Read The Man Without a Face: The Unlikely Rise of Vladimir Putin by Masha Gessen Online


The Man Without a Face is the chilling account of how a low- level, small-minded KGB operative ascended to the Russian presidency and, in an astonishingly short time, destroyed years of progress and made his country once more a threat to her own people and to the world.Handpicked as a successor by the "family" surrounding an ailing and increasingly unpopular Boris Yeltsin,The Man Without a Face is the chilling account of how a low- level, small-minded KGB operative ascended to the Russian presidency and, in an astonishingly short time, destroyed years of progress and made his country once more a threat to her own people and to the world.Handpicked as a successor by the "family" surrounding an ailing and increasingly unpopular Boris Yeltsin, Vladimir Putin seemed like a perfect choice for the oligarchy to shape according to its own designs. Suddenly the boy who had stood in the shadows, dreaming of ruling the world, was a public figure, and his popularity soared. Russia and an infatuated West were determined to see the progressive leader of their dreams, even as he seized control of media, sent political rivals and critics into exile or to the grave, and smashed the country's fragile electoral system, concentrating power in the hands of his cronies.As a journalist living in Moscow, Masha Gessen experienced this history firsthand, and for The Man Without a Face she has drawn on information and sources no other writer has tapped. Her account of how a "faceless" man maneuvered his way into absolute-and absolutely corrupt-power has the makings of a classic of narrative nonfiction....

Title : The Man Without a Face: The Unlikely Rise of Vladimir Putin
Author :
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ISBN : 9781594488429
Format Type : Hardcover
Number of Pages : 304 Pages
Status : Available For Download
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The Man Without a Face: The Unlikely Rise of Vladimir Putin Reviews

  • Nate
    2018-09-24 20:16

    This should be more appropriately titled "Why you Should Hate Vladimir Putin." It is not really a biography on Putin, but rather feels more like a few long essays about random parts of Putin's life that have been laid out in chronological order with a bunch of horror stories sprinkled in. Often times large chunks of chapters aren't even about his life, but rather give background information on random people and their causes, which are then followed by how they were most certainly poisoned/shot/bombed by people acting on behalf of Putin's orders/interests. The stories are interesting (don't expect happy endings), but do little to tell the reader about how this man came into power. Instead, the stories illustrate how he manages his power: like a mob boss.So although this book is good, in a way I feel duped by it. It's not just the title; I saw the author on an interview where she gave the impression that this was about Putin and how he came to rule Russia. I was expecting a lot more information on ... well, him; but there is no meat to it, no real story line of how of his life progressed. Once you're finished with the book his rise still feels mysterious. Instead, the book is more about how corrupt Russia is under Putin's hand and how he is not an innocent bystander to it all, but rather, the captain of it all. I don't doubt that he is, but it was just surprising to feel like you're going to read about one thing, and then the book ends up being about another.As for the stories, since the whole truth is rarely known, the author is forced to extrapolate assumptions about what probably happened with various scenarios and the events preceding it several times throughout the book. Even though many details may be wrong, I'm sure she has the gist of this man and his character correct.The only thing that really had me questioning the author was that she never provided a real reason for how he actually became president. She hints that certain people in power thought he would be one type of person, so they—more or less—arbitrarily chose him (huh?); then when he came into power, he turned out to be someone else. That reason just doesn't make any sense to me. If they were just looking for a puppet they could have surely found someone more qualified, better educated, and who would have actually ended up functioning like a puppet. Feeling that this explanation was composed of more fiction than fact makes me question the validity of the many other assumptions throughout the book.It's still a good book though that's easy to breeze through. I would recommend it to someone who wants to learn more about how Putin rules his country or to someone who is looking for a reason to cancel their trip to St. Petersburg.

