• The New Tsar

  • The Rise and Reign of Vladimir Putin
  • By: Steven Lee Myers
  • Narrated by: René Ruiz
  • Length: 22 hrs and 55 mins
  • 4.5 out of 5 stars (1,955 ratings)

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Publisher's Summary

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

Critic Reviews

"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)

What listeners say about The New Tsar

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  • Overall
    4 out of 5 stars
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    4 out of 5 stars
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    4 out of 5 stars

A retelling of facts without much added info

Any additional comments?

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.

47 people found this helpful

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    3 out of 5 stars
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1st half... 5 stars. 2nd half... absolute trash!!!

This is New York Times authored. The same people that brought you four years of "orange man bad", "Russia, Russia, Russia", critical race theory and other such nonsense tell you what to think about Putin. Since you seemingly cannot find any neutral books on Audible about him, you have to take the bad with the good and accept what's available.

First off, I am shocked that there is actually A LOT of good. I expected this entire book to be trash and it wasn't. The first 12 hours were incredibly interesting, very informative and consistently neutral. The first eight hours is Putin's heritage, his rise through the ranks of the intelligence service and how he became involved with Boris Yeltsin. Hours 8-12 are the first few years of his presidency and his difficulties in Chechnya.

At hour 12, it's like The New York Times fired the author, threw away the rest of his manuscript and filled in 12 hours of orange man bad written by activists, only substituting Putin for Trump. It's absolute garbage.

Thinking I could still learn something & desperately wanted to, I powered through it regardless. Much of this is about Putin persecuting "innocent" victims. I'm talking about innocent victims such as...  pro-Democracy NGOs (who involve themselves in other countries' elections and one is modelled on a George Sros group), "peaceful" protesters (aiming to overthrow governments and the author admits incidents of throwing chunks of asphalt at police), news corporations (doing divisive antagonistic coverage ala CNN), oligarchs (with left-wing agendas given REPEATED warnings to stay with business and not get involved in politics) and Pssy Riot (those ski-mask wearing girls who stormed an Orthox church in order to blast the attendants with Putin-hating Punk music). These are the author's "victims". Putin got laws passed, jailed many of these people and he also engaged in lawfare to sue these people very badly. Listening to the author, you'd think you were hearing of Stalin putting millions of people on trains, shipping them off to the Gulag and starving them to death. Putin is actually very restrained in comparison to the dictators he supposedly resembles.

Another part of this is the whining about Putin being autocratic. This country did in fact experiment with democracy and an amazing degree of openness through Gorbachev and Yeltsin. The author does admit this was indeed a catastrophic disaster that tore the nation apart, led to extreme political chaos, an economy in shambles and had the government's assets sold off to oligarchs for pennies on the dollar. Putin reversed this, saving the country and the economy with political stability and wealth. We have constant cries of bloody murder from the author that Putin went back on democracy & openness... yet it was clearly what saved his country.

This book shoved tons of theories & dogmas down my throat so I'm going to share the one I got out of this book. I got the distinct impression that the left doesn't want democracy in Russia, they simply want the constraints on Putin's leadership that would come with democracy. They are viewing political & economic openess as a Trojan horse that would allow them to exploit any constraints on Putin. After a group stays for awhile, it can become the equivalent of say... the mass media, or the US school system, or Hollywood, or silicon valley.

It seems they are trying hard and it sounds like Putin is very effective in stopping this as an autocrat. That's why you constantly hear complaints that he's too much of a dictator. You hear from the author that Putin talks plenty about western interference & subversion from such groups. But the author wastes no opportunity in calling that a far-fetched conspiracy theory and these groups are nothing but benevolent. Yeah, I'm sure. Nothing but sunshine and rainbows if Putin turns to democracy and submits himself to the liberal agenda. I actually think he is very smart to stay autocratic under these circumstances.

There was one particular point that amazed me was when the author dismissively references Putin raising GDP per Capita from $1000/yr to $10,000 per year (it was $1772 in 2000 when Putin took office to a high point in 2013 at $15,975 and has since went down to about $10,000). But several sentences later he goes into a long disparaging rant about Russian citizens having to pay officials bribes and how it makes the country so horribly intolerable to live in. Anybody else see the contradiction here?

A final thing the author biases is Chechnya. Extremists went directly to Moscow and started blowing up apartment buildings, taking hostages, using suicide bombers, killing hundreds and threatening thousands of innocent people. The author cries in despair that we couldn't mediate peaceful resolution afterward. This was Russia's 9/11. Putin feels just as strongly about Islamic terrorism & extremism as people in the US do. The author mentions all this and then acts like it's simply unreasonable & bloodthirsty to wage war against those responsible.

Anyway, this second half was just biased in every possible way and absolute torture to get myself through. It took me perhaps a month when the first half took me a couple days. I would not recommend most people trying to trudge through that. If you're wondering whether to spend a credit, completely disregard that a second half of this book even exists. There's 12 good hours in the first half and it covers a period up to Putin's early presidency. If that sounds like a good deal to you, than go for it. The first half will be a good listen.

9 people found this helpful

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    4 out of 5 stars
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Good book. Crappy narrator

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.

6 people found this helpful

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Putin's Professional Career

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.

20 people found this helpful

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Presents the complexities of Russia & Putin

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.


16 people found this helpful

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Interesting

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.

28 people found this helpful

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Outgunned and Outmatched

This book is very well done. Yes, it is long and it does get into some political minutia, but it is a really comprehensive view of Putin...his 'accidental' rise to power and his iron grip on a country who's now looking to undermine Western democracies.

Even though Putin is an accidental Czar, he is ruthless and calculating. It's all about the money. You can see how terribly outgunned the US is now with an orange clown 'negotiating' with the former KGB mastermind. The USA has been totally powned by Russia.

Bottom line, get someone to test your 'tea' for you before you take a sip.

2 people found this helpful

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Biased on several important topics

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.

8 people found this helpful

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Russia is not Texas with more snow

Reveals more than Putin -- reveals Russia. Creates a bigger picture of culture and values deeply part of Russia DNA

11 people found this helpful

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Great read

Loved the way it flowed. The author keeps you interested. I highly recommend this book

4 people found this helpful