A brilliant investigative marrative: How six average Soviet men rose to the pinnacle of Russia's battered economy. David Hoffman, former Moscow bureau chief for The Washington Post, sheds light onto the hidden lives of Russia's most feared power brokers: the oligarchs. Focusing on six of these ruthless men Hoffman reveals how a few players managed to take over Russia's cash-strapped economy and then divvy it up in loans-for-shares deals. Before perestroika, these men were normal Soviet citizens, stuck in a dead-end system, claustrophobic apartments, and long bread lines. But as Communism loosened, they found gaps in the economy and reaped huge fortunes by getting their hands on fast money. They were entrepreneurs. As the government weakened and their businesses flourished, they grew greedier. Now the stakes were higher. The state was auctioning off its own assets to the highest bidder.
The tycoons go on wild borrowing sprees, taking billions of dollars from gullible western lenders. Meanwhile, Russia is building up a debt bomb. When the ruble finally collapses and Russia defaults, the tycoons try to save themselves by hiding their assets and running for cover. They turn against one another as each one faces a stark choice - annihilate or be annihilated. The story of the old Russia was spies, dissidents, and missiles. This is the new Russia, where civil society and the rule of law have little or no meaning.
©2002, 2003, 2011 David E. Hoffman (P)2014 Audible, Inc.
This is by far the best book on this period of Russian history that I have encountered.
The author struggling to present a complex economic/social history to the general reader faces two potential pitfalls. One is to simplify everything to the point of being patronizing. The other is to air on the side of the more technical information that will be alienating to non-academic readers and take away from the human narrative.
This book avoids both of these risks and strikes a perfect balance between stories of men who advanced in this tumultuous period and the systematic/structural shifts that allowed for their rise.
We all know that command economy has failed in the Soviet Union but this book explains why it did without becoming technical or dull. We all know that oligarchs rose from the ashes of the empire, this book explains how they did. We are all familiar with the pervasive corruption in Russia, this book shows how corruption was used to wield power by the mayor of Moscow and the Kremlin itself.
The old historical debate pits those who believe that men make history versus the scholars who emphasize structural forces that toss around the lives of people who are not important in on of themselves. The truth most intelligent people grasp instinctively is that history is made in a messy struggle, the Yin and Yang, between the fates of individuals and larger historical forces. Each trying to define the other.
You want find a better story of this struggle than David Hoffman's book.
~Ivan's Shady Existence Blog
A word about the narrator. As a native Russian speaker hearing him pronounce Russian names and words is like hearing someone scratch the chalk board. Obviously the pronunciation of Russian words in an American book will not be precise. I wouldn't be asking for that. But the emphasis is sometimes shifted so much that the original Russian name or word becomes unrecognizable.
Imagine listening to a Russian book where the name George Bush would be pronounced as "Dzorge Push"
When it comes to the flow of the book the narration is perfect but its a shame that no one familiar with the Russian language was consulted on the narration to make it a little better.
The story of what went on in Russia at the end of the 1980's and early 1990's is fascinating. Nature abhor's a vacuum to be sure. Exactly how assets were transferred is mind boggling.
The books tells the detailed story of what exactly happened to Russia's economy and state before and after the end of Soviet era. The book goes from the first realizations the system was failing, the reforms that unleashed a torrent of money-making initiatives, legal or not, and the intricated web of the 90s when state, oligarchs and media were all involved in complex and shady financial schemes while competing for power. It is a very wide and intricate string of events to relate in a single book. Nevertheless, the author manages to treat it with depth and clarity, either in a narration from a 'person' perspective or the explanation of nationwide changes and financial operations. Very interesting read to finally make sense of the history of Russia at that period.
Such a great book! Hoffman had close and intimate access to all the power brokers, and shares the stories of quick money, politics, connections over this 10 or so year period as Russia moved from communism to something entirely different.
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