The savagery of Russia's actions in Chechnya is not news, nor is the highhandedness of its intelligence services, nor the cynical way Russian politicians and businesspeople mix money and politics. But Politkovskaya, one of Russia's most stridently indignant journalistic voices, has a way of driving the point home with passion drawn from concrete, personal stories. She takes the reader from a distant observation point into the barracks or the courtroom or the street where the deed goes down and then through the tortuous labyrinth where it is consummated, blessed, or concealed. Most of the book is about, as she says, life in Putin's Russia, not Putin's role. Still, she asks, "Why do I so dislike Putin?" and answers, because of his Chekist mentality, his "matter-of-factness worse than a felony, his cynicism," his small-minded pursuit of power -- and, most of all, because, by guile or indifference, he presides over a Russia slinking back toward its Soviet past.