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Publisher's Summary

On November 1, 2006, journalist and Russian dissident Alexander Litvinenko was poisoned in London. He died 22 days later. The cause of death? Polonium - a rare, lethal, and highly radioactive substance. Here Luke Harding unspools a real-life political assassination story complete with KGB, CIA, MI6, and Russian mobsters. He shows how Litvinenko's murder foreshadowed the killings of other Kremlin critics, from Washington, DC, to Moscow, and how these are tied to Russia's current misadventures in Ukraine and Syria. In doing so he becomes a target himself and unearths a chain of corruption and death leading straight to Vladimir Putin. From his investigations of the downing of flight MH17 to the Panama Papers, Harding sheds a terrifying light on Russia's fracturing relationship with the West.

©2017 Luke Harding (P)2017 Random House Audio

Critic Reviews

"Harding's exposé, shortlisted for the CWA Nonfiction Dagger Award, could not be more chilling or timely.... A devastating and disturbing must-read." ( Booklist)
"A chilling look at the Putin regime's murderous suppression of its critics.... In this fast-paced book, Harding, who was expelled from the Kremlin while serving as the Guardian's Moscow bureau chief, covers all the bases while exposing the weakness and accommodationism of the now-departed British leadership. Hard-hitting and timely given Russia's continued sway in international politics as well as its documented influence over an incoming American administration that is also hostile to the press." ( Kirkus )
"Extraordinarily pacy...one of the best political thrillers I have come across in years." ( The Evening Standard)

What members say

Average Customer Ratings

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Glad I gave it a chance

The narrator was excellent but the story is complex and doesn't always follow chronological order which can make it a little hard to follow, be prepared to pay attention. Very relevant reading considering current events.

5 of 5 people found this review helpful

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It's probably just me

The book was well-researched and informative. And I really like Nicholas Guy Smith as a narrator. I feel I did get what I expected out of the book, though I think I'll have to listen to it again at some point because I frequently found my mind wandering and I forgot to pay attention for several minutes at a time. Sometimes it was because the author raised an interesting point that caused me to ponder further, but other times I think I just got a little bogged down and ultimately lost in the facts and details. I also had a little trouble remembering who some people were, so in that respect a physical book might've helped me. I think this might be a good one to get the kindle edition as a companion.

4 of 4 people found this review helpful

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A very informative book.

I loved this book. I heard of it through an NPR interview of the author. I drive for a living, so audio is best for me; which leads me to the only tiny issue I had. I'm new to audio books so following a reader with a British accent was a slight challenge for me at first. I got use to it after the first 2 chapters... other than that.... it was wonderful and a very informative book and listening experience.

7 of 8 people found this review helpful

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Clear parsing of complex story

This 2016 book, unfortunately, remains all too relevant and has a ripped from the headlines feel. Harding has not only recounts (with all materials available at the time of printing) the events that lead up to the murder of Alexander Litvinenko in particular, but more generally looks at the events that have shaped Russia under Vladimir Putin. This includes a truncated explanation of the fall of the USSR and the birth of Russia, how the assets that used to belong to the state were divvied up among the Oligarchs, the failure of any nascent democracy in Russia, Putin's improbable rise and eventual consolidation of power, and workings and tenor of present-day Russia under Putin. For a one-stop-shop to get a broader understanding of Russia and Putin, this works quite well. If you are looking for a purely true crime novel about Litvinenko's murder, or if you want a realpolitik exploration of Russian aims and aggression, this book will either be too expansive (if you want the former) or too superficial (if you want the latter).

That said, Harding is a solid journalist. His prose is crisp and engaging, and he often does a very good job of explaining convoluted and confusing events. His willingness to not only explore Litvinenko's life, and how it eventually led him to England, but also larger topics underpinning the case (such as the aforementioned history of the USSR/Russia, Russian corruption, and Russia's weapons program) enriches the reader's understanding of the murder and of Putin. My one complaint is that I did not always understand where the story was going. Harding did not approach this purely in chronological order--starting with discussions of the eventual murder, then examining Litvinenko and how he came to England, then (after the murder is carried out) rewinding to discuss the sources of the poison and how it wound its way to England, and then jumping forward again to talk about the struggle of bringing the killers to justice (still outstanding) and holding an Inquest (completed). I'm not sure how I would have organized it, but the jumping around was off-putting. Nonetheless, a very good book and excellent insight in Putin's tactics of eliminating opposition by any means necessary.

