The epic tale of the rise to power of Russia's current president - the only complete biography in English - that fully captures his emergence from shrouded obscurity and deprivation to become one of the most consequential and complicated leaders in modern history, by the former New York Times Moscow bureau chief.
In a gripping narrative of Putin's rise to power as Russia's president, Steven Lee Myers recounts Putin's origins - from his childhood of abject poverty in Leningrad to his ascension through the ranks of the KGB and his eventual consolidation of rule. Along the way world events familiar to listeners, such as September 11th and Russia's war in Georgia in 2008, as well as the 2014 annexation of Crimea and the ongoing conflict in Ukraine, are presented from never-before-seen perspectives.
This audiobook is a grand, staggering achievement and a breathtaking look at one man's rule. On one hand, Putin's many reforms - from tax cuts to an expansion of property rights - have helped reshape the potential of millions of Russians whose only experience of democracy had been crime, poverty, and instability after the fall of the Soviet Union. On the other hand, Putin has ushered in a new authoritarianism, unyielding in his brutal repression of revolts and squashing of dissent. Still, he retains widespread support from the Russian public.
The New Tsar is a narrative tour de force, deeply researched and utterly necessary for anyone fascinated by the formidable and ambitious Vladimir Putin but also for those interested in the world and what a newly assertive Russia might mean for the future.
©2015 Steven Lee Myers (P)2015 Random House Audio
"Combining skilled story-telling, psychological examination, and political investigation, Steven Lee Myers succeeds brilliantly in this biography of Vladimir Putin. Explaining the dangers that Putin's Russia may and does pose, Myers effortlessly and expertly guides the reader through the complexities of the Russian Byzantine governing style and the country's politics and identity. In the end, the book provides one of the most comprehensive answers to a puzzling question: Despite all the changes that Russia has gone through during communism and post-communism, why is it still an empire of the tsar?" (Nina Khrushcheva)
"Such an understanding of Putin's early life and the evolution of his leadership is lacking. [Myers'] methodology is sound and, I believe, the only way to capture such an intimate understanding of Russia's iron man." (Ian Bremmer, author of Superpower)
"Personalities determine history as much as geography, and there is no personality who has had such a pivotal effect on 21st century Europe as much as Vladimir Putin. The New Tsar is a riveting, immensely detailed biography of Putin that explains in full-bodied, almost Shakespearean fashion why he acts the way he does." (Robert D. Kaplan)
Geopolitics, history, and philosophy junkie. I love smoothly flowing prose that moves me effortlessly from one idea to the next.
Compare and contrast to Putin's Kleptocracy: The New Tsar is not as fast paced and did make a few good observations not found in other books on Putin, but it also leaves out a few things. Putin's Kleptocracy by Karen Dawisha, on the other hand, is the most well researched investigative journalism out there on Putin, but it's also a one-legged indictment full to the brim with substance, names, and information. Perhaps too much so for the first time reader on Putin.
If reading your first book on Putin, I'd recommend Red Notice by Bill Browder or The Man with a Face by Masha Gessen. Either one is a fascinating introduction to life in Putin's Russia. The New Tsar is informative and balanced but gets four stars because it doesn't quite hit the nail as hard as other reads on the subject. And the narration is good but bland.
During the election pre-season in America, I was as surprised and intrigued at the support for Donald Trump as the rest of the thinking universe (not the pundits, of course). As I laughed at his unscripted policy-free speeches and intentionally note-worthy off-the-cuff remarks, I remember thinking I would love to see the effect of his ‘shock and awe’ campaign on someone like Putin. I thought Trump would be too unpredictable and outspoken for Putin. I am ready to take that back. In a weird kind of way, both men, neither political operatives at the start of their careers, are a similar kind of not-liberal, not-conservative, whatever-works nationalist kind of politician. And both have created a cult of personality to facilitate a kind of one-man rule.
Myers allowed me to catch this glimpse of Putin at his start in government as an ordinary man unused to and previously uninterested in political power. When he began in the Sobchak Leningrad government, he may or may not have been involved in skimming from contracts he arranged with the newly burgeoning private sector after the dissolution of the Soviet Union. He certainly was in a position to do so, and many of the people he awarded contracts did so: he formed firm friendships and nurtured loyal apparatchiks in Leningrad that reappear throughout his political career. But it is also true that Russia in the early 1990’s was a wild place with many crime lords jockeying for power. Putin’s family was targeted at least once. Putin did not at that time appear to have the trappings of new wealth, though we learned only recently of monies in his name from the Panama Papers. It is possible that his wealth accumulated from later dealings.
