Astonishingly frank may be stretching it, but one does get a sense of the man from this conversation. "Self-portrait" is also not quite right, since the book is really the product of a series of interviews conducted over several weeks by three Russian correspondents, embroidered with commentary from Putin's wife, daughters, schoolteacher, and old friends. The reporters ask tough questions about his career in the KGB and the war in Chechnya, and he responds with an apparently fair degree of candor. He offers little hint of the direction in which he intends to lead -- probably because he does not know. But Putin does emerges from these pages as a believer in loyalty and duty (particularly to his old bureaucracy, the KGB) and as someone without substantial philosophical ballast. He expresses no longing for the Soviet past and no passionate commitment to a liberal future -- yet seems eager to get things done and taken with the need to restore Russia's moral compass.
Get the best of Foreign Affairs' book reviews delivered to you.
More Reviews on Eastern Europe and Former Soviet Republics From This Issue