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.
The first book I've not wanted to turn off at any point in a very long time. If you enjoyed listening to Robert Littell's "The Company" I think this book will appeal to you.
The narration was excellent. The only person who could do it better is Buchanon himself. I think the print version would be cool to see the pictures of these men during that era, but otherwise I don't think anything is lost in the audio.
1. The tempo of the book is much like that of "Jack, We Hardley Knew Ye" - by Kenny oddonell and Dave Powers. However, while Buchanon seems to admire Nixon as a politician, he does not worship Nixon personally in the way the Kennedy men did JFK.2. The subject matter overlaps closely with "Nixon Land," and other of Ron Perlsteins books. But these books are quite complimentary.
Riding shotgun across the Repunlican Right during the heart of 1960s with a Tricky Dick and a young Pat Buchanan.
Worth the credit
The Invisible Bridge is an awesome accomplishment. It is the latest installment of what is shaping up to be a modern masterpiece from Rick Perlstein. The book covers the prior between 1972-1976. It's greatest strength is the way that it recounts an enthrawling political narrative by placing it squarely within the context of the larger social and historical forces buffeting the nation in the mid 1970s.
In its way, Invisible Bridge ranks with Robert Caro's epic LBJ epic series and Morris's TR trilogy as the best American history I've listened to on audible.
The chapters dealing with watergate and Nixon's final year were excellent and could be a book unto themselves. But if the contest between Reagan and Ford is really at the heart of this book, these were some of its highlights:
1. The mini biography of Reagan is outstanding.
2. The author's treatment of the U.S. bicentennial
3: Ford to City: Drop Dead
4. The authors investigation of the early 1970s battles over school textbooks.
5. The authors treatment of the 1976 GOP convention
The book often made me chuckle. I was listening to it I was walking around with a grin. This author has a good sense of humor and a knack for deploying anecdotes, to reveal basic truths about the characters, and to tie the book's broader themes together.
The book is not politically biased. It has no contemporary political agenda.
This is not the kind of book that I would read a second time. It is an entertaining narrative, but its real value is that it provides a wealth of timely information about a subject that is changing and evolving rapidly. If you are considering purchasing the book, the time to do it is now. If you wait until after the 2014 elections, much of the information will be moot.
The book sets out to explain the way money flowed into US federal elections in 2010 and 2012, and in this succeeds wonderfully. It is a thorough overview and history of campaign finance during this period and is packed with information that helps the reader understand what is and has been happening with money in politics over the past few years. At the same time, the book's focus on campaign finance during a 4-year period is also the its main weakness. The author has an excellent grasp of the ways money flows into politics today, and benefits from access to donors and consultants who are active in this space, but his expertise seems to end there. The book does not provide anything more than cursory, superficial descriptions of the campaigns and political candidates who benefit from the money, or the Tea Party movement, or the issues on which recent campaigns have turned. Further, while the authors hints at ways the influx of big-donor money may translate into influence on policy, this and the other key question about the significance of the conduct documented by the book are never really tackled. Ultimately, I don't believe this is the author's failing, but merely indicative of the fact that the topic about which he is writing is so still new that its significance, if any, is simply not yet clear.
Great read for political practitioners and junkies and anyone who really wants to understand how money is flowing into our politics and where it is combing from. For others, including more well rounded readers, I think the book could be a bit much.
Yes, absolutely. The book is a serious but accessible history of the V-2 program, covering the key developments in rocketry technology the made the V-2 possible in the late 1930s; the military and political imperatives that propelled its development by the Reich (but not by the allies) in the final years of the war; it's operational success and strategic failure; and ultimately, the V-2's role as the direct precursor of all strategic nuclear missiles, especially those which defined balance-of-power during the Cold War. It succeeds in doing all of this.
The level of technical detail is just-right for the average reader interested in learning more about this fascinating niche of warfare during WW II, and early modern ballistic rocketry more generally, and the pace is quick and entertaining. The book does not offer much if any new insight on military strategy and doctrines of Hitler and the Reich, but limits its scope to the V-2 program and it's impact (or lack thereof) on the air war in Europe.