It has always been difficult to understand why Putin was reputed to enjoy such wide public support in Russia, but I realize now that our media reporting emphasized bad judgment and outcomes while Russian media outlets emphasized good intent and nationalism. Myers gives a far more nuanced picture of Putin growing into his role as president—prime minister—president again in this book. If Putin didn’t begin as a friend to oligarchs, he gradually relaxed into the role. He began as a man with he stated goal of “making Russia great again.” He could see that some people were gaming the system by purchasing national reserves of commodities improperly priced and selling them at more realistically priced international values. This was not illegal at the time, just morally suspect. Rather than trying to fix the system of laws that allowed this rape of mineral and energy resources to continue, Putin selectively applied legal and taxation rules on the books to hamper, entangle, or otherwise inhibit the activities of people who did not work closely with him.
Myers charts the hardening of Putin’s character, from his shock and dismay upon learning that Yeltsin had chosen him as a political successor to his chagrin upon learning that his chosen successor, Medvedev, had both an opinion and a weakness that didn’t partner Putin well. And what was very clear in Myers’ telling was the perception of U.S. foreign policy decisions by Russians and Putin. By the time Edward Snowden comes on the scene late in the book, we laugh at Putin’s pleasure in pointing out political dissidence and jail is not just a Russian thing: ”Ask yourself, do you need to put such people in jail, or not?”
Putin was more confident during his second presidency and yet the moment he assumed power the second time his poll ratings began to fall. It was the moment citizens realized that there was really no conversation, no political discussion going on. It only takes twenty years for a political climate to change irrevocably: ask Hillary Clinton. In twenty years, young people with no historical memory bring a new clarity to what is happening right now, with no regard to what came before. Pussy Riot called out Putin; Sanders’ supporters are calling out Clinton.
Putin operated, and operates now, by relying on a close and loyal group of political “friends” from his time in the FSB and his time working for Sobchak in Leningrad. Loyalty is so prized that it would not surprise me to learn that some of the political murders committed during Putin’s reign were not “ordered” by himself. It seems entirely possible to me that elements in a large bureaucracy might prove their loyalty by eliminating static that was damaging to the leader. The problem with a large bureaucracy is that it can take on a character of its own and is not easy to change.
A really strange event occurred early in Putin’s first presidency: the bombing of the apartment buildings in Moscow and the sacks of FSB-sourced explosives found in the apartment building in Ryazan. These incidents have never been satisfactorily explained, and could be an example of a bureaucracy grinding out [imperfect] solutions to perceived problems that impact Putin & Co. In a case like that, or in the case of sheer incompetence (also an enduring feature of large bureaucracy), it is not hard to see Putin keeping mum out of loyalty to those he is protecting. Some actions, like poisoning political opponents or shooting reporters in the the stairwells of their buildings, are simply too crude, destructive, and beneath the dignity of someone in power to imagine they are a “command.” Bill Browder’s account of his time making money hand-over-fist in the 1990’s in Russia, RED NOTICE, mentioned that powerful figures known to Putin wanted the real estate on which those apartment buildings were built and were meeting resistance. Whatever the truth of the matter, this did not have to originate in the Kremlin to be horrifying in its motivation. It does appear, however, that it was condoned by the Kremlin since a good explanation was never uncovered.
One of the things that motivates Putin is the expanding power of NATO in Europe. Putin still thinks in terms of great powers and feels he is being hemmed in by Western Europe nibbling away at his satellite countries. It is hard not to sympathize. Certainly that is happening, and will continue to happen in a Clinton presidency, further exacerbating Putin’s bellicosity, and sense of infringement and inferiority.
Russia is a huge country. “Too big, really” says Ian Frazier in his big book TRAVELS IN SIBERIA. Putin says its size and different cultures is the reason there cannot be a representative democracy like that in America. Since even America doesn’t seem to the have the process working very well at the moment, it is difficult to pretend to know what difficulties arise when trying to restore the kind of power that was shattered by the overthrow of the tsar in twentieth century Russia. The only thing I would concede is that ruling Russia must be a very difficult job, particularly when one is looking backward. One must look ahead, not backward, when one is leading, it seems to me.