  • Mal Warwick
    2018-10-08 20:40

    Vladimir Putin, the KGB, and the Restoration of Soviet RussiaEvery once in a while I’m shocked to learn anew that the American news media has missed the mark in its reporting of events around the world. Masha Gessen’s recent portrait of third-term Russian President Vladimir Putin, The Man Without a Face, is an excellent case in point.For example, one year ago, in December 2011, we learned about large demonstrations in Moscow protesting the obviously rigged outcome of the latest Russian elections, which had awarded nearly 50 percent of the vote to the President’s party, United Russia. What I didn’t learn from the reports I read here in America was that estimates of the crowd in Moscow ran as high as 150,000 and that “[p]rotests were held [the same day] in ninety-nine cities in Russia and in front of Russian consulates and embassies in more than forty cities around the world.” Reports in The New York Times and other U.S. news sources gave the impression that the events were the work of Russia’s tiny, long-beleaguered liberal minority and meant little. In fact, the demonstrations and marches were far more broad-based than the liberals had ever shown themselves to be capable of organizing. Masha Gessen tells the whole story in The Man Without a Face.Or consider the experience of the brave souls who put themselves forward as candidates for President to replace Putin. It’s possible but unlikely that you came across something awhile back about Garry Kasparov, the world’s most famous Russian and the most celebrated chess player of all time, when he announced he was running for President. Kasparov could easily have attracted crowds of thousands anywhere in the vast expanses of Russia, but everywhere he went he found the doors locked at the venues he’d arranged and often found himself speaking to 50 or 100 people out-of-doors. He persisted for months nonetheless. until it was made clear to him that he was risking his life by doing so. Masha Gessen tells the whole story in The Man Without a Face.Roughly the same thing happened to Mikhail Prokhorov, the 6’8″ Russian billionaire who bought the New Jersey Nets (now the Brooklyn Nets) professional basketball team. When the regime asked him to be the front man for a moribund political party to give the appearance of democratic choice in the 2012 Presidential elections, Prokhorov took the assignment seriously. He mounted a vigorous campaign, fashioning an agenda for reform, traveling throughout the country, and speaking out boldly — until he was informed that if he continued to pursue the Presidency he would lose all his businesses, his freedom, and possibly his life. I’d been aware of Prokhorov’s abortive campaign, but I learned none of the rest of this from news reports in the United States. Masha Gessen tells the whole story in The Man Without a Face.You might wonder, as I had, how the democratic path that Russia was on through most of the 1990s had veered so sharply, and so suddenly, rightward toward a brand of authoritarianism reminiscent of the tsars and the commissars. Gessen’s answer lies in the circumstances surrounding the selection of Vladimir Putin as Boris Yeltsin’s successor in 2000 by the circle of intimates known as “The Family” who surrounded the ailing Russian President.After a decade in office, Yeltsin was gravely ill and acting erratically as a result (not because of heavy drinking, Gessen asserts). His popularity had plunged into the low single digits, and the Russian people were seeking “solace in nostalgia — not so much in Communist ideology . . . but in a longing to regain Russia’s superpower status. By 1999, there was palpable aggression in the air, and this was a large part of the reason Yeltsin and the Family were rightly terrified.” They feared the rise of an ultra-right-wing nationalist who might destroy all that they had achieved in a decade and cast about for a like-minded standard-bearer as Yeltsin’s successor who marshal popular support.“Imagine you have a country and no one to run it,” Gessen writes. “This was the predicament that Boris Yeltsin and his inner circle thought they faced in 1999.” In desperation, knowing virtually nothing of the man’s character, his work habits, or his political beliefs, they turned to a low-level former KGB operative who had recently been elevated to head the KGB’s successor, the FSB — Vladimir Putin. They named him Premier, then Acting President when Yeltsin resigned, brought in a team of image-makers and campaign specialists, mobilized the pro-democratic community, pulled together a sanitized biography in three weeks, and ran him for President. As The Guardian wrote in its review of this book, “[g]rey, ordinary and seemingly incorruptible, Putin is the man without a face, on to whom others can project whatever they want.”Tragically, Putin’s true nature only became apparent in the months following his election in 2000. Somehow, his self-description as a “thug” — a claim he made on many occasions — had been overlooked, and the thugocracy he built during his first two terms as Russia’s President came as a total surprise to nearly everyone except the very few who knew him well. Investigative journalists who turned up evidence of corruption or worse were simply murdered one after another, their killers never arrested. While the senseless war in Chechnya went on year after year after year, attacks by Chechen terrorists were brutally put down by the Russian military, with hundreds of civilian hostages losing their lives — even, in one case, while the terrorists were engaged in negotiations with the police. Business tycoons who refused to support the regime were imprisoned on trumped-up charges and ownership of their businesses transferred to Putin and his cronies. Putin himself built up a personal fortune rumored to be as high as $40 billion. That estimate might be exaggerated, but the total is certainly somewhere in the billions, as Putin built himself a palace on the Black Sea at a cost of more than $1 billion.Masha Gessen knows whereof she writes. She lives in Moscow, where she has held a series of increasingly high-profile jobs in journalism. Her career had barely begun when the Soviet Union collapsed in 1991. The Man Without a Face is a personal book, and opinionated, but it represents a lifetime of work side-by-side with many of the individuals whose actions are described.

  • Artiom Karsiuk
    2018-10-20 20:18

    I hate books like this. I hate them with a passion. Books that mix speculation with facts are the worst, because you can't tell where one ends and the other begins.For this book to have any worth, you have to at least divide it into two parts: before Putin comes to power in the year 2000 and after. The first before part that discusses Vladimir's childhood, education and his KGB (later FSB) career is complete and utter trash. Those chapters have minimal factual basis or sources and are littered with words like presumably/probably/possibly. Or the author would use something like "in other words" and proceed to give her interpretation of the events that are supported by nothing more than assumptions supplemented by anecdotal evidence. Plus, Masha Gessen is so obviously obsessed with Putin and has so much hate in her heart for the man that any shred of objectivity is non-existent. At one point, I almost had to check the cover of the book, because it felt as if I was reading a description of a classic Bond villain in one of Ian Fleming's novels. Basically, those chapters are borderline fiction, because most of the allegations are unsubstantiated: guesswork, not journalism. This is just a little taste of what I'm talking about:"Is there a chance he was the person or one of the people in Sobchak’s inner circle who actively supported the hard-liners? The answer is yes."Why are you insulting my intelligence... Now, is there a chance Putin was part of a mixed werewolf-vampire coven in the KGB? The answer is yes. But is it likely? The answer is no. In other words, Masha, there is a chance of everything: there is a chance that our universe is a quark in an atom of a stupendously big glazed donut. That doesn't mean that it is.But what pisses me off is that after destroying her own credibility in my eyes, Masha proceeds to write a very good second part of the book: the post-2000 years. That is where she offers some quality journalism on the corruption, abuse of power and political persecution in Putin's regime. So now, when I can't take the author seriously anymore, she does a 180° and turns her book from fiction to non-fiction. That is why I gave it a one star rating - I can't trust an author that feeds me ~150 pages of bullshit and then tries to write the rest of the book as a legitimate piece of political research.Nevertheless, it was interesting to read how Putin nationalized the media and the oil industry, because it was so blatant that it was almost entertaining. The way he outmaneuvered the oligarchs and some of the most intelligent and powerful people in the county was fascinating to read. It helped me further shape my opinion of the man. Contrary to Masha Gessen, I don't believe Putin to be the Devil incarnate, but I do believe him to be drunk with power. In my opinion, he built a dangerous cult of personality, a political structure that is more of a plutocracy than anything else. And he clearly has difficulty separating himself from the state: it seems to me that Putin thinks that HE IS RUSSIA. That is a delusion that helps him justify his actions, because everything he does for himself (like building a palace or taking over the business sector) is in the name of the Russian Federation. For example, he can justify that the exuberant palace on coast of the Black Sea is going to be the official state residence of the President of the Russian Federation - not his private estate. It just so happens to be that at this moment he is the President of the Russian Federation. And for many years to come. How convenient. So he mindfucked himself into believing that his enemies are Russia's enemies and his gain or loss is Russia's gain or loss. Like Louis XIV of France once said: "I am the state". In my humble opinion, Putin truly thinks that he is an incorruptible patriot. That is why I find him to be incredibly fascinating. I can only hope that I live to be 80 years of age when a new progressive Russian leader will do for us what Khrushchev did for the Soviet people when he exposed Stalin's cult of personality. Many is the number of rubles that a future me would pay for a complete and objective biography of Vladimir Putin. This book, however, is of little substance.