Very good history. Well worth the credit.
Demons under the Microscope
Too little, too late, thank God.
Command and Control tells two stories concurrently, alternating back and forth, from one to the other. The first story is the story of the Damascus incident, in which a Titan nuclear missile came close to exploding in Arkansas due to a series of oversights which, as the author documents, are not nearly as rare as the public might suppose. The second story is the history of nuclear weapons themselves - their use, development, design, and testing, as well as their technical limitations (or lack thereof) and the strategic calculations that drove their development and deployment during the Cold War.
The first narrative, which recounts the Damascus incident, is illuminating and entertaining, but at times it also feels overly drawn-out and confusing. This is largely due to the way its telling is broken up over the course of the book. This structure might work better in print, but I found it challenging in audio format. The second narrative - where the author traces the history of nuclear weapons broadly, from the Manhattan Project to the present, is where the book really excels. It is first-rate. I would listen this portion of the again, for sure, and recommend it to others interested in the subject without any reservation.
On the whole, a very good book.
The discussion of thermonuclear weapons, as opposed to pure fission bombs, and how the former fundamentally altered the strategic calculus about the use of nuclear weapon in war. In the modern era, we do not really distinguish between the awesome but comprehensible power of fission bombs, and the truly cataclysmic and unthinkable force of thermonuclear weapons, but the distinction was actually a major turning point in the way these weapons were viewed by political and military leaders. A second highlight was the author's excellent history of the U.S. Strategic Air Command, and its rivalry with the other military services and the (civilian) U.S. Atomic Energy Commission for primacy in the control U.S. nuclear weapons capabilities.
This book is an excellent listen. At the outset, the author does an excellent job of setting the table, summarizing everything we know to date about the possibility of extraterrestrial life, from science and from theory. Specific programs (notably SETI), physical laws, experimental observations, astronomical and cosmological phenomena, are all covered. From there, the author consider various possibilities for what and where ET might be, and how it might be discovered. His discussion proceeds according to a chain of inductive reasoning, taking the listener through one fact pattern after another, and explaining the conclusions about alien life that would appear to flow from each. His analysis is well organized, beginning with conclusions we might draw from the limited evidence we understand today, then moving on to consider evidence that we do not have today, but that science may be able establish in the future. Finally, he does a great job of explaining the limitations imposed by science and physics, and where the science runs out, he applies theory, math, and imagination, to take the reader through an intelligent and well-reasoned summary of where we may end up. The book leaves with listener with much to consider. At the same time, for a book that focuses on a subject as inherently mysterious and unknowable as ET, the Eerie Silence leaves the listener remarkably satisfied. I would recommend it to anyone who wonders why - in a universe compromised of trillions of stars - we feel so alone.
It's a 50 odd hour book, and I've listened to it twice. It is without question one of the best political biographies ever written. Moreover, while it never loses sight of LBJ, it's a tour de force in legislative tactics, legislative power, and the personalities that dominated the Senate in the middle of the 20th century, in the years immediately preceding the civil rights movement. Men who today are largely forgotten, but were giants in their era - Richard Russell, Everett Dirksen, Hubert Humphrey, Scoop Jackson - come alive in its pages.
Robert Caro is virtually unique in the way he approaches his subject. He takes nearly 15 years, on average, to write each of his books. His research is impeccable, and the way he approaches each of the major figures in the book -- often setting aside the narrative to devote 70, 80 pages to delve into them and probe who precisely they are and why they matter -- is really incredible. I'm not aware of any other other historian who takes such an approach. For an example, see the chapter on Richard B. Russell, the senior Senator from Georgia, the Chairman of the Senate's Southern Caucus, and, in Caro's term, the Greatest Field General of the Old South since Robert E. Lee. Wow.
Robert Caro is an outstanding writer, but his books are not for everyone. His style of writing is incredibly indulgent. He takes a 1000 words to make a point that other biographers will make in 85. If you enjoy his writing, as I do, you'll love it. But it's not for everyone.
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