I feel like I have gotten a terrific education reading this book and am much better able to parse news coming out of Russia, Europe, and the Middle East today. I can now put Putin into the context vis-a-vis U.S. diplomatic relations. Clinton must be the last person Putin would want to see be elected president in the United States, and in some ways Trump is as unpredictable as Putin has claimed he has tried to be. But I am not recommending a vote for Trump. I think a better choice might be neither of these two.
good book - does a great job chronicling Putins rise and shifting views towards the west. And Putin's story - how he rose to power, assassinated dissents through radiation poisoning, tightened his grip over the media, battled Islamic extremism and invaded Ukraine, certainly make for interesting material.
The book doesn't really make Putin come to life. I'm guessing this is partly because Myers didn't have information about Putin's daily routine and behaviors, and partly because Putin doesn't have the most gripping personality.
I am an avid eclectic reader.
I enjoyed this book and felt it gave me a good review of current history and a good understanding of Putin. Not sure if Myers intended it or not but I was left with the feeling that Putin would not hesitate in triggering a war with the West. Myers has indicated Putin has reached a reckless state and has nothing to lose. Myers did an excellent job revealing the change in Putin after he obtained power.
Steven Lee Myers was a reporter for the New York Times stationed in Russia for many years during Putin’s rise to power. Myers reveals Putin’s life as a child, through his schooling and his role at the KGB. The author also discusses Putin rise to power and to the Presidency of Russia.
Myers shows how Putin’s use of perks of power to create a complex system of cronyism, nepotism, and corruption; then Putin claims this is the Russian way of life. Myers shows when civil war broke out in Chechnya, Putin’s strong-arm tactics and hard line stance against terrorism swung popular opinion his way. Myers shows how Putin’s speeches increasingly harkened back to the worst part of the cold war era. I was most interested in the takeover of the Crimea and Eastern Ukraine. Myers ends the book with the haunting lyrics from a Great Patriotic War song that was conveniently used for the appropriation of the Crimea.
The book is well written and researched and portrays an effective profile of a powerful autocrat. Myers has maintained a neutral portrayal throughout the book. The book is fairly long at about 23 hours. Rene Ruiz did a good job narrating the book.
Overall this was an interesting book but I felt the author was biased or just plain wrong on several key issues. The events surrounding Ukraine, Syria, and Georgia are described with a clear bias towards the western view.
The book is excellent. Very clear. The narrator sounds like a high school kid and can barely, if ever, pronounce a Russian name or word correctly.
I enjoy a good story . I usually listen to a book every month . I love anything by Ken Follett
Loved the way it flowed. The author keeps you interested. I highly recommend this book
Faced with mindless duty, when an audio book player slips into a rear pocket and mini buds pop into ears, old is made new again.
Vladimir Putin is no Tsar. Steven Lee Myers has written a highly polished and informative biography but fails to convince one that Putin is a Tsar. Putin is more Richard Nixon than Catherine the Great. Putin, like Nixon, is smart and thin-skinned. Putin, like Nixon, makes personnel decisions based on loyalty, and views the world in real-politic terms.
Russia is unlikely to be ruled by a Tsar again. Its population is better educated; and aware of the value of qualified freedom. This qualified freedom insures relative social stability, and security. Russia is equally unlikely to return to U. S. S. R.’s hegemonic control of independent nations because ethnic nationalism and the desire for freedom are unquenchable thirsts. Forcing the Ukraine or Georgia to return to the Russian block or quelling Chechen resistance is, in the long run, beyond the military strength of Putin or his successors. Reassembly of a form of the U. S. S. R. is only conceivable based on political accommodation based on economic influence and independent federation.
Just as Watergate exposed the hubris of Nixon, Putin will suffer from the nature of being a flawed human being. Putin, like Nixon, is a great patriot of his country but neither exhibits or exhibited the inner moral compass that make good leaders great leaders.
A telling, disturbing, and engaging book about one of the most interesting men of the 21st century. Absolutely worth the listen. Very well written. Gripping and leaves you wonderful what the future holds for Putin's Russia.
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