Among the cascade of recent books about Vladimir Putin, this one stands out for three reasons. First, it is not quite a biography or an explanation of the man but rather a history of how he and those who surround him built the system that has guided Russia for the last 13 years -- and now misguides it, Judah argues. Second, in laying out the dysfunctions of a centralized but weak state, an all-powerful but corrupt bureaucracy, and an alienated but impotent society, Judah illustrates his case in particularly dispiriting detail, from the machinations on high to the grubby politics below, from the venal battles in Moscow to the empty despair in godforsaken corners of the hinterlands. Finally, he gathers much of his material from telling interviews with a wide range of sources -- opposition leaders, fallen oligarchs, and even dissolute teenagers in villages on Russia’s Chinese border -- and weaves them together with a fine selection of secondary sources. Judah packs familiar stories with unfamiliar details and freshens familiar judgments with unfamiliar insights.
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