putin’s russia: the definitive account of putin’s rise to power by anna politkovskaya
harvill press, 320 pages, £10.99
journalist politkovskya told us exactly who vladimir putin was in 2004, two years before she was assassinated in moscow. It is both sobering and instructive to read her account of the horrors of the second Chechen war between 1999 and 2009, carried out on Putin’s orders, given the subsequent invasion of Ukraine. a prophetic account of what was to come.
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the return of the russian leviathan by sergei medvedev
policy, 140 pages, £17.99
Professor at the Moscow Higher School of Economics, Medvedev produces a brilliant collection of essays on the ideas, politics, and history that are shaping contemporary Russian society under Putin, and how the Kremlin appeals to nostalgia and nationalism to stoke support for the regime.
putin against the people: the dangerous politics of a russia divided by samuel a greene and graeme b robertson
yale, 296 pages, £20.00
Based on extensive field research, including focus groups and opinion polls, Greene and Robertson examine the roots of Putin’s popularity and support in different sectors of Russian society. The current situation has revealed the importance of understanding who supports Putin and why.
Citizens and the State in Authoritarian Regimes: Comparing China and Russia, edited by Karrie Koesel, Valerie Bunce, Jessica Chen Weiss
oxford university press, 344 pages, £23.49
Among this collection of articles, Aleksandar Matovski’s chapter on the logic of Putin’s popular appeal and his efforts to position himself as a defender of Russia against its external enemies and “make Russia great again” is particularly pertinent. other scholars examine the role of education and patriotic propaganda in authoritarian systems. This would be a good book to pair with Timur Kuran’s Private Truths, Public Lies (1995) on why and how public opinion remains important under authoritarian rule.
the invention of russia: the journey from gorbachev’s freedom to putin’s war by arkady ostrovsky
atlantic books, 400 pages, £9.99
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This excellent short story chronicles the economic chaos and humiliating decline that accompanied the collapse of the Soviet Union for its citizens. It also describes how Putin and his inner circle seized power and took control of the media to shape the popular image of the president during his first decade in power.
nothing is true and everything is possible: peter pomerantsev’s adventures in modern russia
faber & faber, 304 pages, £9.99
this remains one of the best (and most beautifully written) books on putin and modern russia in recent years. Pomerantsev’s work captures both the breakneck pace of change in Russia during the economic boom of Putin’s first two terms and the endemic corruption and compromise that accompanied it. Although he is only seven years old, Pomerantsev’s Russia of excitement and possibility already feels like a different world from the repression and censorship that has since come to the fore. he cleverly gives insight into what has been and is being missed.
Between Two Fires: Truth, Ambition, and Commitment in Putin’s Russia by Joshua Yaffa
granta books, 368 pages, £12.99
A fascinating character study of life in contemporary Russia under Putin, this work uncovers the trade-offs and compromises people make under an authoritarian regime. It is worth reading only the story of the keeper of the Crimean zoo during the annexation of the peninsula by Russia in 2014.
putin’s people: how the kgb took back russia and then the west by catherine belton
william collins, 640 pages, £8.49
A comprehensive account of Putin’s rise, from Dresden in the 1980s to the Kremlin. Belton explores his ties to the oligarchs and how those relationships have evolved over the years, to the point where Putin now uses the oligarchs as messengers in exchange for allowing them to amass vast fortunes. anyone who crosses the line pays the price. Belton is devastating about the extent of Kremlin-fueled corruption and the loss of illicit wealth abroad.
the future is history: how totalitarianism took russia back by masha gessen
granta books, 528 pages, £10.99
gessen uses the life stories of four young Russians born in the 1980s to frame how Russia first opened up politically and then closed again, with ever-shrinking space for dissent. a vivid and deeply personal piece of analysis.
the road to unfreedom: russia, europe, america by timothy snyder
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bodley head, 368 pages, £10.99
A Yale historian, Snyder dissects Putin’s thought and the philosophers who inspired him. the book is particularly good about the first russian invasion of ukraine in 2014, criticizing the west’s complacency and lack of understanding of the political and geopolitical forces at play.
chernobyl: story of a tragedy by serhii plokhy
allen lane, 432 pages, £9.99
plokhy looks at the ossification of political and command structures in soviet ukraine that allowed the chernobyl nuclear disaster to occur in 1986. this is a story of how design flaws were compounded by human frailty.
all the men of the kremlin: inside vladimir putin’s court by mikhail zygar
public affairs, 400 pages, £14.99
Anyone interested in Kremlinology or separating speculation from reality about the inner workings of the Kremlin and Putin’s own circle should read this book.
the long hangover: putin’s new russia and shaun walker’s ghosts of the past
oxford university press, 288 pages, £14.99
putin’s call for “denazification” and attempt to erase ukrainian history make this an ideal time to revisit walker’s work on how historical narratives are used (and abused) in russia and ukraine in national politics.
second hand time by svetlana alexievich
fitzcarraldo editions, 704 pages, £14.99
Alexievich’s brilliant oral history of the collapse of the Soviet Union reminds us that the best way to understand what is happening to a people is to ask them.
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