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Publisher's Summary

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.

What members say

Average Customer Ratings

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  • ivan
  • seattle, WA, United States
  • 03-01-14

Supreme Chronicle of Murky Times

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
~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.

9 of 9 people found this review helpful

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Great Business Book

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.

5 of 6 people found this review helpful

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  • Philo
  • San Diego, CA, United States
  • 11-11-17

Amazing as economics, history, character study

This gives me the same sensation as a great documentary does: a sense of peering through a window, clean and clear and literal, at the most harrowing and instructive of realities. Here I am, looking over these individuals' shoulders, feeling them tremble, as they face the great questions of their societies' destinies. We find out who heroic figures are, in my sense of the word, when we observe people, perhaps not seemingly touched by greatness to begin with, who must grope as chasms of uncertainty open beneath them, who must build bridges where no clear path or support is evident. Many such characters can be met here, as Russia staggered away from a comprehensively failing socialism, as it is so vividly described here, down to the last rotting tomato in a vast mismanaged distribution center. In econ-tech terms, these stories provide a textbook of internal frictions and agency costs of forced-distributive systems, which brought the ideals of communism staggering clumsily to collapse. At that level, it is easy to see why desperate people must betray the system and furtively grasp for market exchanges to survive. The story does not come all the way to present times, so at least one more book will be needed before I can feel well-briefed. So sad it is, that Russia lurched (perhaps merely due to the speed, but look at China's dissimilar experiment in an only slightly longer time-frame) into a gangster-capitalism, and must await another epoch maybe, for a more humane and balanced system to arrive. But these characters were vaulting across great precipices, fueled by their few capitalist books. This is where ideas are stress-tested and sometimes tested to destruction against fast-breaking realities. There were opportunities everywhere, but risks, oh my!

1 of 1 people found this review helpful

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Unbelievable. Very well researched and written.

Americans need to know how Putin has taken over the Oligarchs' businesses and now has compete control of the media, the key industries, and natural resources. We need to be aware of how such a foreign leader can use these same tactics to infiltrate our democracy.

1 of 1 people found this review helpful

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No judgment by the author for any side is great

no emotions for any side for such a book is very hard, but the author made it.

1 of 1 people found this review helpful

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Great book

Such a great book. Facts very well distributed over each chapter. A never old history of changes in Russia. And coming from Albania it makes the book more interesting for me. A lot of connections between the changes in the two countries

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  • Todd
  • Muskego, WI, United States
  • 12-21-17

Very comprehensive account

This book was well written and very thorough in its account of the rise of the Oligarchs. Perhaps it could have been a little less in depth in some places, as at times the story got quite slow and the overall listen time was quite lengthy. Generally very good, however.

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Russian words are badly mispronounced

Where does The Oligarchs rank among all the audiobooks you’ve listened to so far?

Russian words are badly mispronounced

What was one of the most memorable moments of The Oligarchs?

Russian words are badly mispronounced

How could the performance have been better?

Russian words are badly mispronounced

Did you have an extreme reaction to this book? Did it make you laugh or cry?

Russian words are badly mispronounced

Any additional comments?

Russian words are badly mispronounced

3 of 14 people found this review helpful

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Does author w/ an unimpeachable CV sell out?

What disappointed you about The Oligarchs?

If you are not curious about and haven't independently researched subjects involving 911, Hussein's WMD, NSA operations, Africom, Gulf of Tonkin, Operation Northwoods....the probability is you'll love this title.

I will invest in work I feel places integrity primary, that is balanced and facts based, and claims any potential biases in advance. The Oligarchs is antithetical to these values.

0 of 3 people found this review helpful

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  • El
  • 11-05-14

Excellent book

Would you consider the audio edition of The Oligarchs to be better than the print version?

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.

3 of 3 people found this review helpful

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  • Simon
  • 11-10-16

A great narrative ruined by appalling narration

The author offers a comprehensive story of an amazing period of Russian history.

Unfortunately the whole thing is ruined by the narrator's total lack of ability to pronounce the names of people and places correctly, or even consistently.

I winced my way through 22 hours of what was otherwise an epic narrative.

Shocking, truly shocking.

2 of 2 people found this review helpful

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  • Andrew
  • 03-13-16

Very good

A good book that gives an account of some of the Russian oligarchs antics, fascinating.

1 of 1 people found this review helpful

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  • Lord Peridot
  • 05-23-15

Good book but hard to sustain interest

Excellent reading of book whivh is very well written and researched. Starts well with intersting background material about living in USSR. But found my interest really flagging half way through. Too much detail perhaps and you find it hard to care. Perhaps gets better again towards end, but not sure I will ever get there.

1 of 1 people found this review helpful

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  • martin hetz
  • 04-23-15

Fantastic book!

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.

1 of 1 people found this review helpful