  • Hadrian
    2018-10-04 19:16

    Based on who you ask, Vladimir Vladimirovich Putin, is either the Ultimate Badass who Single-Handedly Saved Russia or a crony-capitalist autocrat who is the 'Russian Mussolini'. So who is this Putin guy anyway?Gessen offers a round condemnation of Putin, stopping only from calling him an evil little tyrant (Although one of her interviewees does). She starts the biography with his early childhood (a schoolyard bully turned fervent club member) and early years in the KGB. He was a devoted, but relatively ineffective spy whose best achievement was purchasing an American technical manual for 800 Marks and recruiting one engineering student.The fall of the Soviet Union (which Gessen describes with admirable and frustrating detail) was a crushing time for Putin. He devoted his life to the state, and yet he had nothing to show for it. Even his East German neighbors were richer than he was.When the coup effort came around in 1991, Putin was on the fence to resign or not, depending on how the coup went. He stayed, and remained a Colonel.With the utter chaos of the democratization effort, Yeltsin had tried, and then rejected a variety of successors, and wound up alienating nearly all but a handful of supporters from him. His approval rating was 2%, and he was desperate. He had to have a successor before he keeled over. A certain Colonel Putin was suggested by one of his trusted aides, because he appeared pliant, eager, and dependable. Such is the nature of his charm - he is a diplomatic chameleon. Once in power, he systematically began to dismantle the fragile democratic apparatus. Federal leaders could only be installed by appointment. The oligarchs who opposed him were jailed and replaced. The press was muzzled. Putin, in his rarer interviews and press statements, was crude, blunt, and sometimes threatening. But for a while, this was his appeal. A strong leader in economic crisis.Yet it must be said that the book has some glaring flaws. For some incidents (Ryazan bombings) it appears too much of a stretch to tie the staged efforts to Putin. But it is not impossible. The assassination of dissidents seems more likely (Politkovskaya and Litvinenko most prominent).And for all this grim recounting, and possible strength of Putin's semi-autocracy (he is up for another six-year term after this one is finished, thanks to shuffling positions with Medvedev), there is a growing discontent in Russia, fueled by social media. His iron fist has not choked the life out of Russia yet.

  • Jennifer
    2018-10-07 17:19

    Masha Gessen does a marvelous job on her chronicle of Russian politics. The book is courageous, easy to read and well researched - for a book of this length. Gessen covers roughly the last 25 years of Russian politics. She shows how the attempt at democracy has failed, so far, and manages to place most of the blame on Putin. Her descriptions of Putin and his actions over the last 25 years will keep your eyes wide open far into the night. I am not sure that I would call his rise to power unlikely, however. I think it looks pretty well planned. Anyone who wants learn more about Russian politics and how things operate there, but is not a Russian scholar, this is a good book to read.On a personal note: I was in Moscow and St. Petersburg (Leningrad then) in June of 1989. I remember very clearly being surprised at the lack of variety in the food we were served at our hotel. It was mystery meat ball, cucumber and potatoes, every night. They wouldn't sell us Pepsi or anything at all besides mineral water at the hotel. They had to sell us the mineral water because we weren't allowed to drink the water. I turned a wrong corner and found a market that had only cans of tuna on the shelves. No bread, nothing else at all. I was completely oblivious to the fact of the food shortages and rationing that were the reality for everyone else. Is it a tribute to the Soviet government's ability to control information, stunning ignorance on the part of the US government, or what, that made it seem like a good plan to send a large group of privileged American teenagers to the USSR at that time?

  • Wanda
    2018-10-20 23:30

    I thought that this would be a portrait of the thug who rules Russia. Sadly, it was more about Masha Gessen than Vladimir Putin. Poorly written in tedious prose that has no spark and evokes little interest in the reader. It is also exceedingly self referential and the objectivity is suspect. Lots of speculation. I don't recommend it. Surely someone can do a better job of telling Putin's story within the context of the events that have shaken up the former Soviet Union.

