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Compelling but ultimately, an incomplete picture
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.