Browder paints a portrait of modern Russia through his own very personal story.
The first half of his book is interesting but drags ever so slightly. It recounts Browder's rise, at Solomon Brother and then as a fund manager focusing on the country in the aftermath of the fall of the USSR. It describes his dealing with the Oligarchs of that era, and ascension to become as the country's largest foreign portfolio investor by the late 1990s/early 2000s.
In its second half, the book pivots from international business biography to political and criminal intrigue. Here, in riveting terms, Browder recounts how in the late 2000s a cabal of shadowy apparatchiks from the Russian FSB and interior ministry, acting with the backing up the State, stole hundreds of millions by falsifying tax refunds fraudulently procured on behalf of one of his companies. It explains the methods employed and names to people responsible, and describes how he was blamed, intimidated, exiled him from the country, and ultimately shows how and why one of his attorneys, Sergei Magnitsky, was murdered. By the end of the book, it is 2015 and Browder is living in Britain in very real fear for his life.
Taken at face value, Browder's story affirms the very worst fears about what the Russian state has become two decades after the collapse of communism. Taken at face value, in my opinion, Mr. Browder has every reason to be fearful for his life.
The best thing about the book is that Mr. Browder does not flinch in telling his story. He does not pull any punches. By directly addressing the Putin regime - by naming names, connecting the dots, detailing the tactics employed by the Russian state to obfuscate the truth and discredit its opponents, and showing the astonishing and cynical depth of the regime's contempt for the rule of law and international norms - Mr. Browder places himself alongside the likes of a very small group of gutsy writers (Anna Politkovskaya comes to mind) who have sought to pull back the curtain on the ugly truth of the New Russia.
The main reason I give the book 4-stars instead of 5-stars is that it is (through no fault of the author's) highly specific and personal, focused almost entirely around Mr. Browder and his experiences in Russia. It does not offer many new, concrete insights beyond those that Browder experienced personally. The result is many of the most intriguing and seemingly consequential mysteries from the New Russia - the 1999 Moscow apartment bombings; the 2003 jailing of Mikhail Khodorkovsky; the poisoning of Alexander Litvinenko and the assasination of journalist Anna Politivsaya - are dealt with superficially if at all.
Nonetheless, Mr. Browder's story is by itself sufficiently remarkable to render this book a valuable contribution to the (conspicuously small) body of literature offering real insight into the modern Russian kleptocracy. Kudos to him for having the courage to tell his story, and the story of Sergei Magnitsky. Well worth the credit.
The best thing about the book are the stories. They are all interesting and several are excellent. The way the book is organized prevents the authors from developing characters, however, and the book sometimes fails to place stories in their correct political / security context. However, the book's high-tempo, and the excellent access the authors appear to have to the participants, more than compensates for these limitations. My biggest knock is that the book is self-congratulatory, and at times the author's own political agenda seems to the surface. The authors offer little depth, and few strategic insights, though they provide enough detail, action, and clandestine nuggets to almost overcome that problem.