  • Bettie☯
    2018-09-25 22:26

    (view spoiler)[Bettie's Books (hide spoiler)]

  • Louise
    2018-10-10 21:37

    Masha Gessen is brave. As a dual American and Russian citizen she chose to live openly in Russia as a (married in the US) lesbian journalist investigating corruption from 1991 to 2013 . This book is a short introduction to the life and character of Russia’s current President, which is, essentially a book on how corruption got rooted in post-glasnost Russia with the rise of Vladimir Putin.Despite its sturdy infrastructure in Moscow, the American press let the country (and perhaps the world) down by not telling the story. The US press preoccupied with dangling chads gave very little ink to Putin’s silencing the opposition press, making the legislature accountable to him, taking over the judiciary and finally the economy. All this was in progress when George Bush looked into Putin’s eyes and no one questioned his benign appraisal.What is best about the book is the context. For instance, Putin’s childhood and youth in Leningrad is set in the trauma and loss in the war that ended 7 years before his birth. You come to understand why his mother who survived in the starved city and his father who miraculously survived the front doted on their only surviving son. Through his lackluster career in the KGB, his cold courtship and dull marriage, and his bureaucratic work for a mayor, you have the context for the “facelessness” he had as he assumed the Presidency of Russia. There is background on the democracy movement that brought Anatoly Sobchak to power as Mayor of Russia’s second largest city and several versions of how he came to accept the young KGB agent, Vladimir Putin, as his protégé. Sobchak was tied to Boris Yeltsin, who miraculously endorsed the unknown bureaucrat from St. Petersburg, as his successor and the voters agreed. Sobchak, who may have expected something from his former protégé’s rise, is the first of the mysterious deaths of those who get too close to Putin.Gessen takes you through Putin’s full and quick assault on Russia’s fledgling democracy. He started with the press, co-opting, intimidating and closing down any whiff of opposition. Through several moves he evolved a parliament where no one runs without his approval. The judiciary is similarly controlled.The book has the back story on other events that have also been lightly brushed by the US media. One heartbreaking story is that of Garry Kasparov's campaign for president and how even those who take in boarders could face consequences for housing him. Other important stores that have been back-paged by the US press are those of entrepreneurs such as Mikhail Khodorkovsky of Yukos who had his profitable company seized and spent 10 years in prison and William Browder whose experiences spawned the Magnitsky Act.The book is 6 years old but hits the spot for anyone who wants the big gaps filled in. Informed on current events as I consider myself to be, without this book, I would be hard pressed to explain how Russia went from glasnost to kleptocracy.Highly recommended for the many who need a quick course in Contemporary Russian Politics 101.

  • Paul
    2018-10-14 21:28

    Some pretty scary stuff here! Fascinating stuff about the head of Russia. Sometimes it seems too crazy, as wild allegations (such as bombs killing Russian citizens set up by Russian security forces) can't be backed up by evidence. But other stories are, and are shocking enough. The author thinks that Putin is a small minded, incompetent KGB man, longing for Soviet greatness, and compulsively taking whatever he can, but surely he there has to be more to him than that. The characterizations of Putin aside, some of the events documented here nucleare shocking. The explosion of the Kursk, the hostage situations in Beslan and the Moscow theatre, the killings of Politkovkaya and Litvinenko, the arrest of Russian entrepeneurs and the destruction of Kasparov's campaign all point to a pretty corrupt Russia. Very interesting. As a footnote, the wikipedia page for Putin registers a lot of his successes, and almost none of his failures/criticisms. I feel I want more information on how Russian society works, on how Putin can still be popular, and how a society this big can go from communism to a form of democracy to a corrupt "thug-state".

  • J.
    2018-10-13 21:31

    This is a history, really, not an essay. But reporter Masha Gessen somehow manages to make a 3oo page recent-events history feel as streamlined and narrative as an essay, which is definitely no small thing. It's also a Vladimir Putin biography, which by definition must span the disintegration of the Soviet empire and the reformation of whatever it is we're calling modern Russia these days. With her reporter's sense of what matters, Gessen runs thru the dirty wars in Chechnya, the gross incompetence of the sinking of the submarine Kursk, the Moscow apartment bombings, the Beslan school hostage fiasco, and the incredibly mismanaged Moscow theater siege in 2oo2. Putin's learning curve, you might call it, or just Putin's scorecard. It is an astounding record for what is meant to be a first-world country in the modern era.Also carefully noted are the means and levers to power, notably the money scams, the shell companies, the media lockouts, extra-legal maneuvers, backstage switches and rule changes that have brought about Modern Russia. The claustrophobia of the surveillance-and-vendetta program as per the Kgb. Also the Litvinenkos and Politkovskayas, murdered outright, in cold blood, in the methodical enforcement of the regime."I had written an article... and it was illustrated with the document that I had found--the one signed by Putin. Next thing I knew, there was a man on a ladder parked outside my apartment door--twenty-four hours a day. "What are you doing here?" I would ask every time I opened the door to find him there. "Fixing," he would growl. A few days later, my home phone was turned off. The phone company claimed to have nothing to do with it ..."The two most interesting factoids for this reader: first, that Putin verifiably plagiarized his dissertation for a graduate degree in economics. Maybe not momentous given the fast, fraudulent climate of 90s Russia, but in light of later developments certainly a valuation of the character of the man. Second, (and fascinating in what we are seeing in his grooming of casino man Donald Trump)-- the fact that Putin very early grasped the value of the casino business in St. Petersburg, where he was waist-deep in that most-slippery of businesses :When his biographers asked him about the nature of his work in St. Petersburg, Putin responded with the lack of subtlety that had come to characterize his answers to sensitive questions. He had tried to take over the casinos, he said. "I believed at the time that the casino business is an area where the state should have a monopoly," he said. "My position ran opposite to the law on monopolies, which had already been passed, but still I tried to make sure that the state, as embodied by the city, established control over the entire casino industry." To that end, he said, the city formed a holding company that acquired 51 percent of the stock of all the casinos in the city, in the hopes of collecting dividends. "But it was a mistake; the casinos funneled the money out in cash and reported losses every time," Putin complained. "Later, our political opponents tried to accuse us of corruption because we owned stock in the casinos. That was just ridiculous..."If you're a reader of Masha Gessen in her columns in Slate, NY Review Of Books or Paris Review, you will want to absorb this one, if only to see where she's coming from, as if you didn't know. Worthwhile to see it charted though, in chapter and verse, especially in our increasingly-Russian era.

