In This Review

Conversations on Russia: Reform From Yeltsin to Putin
Conversations on Russia: Reform From Yeltsin to Putin
By Padma Desai
Oxford University Press, 2006, 398 pp

Desai's collection of interviews with notable men (and they are all men) involved in politics and economics in Russia over the last decade is at once informative and wandering. It will be of greatest interest to those familiar with the events and characters in question. Following an introductory essay reviewing the events of the past 15 years -- a useful overview of what happened and who the main actors were -- the volume's standouts are those chapters that feature the interviews with the men whom Desai clearly most admires: Boris Nemtsov, former first deputy prime minister, and Yegor Gaidar, former acting prime minister. The Nemtsov chapter, the lengthiest in the book, is comprised of a series of sometimes playful interviews in which Nemstov is remarkably frank about the political mistakes made by him and those with whom he worked and about Russia's current president, Vladimir Putin. Other particularly interesting interviews are those with financiers George Soros and Boris Jordan. Despite those bright moments, the book suffers from a few shortcomings. Desai was unable to interview former President Boris Yeltsin and so reprints an October 2003 interview by someone else that is not particularly informative or interesting, nor, although his name is invoked in the title, did she manage to talk to Putin (a tall order, to be fair). Finally, the interviews are not placed in context. When and why did they take place? Why this group and not another? Answers to these important questions would have enhanced the volume.