The New Tsar (Review)

It’s out of character for me to read more than one biography about a specific public figure in the span of six months. However, the subject of both biographies is the complicated, enigmatic President of the Russian Federation.  Vladimir Vladimirovich Putin, born October 7, 1952, is a couple of months younger than me, so the similarity of our ages probably contributes to this personal interest.

My latest read is Steven Lee Myers’ The New Tsar: The Rise and Reign of Vladimir Putin. This is an epic biography that reads more like a cross between a nation’s history and a novel.

In this instance, the history begins near Leningrad during the Nazi encirclement of the Soviet city during the Great Patriotic War. The first chapter opens with a gripping description of Putin’s father, Vladimir Spiridonovich Putin’s, narrow escape from death. The action takes place during the Red Army’s failed attempt to break the German encirclement of Leningrad. The scenario sets the stage for this drama of intrigue and quest for ultimate power.

PutinBook-02StevenLeeMyersThis book’s author was the Moscow Bureau Chief for the New York Times until 2007. In his role as a reporter, Steven Lee Myers kept a close account of events that affected Russia. In The New Tsar, Myers presents the story of Vladimir Putin’s ascent to power.

The readers follow the enigmatic Putin during his childhood, his adolescence, the years of his service as an apparatchik in the KGB, into the waning years of the Soviet Union and his climb from obscurity into the highest office in the Russian Federation. The book culminates with the controversial events of the Crimean occupation and their repercussions.

The presentation of Putin’s life and important events is in chronological order. The chapters within this obsessively well researched book are quite detailed. Readers who follow 20th century history and international current events should be pleased with Myers’ book.

The biography, itself, reads like a secret agent spy thriller. Except, in this case, the espionage, betrayals, murders, and international crises are from real life. In addition to the many unsavory, unethical agents of the KGB and the FSB, are mentions of historical leaders.  I gained some new insight about the personalities of Boris Yeltsin and Mikhail Gorbachev.

The most revealing part of Putin’s story regards how he remained cool and calculating as he bided his time at the end of the Soviet era then worked his way into “Kremlin, Inc.”  Myers brings the reader the how and why Putin consolidated his power through careful networking and planning. The author describes how Putin quickly took the reins of power, crushed dissent, and sent domestic political opponents fleeing the country.

Equally fascinating, is the underlying “kleptocracy” that dogs, yet finances much of Russia’s resurgence as a world class power.  Vast fortunes were made overnight when the national assets of the Soviet Union were privatized.PutinBook-03

Questionable wheeling and dealing created the enablers of Putin’s rise to power. However, their new-found wealth soon made them vulnerable to coercion by Putin and his power base.

Putin was able to maintain his influence, in part, by fulfilling some of his campaign promises. More Russians benefitted from tax cuts, some level of prosperity, property rights, and a semblance of democracy. At the same time, his law and order campaigns and his earliest attempts at halting revolts brought Putin increased esteem from the citizens.

Throughout the book, readers sense the underlying, ever-present current of iniquity. Billions of dollars find their way into the pockets of powerful individuals and probably Putin.  Highly questionable bidding on government projects is rampant.  Massive cost overruns like those for the Sochi Olympics boggle the mind.

The New Tsar is an important and captivating book. If you want to understand what makes Putin’s Russia tick, this exciting tome will bring you plenty of insight.

{ The New Tsar: The Rise and Reign of Vladimir Putin by Steven Lee Myers; 572 pages; A Borzoi Book, published in 2015 by Alfred A. Knopf; ISBN: 978-0-307-96161-7 }

До свидания (Do svidaniya)

moi1988bThe Blue Jay of Happiness sums up the story of the New Tsar with one particular Putin quote. “My notion of the KGB came from romantic spy stories. I was a pure and utterly successful product of Soviet patriotic education.”

About swabby429

An eclectic guy who likes to observe the world around him and comment about those observations.
This entry was posted in Books, Controversy, History, Politics and tagged , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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