  • Matthew
    2018-09-24 18:26

    Gessen, a Russian journalist who saw the collapse of the Soviet Union, discusses how Vladimir Putin got to where he sits today. She covers the bombings Putin and his cronies at the FSB are suspected of organizing in 1999, providing plenty of circumstantial evidence to back up her claims, like the two conscripts who went into a warehouse full of bags marked "SUGAR" to get some sugar for their tea, and found that the bags actually contained RDX, the explosive used in several of the attacks. Gessen also points out a number of suspicious deaths of people connected to Putin, and several instances of embezzlement on a massive scale that can be linked to Putin. She doesn't have a lot of hard evidence to support her claims, but taken as a whole, she presents an extremely suspicious pattern of "coincidences". The book ends with a description of protests against Putin's regime that took place in December 2011. We'll see if those protests actually bear fruit.

  • Richard Block
    2018-09-25 16:42

    Stalin 2 - the SequelI finished Masha Gessen's evisceration of Vladimir Putin's neo-Stalinist regime the day after Boris Berezovsky's death/murder suicide - how timely was that? Gessen is a Russian journalist who has charted events since the demise of the Soviet Union. She exposes Putin as a mafia boss leading a mob state, all corruption, illegal seizures of money and business, state ownership of media fake elections, and clear suppression of freedom - and that Stalinist standby - the political murder. As a frequent visitor to the land of hookers and thieves, I read it open-mouthed, gasping in disbelief and recognition. Yes, it is yellow journalism, but very good indeed.Charting Putin's rise from his humble beginnings, Gessen shows how the one-time, self confessed little thug has blossomed into a world class thug, killer, billionaire and - incredibly - world leader dedicated to restoring Soviet power and his beloved KGB to its former glory. The astonishing naivity of Yeltsin, Berezovsky and others, who wished to see good in this 'grey blur' reminds me most of Lenin's faith in Stalin. While others warned Lenin that Stalin could not be trusted in a position of power, no one seems to have warned any of these men that Putin was sociopathic. Wishful thinking lead everyone to believe this incredibly non-descript person could never be a danger to anyone, that he might be honest and liberal. You can forget that - this is a total slam-dunk destruction of that notion.I have removed a star from this review because of the prologue, which deals with the 'white ribbon' revolt following the re-election of Putin. I took it away for the same wishful thinking Gessen accuses others of indulging in. Remember - Putin is in power and he has just murdered the man who picked him out to rule - Berezovsky - yesterday.For the Western media and people who'd like to think Russia is not the pariah state of old, read this book. Better believe it - Putin is Stalin 2 - the Sequel. Don't expect anything from Russia except murder and politcal suppression until he goes. And those Russians living in Europe, spending their swag stolen from Russia - well, it amazes me that such people are allowed to become citizens of a 'civilised country' -makes you wonder about Britain

  • Margaret
    2018-10-11 18:45

    Hands down the most important book I've read this year - pretty much everything in this book was new to me. I haven't studied Modern Russian history and am not a policy wonk but at the same time I don't live with my head in the sand. Still, the book was revelation after revelation. If you want to hear about what's been going on in Russia, particularly but not only with Putin, since the U.S. lost interest this is the book for you! If you just want to understand what's behind the jailing of Pussy Riot or the re-election of Putin or the impact of these events - this is the book for you too! If you'd like an answer to the question: should we be worried about Putin that isn't couched in U.S. foreign policy and political terms - again, look no further! I really cannot say enough good things about this book.The author, Masha Gessen, worked as a journalist in Russia throughout the 90s and into the present. Her personal connection to many of the folks in the book and the impact of the shifts in Russian politics makes this an enjoyable and easy read despite the weighty topic. I'd hazard a guess that the timing of the book was not just about the elections last year but the fact that most of her identifiable sources have now died (many of unnatural causes) so she could write the book without exposing them to harm.

  • Anatoly
    2018-10-17 16:43

    Interesting and quite disturbing. However there is too much background which is loosely connected to Putin himself. Furthermore, there are too many speculations and Gessen is too emotionally involved (it is obvious she despise Putin). So, if you’re looking to read a serious work with facts rather than personal emotions you should pass. Different reviews here on goodreads described this as a long newsletter article, a description that I absolutely agree with.

  • Angela Elizabeth
    2018-10-12 15:32

    Stunning, brilliant, compelling non-fiction! Gessen's biography/history/expose of Vladimir Putin reads like a spy novel and is just as addictive, but of course so much worse for being truth. How Putin still remains in power is a mystery. Gessen's book rivals Anna Funder's 'Stasiland' for compelling reading. Its only downfall is translation - it fails to read quite as beautifully as Funder's. But in every other way, Gessen is easily Funder's equal, both in journalism and bravery. A must-read for anyone with any interest in the state of Russia and Russian government today. If you thought the KGB & the USSR organisations left behind in the past, you were wrong! Frightening stuff!