2 of 2 people found this review helpful

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Unbelievably convincing.

Most of this book reads like a espionage novel, with amazingly accurate details into state directed assassination, poison snuggled across borders, and the comedy of horribly picked stooges. It is saddening to know that political interests prevented any justice in this high profile murder, and the meticulate details provided herein only support my distaste for political actors.

2 of 2 people found this review helpful

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  • Gillian
  • Austin, TX, United States
  • 02-03-17

Cover-To-Cover, This'll Have You Mindblown!

Who can forget the iconic photo of Litvinenko, gaunt, bald, dying in his hospital bed, the victim of the most chilling kind of assassination straight out of a le Carre spy novel? It's haunting.
This expose will leave you reeling. You don't even feel the 13+ hours going by as it's such a gripping, horrifying tale of threats made real, of NEVER being able to speak your mind, to speak of anything.
It's a tale of mobsters, of comical (if they weren't so deadly) assassins, of archaic poisons and your run-of-the-mill bullets to the head. It's an account of radiation leaving near-fatal trails, of dedicated and always thwarted detectives, of courtroom dramas. It's of vindication that means absolutely nothing.
You think Putin is scary? Read/listen to this book and you'll have nightmares.
Meticulously researched by a journalist who lived in Russia and had his apartment broken into and bugged many times, this is a throat-grabbing (literally for some victims) story that is well-crafted, and superbly narrated. The evidence laid out is astounding, and when it's iffy, it's specifically stated as "circumstantial".
And it'll mean nothing, nothing to governments...

32 of 42 people found this review helpful

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Fascinating, well researched.

Reads like a good novel, ties in the whole Putin period. well researched from someone who's lived there for over a decade.

4 of 5 people found this review helpful

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  • Richard
  • NEW YORK, NY, US
  • 03-14-17

A Non-Fiction Thriller

A Very Expensive Poison is a thrilling and eye-opening account of an historically unprecedented murder that, remarkably, British Justice has officially linked to the current Russian President. The book is an incredibly drawn, multi-angled reconstruction of the infamous crime itself, the poisoning of a political dissident, Alexander Litvinenko, in central London with the most radioactive substance known to man. Meticulously researched, the book recounts the moving personal stories of the victim and his family as well as the stories of the bottom feeding perpetrators, a cast of characters lightyears beyond the power and villainy imagined in The Godfather.

It is all there: finely drawn portraits of thugs as well as those highly placed on the world stage (and unfortunate combinations of the two). You will never forget the victim whose idealism, love of country, and inborn dignity blinds, or inures, him to the inevitably lethal consequences of dissent.A Very Expensive Poison, through its accounts of the factual actions and brutal methods of political actors whose influence over not only over Russia but also England, Europe and America is only growing, could not be more timely or informative. It is essential reading for everyone seeking deeper insights into the present darkening of world politics.

8 of 11 people found this review helpful

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Gripping and tragic story

I’d always been fascinated by the poisoning of Alexander Litvinenko and eagerly purchased this recording to learn about it - not knowing how much more than that I would receive. This story provides a clear portrait of the world menace that is Vladimir Putin: it is a highly listenable account into the maze of corruption and amorality that grips his country, our own, and sadly now much of the world. A great find.

1 of 1 people found this review helpful

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Better Than Fiction

It would impossible to write a review that would to this book justice. A simply incredible story of Russia, Putin, and Putin's international criminal organization. The US, our allies, and the world would be unwise to take our eyes off Putin. He is an evil individual with pretty much unlimited resources at his disposal.

1 of 1 people found this review helpful