Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Review: The Man Without a Face by Masha Gessen

Title: The Man Without a Face
Author: Masha Gessen
Format: Audiobook
Publisher: Riverhead / Blackstone Audio
Publish Date: March 1, 2012
Source: Library

Why You're Reading This Book:

  • You like international politics.
  • You're a history fan.
  • You like biographies.
What's the Story?:

From Goodreads.com: "The Man Without a Face is the chilling account of how a low- level, small-minded KGB operative ascended to the Russian presidency and, in an astonishingly short time, destroyed years of progress and made his country once more a threat to her own people and to the world.

Handpicked as a successor by the "family" surrounding an ailing and increasingly unpopular Boris Yeltsin, Vladimir Putin seemed like a perfect choice for the oligarchy to shape according to its own designs. Suddenly the boy who had stood in the shadows, dreaming of ruling the world, was a public figure, and his popularity soared. Russia and an infatuated West were determined to see the progressive leader of their dreams, even as he seized control of media, sent political rivals and critics into exile or to the grave, and smashed the country's fragile electoral system, concentrating power in the hands of his cronies.

As a journalist living in Moscow, Masha Gessen experienced this history firsthand, and for The Man Without a Face she has drawn on information and sources no other writer has tapped. Her account of how a "faceless" man maneuvered his way into absolute-and absolutely corrupt-power has the makings of a classic of narrative nonfiction."

My Two Cents:

Vladimir Putin is sort of an enigma. It's hard to know what to make of him. Who is he? What is his background? How did this person who rose from the bottom of the KGB come to be such a long term fixture in Russian politics? This book looks at all this and more. Told from the perspective of a journalist (Masha Gessen), the book brings together the personalities and the events of recent Russian history.

I didn't know much about Putin at all before listening to this book except for the fact that first he was Prime Minister of Russia and then he stepped aside for Dmitri Medvedyev, only to come back as Prime Minister fairly recently. In Political Science terms, this would be looked at as an observation in how Russia isn't quite fully democratic and may be sliding backwards in the political freedom department.

The book recounts Putin's early biography from his childhood to his career as a KGB operative to his political rise through his controversial political career all against the backdrop of a vastly and quickly changing country. It was interesting to see how just being in the "right place at the right time" contributed to his rise. A lot of his background I didn't know. He was sort of a weird guy, just sort of off kilter and I thought it was really interesting to see that.

Some parts of the book were very hard to listen to. There were many political gaffes where people's lives hung in the balance and yet no action was taken (the Kursk (sp?) submarine issue, the Chechen school issue, the taking of the Moscow theater). I had forgotten about a lot of these events and how Putin handled or did not handle the books. It was sort of crazy to see how by trying to make himself look good, Putin would step on anyone that was in his way.

I feel like this book gave me a much better insight into why Russian politics and Russia itself are the way that they are. So much of Russia's recent history has been entangled with one man, that being Putin.

The audiobook version of this book is great. The narrator did a good job with all of the different accents of the people in the book.

Bottom line: History and politics lovers will enjoy this book.



  1. I would love to read this one. I'm glad you enjoyed the audiobook.

  2. Putin is a very interesting figure, and I'm glad to hear this was a worthwhile read! It's probably not one I would have grabbed on my own, but my interest is piqued.

    1. He's just really strange to me. I definitely felt like I got a better understanding of him though through this book.

  3. This sounds really interesting. I am definitely going to have to pick it up.

    1. It's pretty fascinating. I definitely learned a lot.

  4. I've always been interested in Putin and have followed his... interesting travel thought politics over the past few years. I'm gonna have to put a request for this one in the library-- learning someone's past can definitely explain a lot of their present.

    1. I fully agree. You can definitely see why he is the way he is through some of the things that he encounters in his life.


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