  • Lea
    2018-09-29 18:41

    ENOUGHDNF @ 59%. I read almost 200 pages of this book and I've learned NOTHING about Vladimir Putin. Masha Gessen has no analytical ability and mediocre writing skills only. Her bias is enormous and gets in the way of explaining events coherently and logically, because she seizes on flimsy "evidence" and concocts or accepts conspiracy theories to personally lay the blame on Putin for literally everything that is wrong with Russia, including affirming that he is the mastermind behind all of the terrorist attacks by Chechen extremists, while finding excuses to say that the actual terrorists ("rebels" she calls them) were totally innocent or at least probably had good reason for killing children.NO THANKS

  • Billy
    2018-09-28 16:40

    I do not think I have read a more chilling account of a modern day political leader. It made for a wonderful distraction to the politics of the 2012 election season. And we think we have it bad.I'd like to see more people in the U.S. pick up this book, especially men and women of faith who could spend their efforts in a much more constructive way fighting for 'freedom of the press' in oppressive countries like Russia, rather than flaunting our freedom so carelessly with our unguarded tantrums fighting over Candidates A or B.In comparison with Putin's influence on his own people, Americans will be ushering in or reelecting a lame duck on day 1. Shouldn't we care more about the fate of nations that continue to slide into the gutter because of the repression of the press more than our (in comparison) minuscule squabbles over left vs. right?Couldn't it even be deemed criminal when we spend billions again this electoral season just to see who will lead our Democracy... when others in our world today are dying just trying to dream of a democracy?Masha, I thank you for this courageous read, and only wish more Russians can join you in the next demonstration in Red Square.All the best!

  • Kressel Housman
    2018-09-25 21:33

    More than just a biography of Vladimir Putin, this book is a journalistic account of the pro-democracy movement in Russia, and not just today, but when communism first fell. I’ve been wanting to read a book on that subject for years, and I always thought I’d find it in a good biography of Mikhail Gorbachev, but it turns out that the real story lies in the protests by every day folk on the street. Gorbachev never intended to topple the Soviet Union. He opened the door a crack, but it was the people who burst their way through.The book makes a compelling case that Putin is a thug and a thief who runs Russia like a mob boss. It points to numerous murders he might be responsible for. Whether you believe Trump’s team colluded with him or not, it’s worth reading about him because he’s a genuine threat to world peace and stability.But for all that, the book gives reason to hope, especially in the epilogue. The world may be run by ruthless oligarchs, but we the people, whether Russian or American, may just be able to rise up, resist, and take back democracy.

  • J
    2018-10-05 21:39

    I was pretty excited to read this book. Then I started reading it. This is one of the driest books I have ever read. I could not even finish it, and I almost always push through a book, hoping it will get better. I didn't have hope for this book. Masha Gessen is a little too biased for my taste. I wanted an objective rundown of who Vladimir Putin is and how he rose to presidency. That brings me to another point. A lot of this isn't even about Vladimir Putin directly. This book is more about the political and social atmosphere of Russia between the 1940s to the early 2000s. Another thing is that if Vladimir Putin is exactly the man that she makes him out to be, she should have been taken down by now. However, this is just my opinion.

  • Dawn
    2018-10-23 19:45

    The writing included a little too much personal opinion for my taste. While I find Russian history fascinating, by almost halfway I hadn't really learned much about Putin yet. I got the feeling that the entire book is supposition. There are facts but how they pertain to Putin is entirely opinion. It reads like a blog, a well done one, but still one persons opinion on how things were/are. Well educated guesses but still guesses. Some of it can come across as a bit conspiracy theory. And the conclusion that Russia hasn't changed as much as the West thought is entirely unsurprising.

  • Gail
    2018-09-27 16:29

    I got about halfway through this book and could no longer read it. I just don't like the way Masha Gessen writes. I have attempted to read some of her other books and it's always the same problem. She's more of a journalist than an author and so the writing is factual with no essence.

  • Dmitry
    2018-09-22 17:37

    There are probably a lot of people in the West who think that Russia, having lost in the Cold War, and having ceded it's title of a super power, is no longer worth caring about. They can't be more wrong: Russia remains the largest country in the world, the richest in mineral resources, a nuclear power and a country who takes active - and aggressive - stance against its neighbors and towards world politics in general. All the more reasons to keep close attention to it - and, it being a country led by an authoritarian regime - even closer attention to the man at the top of the "vertical of power". And yet, I would be feeling quite confident putting money on the fact, that the majority of the people in the West know next to nothing about Vladimir Putin. This book can help disperse the mist somewhat.Gessen's writing is very personal, understandably so, considering that she knows personally many of the people mentioned in the book, and considering that some of the events touched her personally. The last few chapters of the book break out of character, and are written in a form of a diary, retelling the aftermath of the rigged election to the Duma in the December of 2011. It almost seems as if the author was making all possible haste to release the manuscript to the press before the main character has passed into history. This, sadly, hasn't happened in the 9 months since the elections, so these last chapters seem entirely out of place. Also, the author seems a bit free in her choice of her information sources, hashing together factual events, media reports, eye witness reports talking of events of decades ago, hearsay and loony conspiracy theories (although, granted, she discards some of the latter for what they are). Very few public gaffes of Putin are left unmentioned (except maybe the kissing of the boy and of the fish - google it up if curious!) Almost all of the facts are well known to anyone who speaks Russian and hasn't been living under a rock for the last 15 years, but the book would probably make a fascinating read to anyone not acquainted with Russia's recent history. There's one rather significant gap in the otherwise quite wide narrative: that of Putin's foreign policy, ranging from staged protests against Estonia, the war against Georgia, his support of Iran and the doomed Arab regimes etc. I'm at a loss as to the reason for this gap - nothing comes to mind other than that the book may have been compiled in haste, in the fervent days of December, when the author felt the time is ripe for it, and the foreign policy aspect - one of the most interest for readers outside of Russia - was simply overlooked.

