna buy myself a new bike") or "I'll take it" (in the meaning of "I'll buy this") are routinely being used in English, in the democratic, capitalist USA as well.
Another striking example of Mr. Hoffman's style that any communist newspaper editor would be proud of is about the drink vending machines on the streets. Mr. Hoffman tells us sneeringly how the machine was as big as a refrigerator. Well, let me tell you that I was in the Western Germany in early 90's, and guess what? The drink vending machines there, although different, were just as large. It's simply practical that you make a machine like that approximately of a human's height, so that it's comfortable for human beings to use. But for Mr. Hoffman, the size of the machine is naturally just another manifestation of Soviet ineptitude. As if that wasn't ridiculous enough, he makes even the colour of the drink vending machines appear like a symbol of totalitarian oppression.
And so Mr. Hoffman goes on like an arrogant spoiled Western tourist, telling us how the apple juice was of poor quality and the label was ugly. That is so retarded. I don't think he has ever seen that label or tasted that apple juice. If Mr. Hoffman were British, he would probably lament how the Communist Party forced the people to drive on the right side of the road.

Apart from that silly yellow-press writing style, Mr. Hoffman has quite a wrong idea of people's sentiments in the old Soviet Union. His ignorant and stereotyped attempt of describing the ordinary people's life in Moscow in 1985 makes you think that everybody hated the communist rule and dreamed of parliamentary democracy. While that may seem plausible to an average North American or West European, it wasn't like that in reality. Yes, there was severe ethnic enmity in non-Russian parts of Soviet Union, and there was genuine anti-communist sentiment in certain border areas where people watched foreign television broadcasts, but it was amazing how people who lived just 100-200 km further away from the border (not to mention in Central Russia) had a completely different attitude. They had no truthful picture of the free world and, critical as they might have been of the shortcomings in their everyday life, they honestly believed that the West with its unemployment and mafia and lack of social guarantees would be an even worse place to be. As many people were old enough to remember the (relative) economic prosperity about 20 years earlier, the prevailing mentality (especially in Russia proper, about which Mr. Hoffman is writing) was that the present rulers were stupid. They were far from realising that the Soviet Union itself was rotten to the core. Even today, when I travel in Russia, I'm routinely asked by quite decent and intelligent people: "Why did you have to secede from the Soviet Union, we lived so happily together until that Gorbachov destroyed everything." Or at least they tell me what a pity it is that the Soviet Union is no more, and I keep my mouth shut - there's no point offending them by telling them the truth they still don't want to hear.

The way Mr. Hoffman describes the last years of the Soviet Union, he proves clearly that he is nothing more than a clueless sensation-hungry journalist. I don't think you can learn anything useful from that fool, or rely on any of his "research" to have much in common with reality.
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on 10 June 2013
If you have the slightest interest in the how and why a group of Russian businessman became super rich in the eighties then this is the book for your.
The author has written a very easy book to read, in fact much of it reads like a good novel.
Complicated economic and political concepts were easily explain.
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on 28 January 2014
The stories the author tells of the hardships that Russians went through are compelling. The stories of Ponzi and get rich schemes which duped hundreds of thousands if not millions of Russians out of what near worthless currency they had is heartbreaking.
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on 2 July 2006
Hoffman has captured with force some of the key players in the transistion from failing communism state to aspiring capitalist society. The finest book of its kind to date. Well worth a second, third or even fourth read.
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on 9 May 2012
Why is there no mention of Abramovich, owner of Chelsea FC and much more? Not a footnote, not even a mention in the index. Please, some one explain.
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on 25 August 2012
Hoffman has done an excellent job in bringing to life a group of Russian oligarchs who amassed vast wealth during the Yeltsin era and their murky world, and showing how it all happened. Well written and well researched, I found it a helpful point of reference when wrting my new novel 'The Oligarch:A Thriller'. Having lived in Russia myself during the period of the infamous loans for shares episode, I have no hesitation in recommending Hoffman's book to anyone who wants to understand the Russian business scene.
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on 20 August 2009
Totally engrossing stories of behind the scenes in Russis. My book of the year. I can't put it down!
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