  • Tom Marcinko
    2018-09-29 16:30

    "Once a spy, always a spy." You could read this and definitely come away with the impression that Putin is not a very nice person. What surprised me is his pettiness. I was hoping for a pardon for Pussy Riot, but after reading this book, I knew they didn't stand a chance. A magnanimous gesture seems beyond Putin, even one that would make him look good.Sept. 13, 2000 Duma session: 'The speaker had interrupted the session by saying, “We have just received news that a residential building in Volgodonsk was blown up last night.” In fact, the building would not be blown up for three more days: it seems the FSB [formerly KGB] plant in the speaker’s office…had given the speaker the wrong note at the wrong time, but had known of the planned Volgodonsk explosion in advance.''On several occasions, at least one of them embarrassingly public, Putin has acted like a person afflicted with kleptomania. In June 2005, while hosting a group of American businessmen in St. Petersburg, Putin pocketed the 124-diamond Super Bowl ring of New England Patriots owner Robert Kraft. He had asked to see it, tried it on, allegedly said, “I could kill someone with this,” then stuck it in his pocket and left the room abruptly. After a flurry of articles in the U.S. press, Kraft announced a few days later that the ring had been a gift—preventing an uncomfortable situation from spiraling out of control. 'In September 2005, Putin was a special guest at New York’s Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum. At one point his hosts brought out a conversation piece that another Russian guest must have given to the museum: a glass replica of a Kalashnikov automatic weapon filled with vodka. This gaudy souvenir costs about $300 in Moscow. Putin nodded to one of his bodyguards, who took the glass Kalashnikov and carried it out of the room, leaving the hosts speechless. '…The correct term is probably not the popularly known kleptomania, which refers to a pathological desire to possess things for which one has little use, but the more exotic pleonexia, the insatiable desire to have what rightfully belongs to others. If Putin suffers this irrepressible urge, this helps explain his apparent split personality: he compensates for his compulsion by creating the identity of an honest and incorruptible civil servant.'

  • Janet Morris
    2018-09-27 18:41

    This book was the kind of book that I didn't want to put down, but also couldn't read much of at one time. There was just a lot of information that I needed time to be process. There was a lot of talk of vile things like torture, war, murder, etc., which was uncomfortable to read unless I took breaks between sections of the story.Another slight issue is that the book was dry, but I wasn't reading it because I wanted to read a good story. I was reading it for the information and insight that it could provide. The information was so intriguing that I didn't want to stop reading it. Before reading the book, I knew that this man was one who has encouraged homophobia, sexism, and who was linked to some very suspicious deaths of political dissidents. The story painted in the book showed that my personal description of him was way too nice. One could argue that everything was conjecture and speculation, but I can't. There were so many well-known victims of this man's corruption who were mentioned and whose stories were told in even more depth than I'd seen before. It helped to give this book more credence in my perspective.Several people have said that it is a biased account, which is obvious without their stating it. She lived under someone who can easily be classified as an authoritarian or a tyrant. That would lead one to develop certain opinions of that political leader. And when the leader is notoriously private about his life and is a real "lives in the shadows" personality, it is hard to present the full picture of this man. Gessen did the best that she could with the information that she was available to accumulate. The whole idea of him being "a man without a face" comes from his extremely secretive nature and ability to be whatever the situation requires him to be--so long as it doesn't conflict with his own personal interests.I think this is definitely a very informative book and that people who are interested in Putin, Russia, and the more recent history of the country will enjoy the book. Other people probably should look for something a little less intense.

  • Rebecca
    2018-10-17 23:37

    About what I expected from the prospective of a liberal journalist now living in self exile. It's a real page turner, but the sceptic in me is dying to fact check and cross reference Gessen's sources. Putin comes out as the unambiguous bogeyman, and maybe that's fair, but I'm still left wanting for a nuanced biography of the man himself. Also, the book stops around the turn of 2012, a low point in Putin's popularity, which I believe relieved Gessen from the task of explaining or addressing his sweeping popularity (as it is now in 2014). Its an important book, but the main reason I gave it a relatively low score is that it plays into the oversimplified opinion of most liberal westerners: Putin is evil, no one in Russia likes him, Russians themselves long to live in a westernized, open country. This kind of thinking on the part of the west has contributed to the current political misunderstanding and vitriol between us and Russia, and it's simply insufficient and lacking in empathy for anyone who really cares to understand Russia and the Russians.

  • kranthi balusu
    2018-09-28 18:35

    Not objective enough. Not comprehensive enough. She missed the mark . I was looking for an understanding of Putin as a man and his politics as this title suggests. She spends most of the book demonizing him, sometimes with little evidence. I lost count of the number of times Putin is called a thug. Okay , he is a thug, why does that work? Nevertheless , a good introduction to Putin's politics. Looking for a better book.

  • Rita
    2018-10-16 19:25

    NYR 26 april 2012 by Anne ApplebaumI hope the goodreads bio [below] is outdated and that Gessen has moved back to the US - don't think her life is very safe in russia after this book.Quotes from the Review: Andropov [head of KGB 1967-1982] understood very precisely the danger that ‘democrats’ and other free-thinking intellectuals posed to totalitarian regimes. He spent much of his KGB career stamping out dissident movements, locking people in prison, expelling them from the USSR, and sending them to psychiatric hospitals, a form of punishment invented during his tenure.…Putin had not only made his career in Andropov’s KGB, he also shared some similar experiences. As ambassador to Budapest, Andropov had been shocked when young Hungarians first called for democracy, then protested against the Communist establishment, and then took up arms against the regime. Putin had a similar experience in Dresden in 1989, where he witnessed mass street protests and the ransacking of the HQ of the Stasi. Both men drew the same conclusion: talk of democracy leads to protest, protest leads to attacks on the Chekists [secret police], better to stop all talk of democracy before it goes any further.…Gessen’s book, although focused on Putin and his rise to power, is at heart a description of this secret police milieu. Born in Andropov’s KGB, it subsequently gave rise to the Russian business and political elite, while never losing the deeply cynical worldview and twisted morality of the Soviet secret police. Putin did not bring this elite to power. On the contrary, it was already in place by the end of Yeltsin’s first presidential term in 1996, by which time Yeltsin, not Putin, had already restored many of the powers and privileges of the security services, and Yeltsin, not Putin, had overseen the redistribution of Russian’s natural resources to a tiny group of insiders.…The most intriguing of all Gessen’s characters is Marina Salye [died March 2012], a liberal St Petersburg politician who was chairwoman of the Leningrad City Council’s committee on food supplies in 1991. At that time, Sobchak was the mayor, Putin was his deputy, and Leningrad ran out of food. The Soviet economic system was imploding, there had been a tobacco riot and a sugar riot, and the city council negotiated the purchase of several trainloads of meat and potatoes. Salye was sent to Berlin to sign the contracts:‘ “And when we get there,” Salye told me years later, still outraged, “and this Frau Rudolf with whom we were supposed to meet, she tells us she can’t see us because she is involved in urgent negotiations with the City of Leningrad on the subject of meat imports. Our eyes are popping out. because we are the City of Leningrad, and we are there on the subject of meat imports!” ‘The meat never appeared The money Salye thought was earmarked for the purchase – 90 M deutschmarks – disappeared. Subsequently, Salye discovered that Putin, who then headed the mayor’s Committee for Foreign Relations, had been responsible for that swindle as well as many others. She learned that Putin, a trained lawyer, had knowingly entered into a dozen legally flawed contracts on behalf of the city, mostly involving the export of timber, oil, metals, cotton, and other raw materials. As Salye explained:‘ “The point of the whole operation was this: to create a legally flawed contract with someone who could be trusted, to issue an export license to him, to make the customs office open the border on the basis of this license, to ship the goods abroad, sell them, and pocket the money. And that is what happened.” ‘Although she couldn’t track most of the contracts, she did find documentation proving that Putin had arranged for the export of some $92 M worth of commodities in exchange for food that never arrived. She wrote her findings into a report for the Leningrad City Council, which passed it on to Sobchak, with a recommendation that he fire Putin and his deputy. Salye also passed the report to Pres. Yeltsin’s comptroller, who interviewed Sobchak and then passed the same conclusions on to Pres. Yeltsin. ‘And then,” writes Gessen, “nothing happened.”The Leningrad City Council did not get rid of Putin. Instead, Putin – or rather mayor Sobchak – got rid of the Leningrad City Council, which was dissolved not long afterward. Salye left politics. In 2000 she wrote one final article about Putin’s years in St Petersburg. Its title: “Putin Is the President of a Corrupt Oligarchy.” That was her last public statement on the subject. Not long afterward […] she ran away. Gessen found her 10 years later, living in a tiny village 12 hours’ drive from Moscow. Even then she wouldn’t tell Gessen what or who had frightened her.

  • Noor
    2018-10-10 23:46

    I grew up knowing Vladimir Putin as the Russian president, but nothing beyond that. I began hearing his name more frequently in the last few years, mostly in a sarcastic manner that he was basically the Russian Chuck Norris. Earlier this year, when Putin won what was widely considered to be a rigged election, I tentatively started paying attention to what was happening in the country. The Man Without a Face was published before the 2012 Russian elections were decided. It was also written before the arrest of Pussy Riot members, and also before the BP buyout by Rosneft. How Gessen described Putin's character and the way he ran his country fell perfectly in line with the outcomes of these three later events. Of course, what Gessen presents in her book is simply theory, but how these events played out in front of the world helped validate her ideas. In terms of how the book itself read, I was never bored as the author's style of narrative nonfiction kept me interested from start to finish. Some people understandably didn't enjoy this book as they felt Gessen to be too emotional when writing about Putin. I think that when you're writing about something as personal as the corruption of your country, you can't help but get a little emotional. However, Gessen usually rooted her statements in evidence, which gave credence to her theories. Putin has created an image for himself over the years. Gessen's book presents another view of the president. The world, in its increasing scrutiny of the Russian government, portrays yet another picture. In my opinion, the Russian people themselves are the greatest indicator of what kind of man Putin truly is. At the end of her book, Gessen describes participating in the protests before Putin's re-election. The tens of thousands of people that showed up for those protests illustrate that not everything Gessen said in The Man Without a Face may be fact, but there's got to be some truth in her account of Putin's rise to power.

  • Barry Sierer
    2018-09-30 19:28

    Masha Gessen’s book is completely biased against Putin but she clearly outlines her reasoning behind her conclusions and backs them up with evidence when possible, though solid evidence often seems hard to come in her circumstances. While it would be wise to view her accusations against Putin’s regime (including using the FSB orchestrate the apartment bombings that led to the Second Chechen war as well as the Moscow theatre siege), it is also a fascinating tale of criminal shenanigans that occurred during the fall of the Soviet Union.

  • Melissa
    2018-10-09 16:33

    From Putin's earliest beginnings until his reelection in 2011, this book covers his childhood up to his leadership and reelection in Russia and many controversial points in between. It paints a very grim picture of the country and Putin's practices, mostly told from the original sources (or their relatives since quite a few have met untimely ends). Definitely a must read as Russia and Putin become even more spotlighted on the global stage with their actions in Ukraine, Crimea, and currently global elections.