Ten Topical Reads

New, upcoming, and hyped Russia book releases slated for this year/2017, according to Paperback Swap.

Once Upon a Time in Russia: The Rise of the Oligarchs by Ben Mezrich

The New York Times bestselling author of Bringing Down the House and The Accidental Billionaires tells his most incredible story yet: A true drama of obscene wealth, crime, rivalry, and betrayal from deep inside the world of billionaire Russian oligarchs that Booklist called “one more example of just how talented a storyteller [Mezrich] is.”

Meet two larger-than-life Russians: former mathematician Boris Berezovsky, who moved into more lucrative ventures as well as politics, becoming known as the Godfather of the Kremlin; and Roman Abramovich, a dashing young entrepreneur who built one of Russia’s largest oil companies from the ground up.

After a chance meeting on a yacht in the Caribbean, the men became locked in a complex partnership, surfing the waves of privatization after the fall of the Soviet regime and amassing mega fortunes while also taking the reins of power in Russia. With Berezovsky serving as the younger entrepreneur’s krysha—literally, his roof, his protector—they battled their way through the “Wild East” of Russia until their relationship soured when Berezovsky attacked President Vladimir Putin in the media. Dead bodies trailed Berezovsky as he escaped to London, where an associate died painfully of Polonium poisoning, creating an international furor. As Abramovich prospered, Berezovsky was found dead in a luxurious London town house, declared a suicide.

With unprecedented, exclusive first-person sourcing, Mezrich takes us inside a world of unimaginable wealth, power, and corruption to uncover this exciting story, a true-life thriller epic for our time—“Wolf Hall on the Moskva” (Bookpage).

Black Dragon River: A Journey Down the Amur River by Dominic Ziegler

Black Dragon River is a personal journey down one of Asia’s great rivers that reveals the region’s essential history and culture. The world’s ninth largest river, the Amur serves as a large part of the border between Russia and China. As a crossroads for the great empires of Asia, this area offers journalist Dominic Ziegler a lens with which to examine the societies at Europe’s only borderland with east Asia. He follows a journey from the river’s top to bottom, and weaves the history, ecology and peoples to show a region obsessed with the past?and to show how this region holds a key to the complex and critical relationship between Russia and China today.

The long shared history on the Amur has conditioned the way China and Russia behave toward each other?and toward the outside world. To understand Putin?s imperial dreams, we must comprehend Russia?s relationship to its far east and how it still shapes the Russian mind. Not only is the Amur a key to Putinism, its history is also embedded in an ongoing clash of empires with the West.

Garden of Broken Statues: Exploring Censorship in Russia by Marianna Tax Choldin

Captivated at a young age by Russia, Marianna Tax Choldin immersed herself as a student at the University of Chicago in that country’s language and culture. In her book she describes the tension between her strong commitment to freedom of expression and her growing understanding of Russian and Soviet censorship. Fluent in Russian, she travels widely in post-Soviet Russia, speaking with hundreds of Russians about their own censorship history. She writes of the close friendships she formed in Russia, and reflects on her Jewish roots in the country her family had left behind 100 years earlier.

Near Abroad: Putin, the West, and the Contest for Russia’s Rimlands by Gerard Toal

Vladimir Putin’s intervention into the Georgia/South Ossetia conflict in summer 2008 was quickly recognized by Western critics as an attempt by Russia to increase its presence and power in the “near abroad”, or the independent states of the former Soviet Union that Russia still regards as its wards. Though the global economic recession that began in 2008 moved the incident to the back of the world’s mind, Russia surged to the forefront again six years later when they invaded the heavily Russian Crimea in Ukraine and annexed it. In contrast to the earlier Georgia episode, this new conflict has generated a crisis of global proportions, forcing European countries to rethink their relationship with Russia and their reliance on it for energy supplies, as Russia was now squeezing natural gas from what is technically Ukraine.

In Near Abroad, the eminent political geographer Gerard Toal analyzes Russia’s recent offensive actions in the near abroad, focusing in particular on the ways in which both the West and Russia have relied on Cold War-era rhetorical and emotional tropes that distort as much as they clarify. In response to Russian aggression, US critics quickly turned to tried-and-true concepts like “spheres of influence” to condemn the Kremlin. Russia in turn has brought back its long tradition of criticizing western liberalism and degeneracy to grandly rationalize its behavior in what are essentially local border skirmishes. It is this tendency to resort to the frames of earlier eras that has led the conflicts to “jump scales,” moving from the regional to the global level in short order. The ambiguities and contradictions that result when nations marshal traditional geopolitical arguments-rooted in geography, territory, and old understandings of distance-further contributes to the escalation of these conflicts. Indeed, Russia’s belligerence toward Georgia stemmed from concern about its possible entry into NATO, an organization of states thousands of miles away. American hawks also strained credulity by portraying Georgia as a nearby ally in need of assistance. Similarly, the threat of NATO to the Ukraine looms large in the Kremlin’s thinking, and many Ukrainians themselves self-identify with the West despite their location in Eastern Europe.

Russia’s Addiction: How Oil, Gas, and the Soviet Legacy Have Shaped a Nation’s Fate by Clifford G. Gaddy

Russia’s dependence on its oil and gas wealth is much deeper than generally recognized. Since their privatization in the 1990s, a small number of oligarchs have taken control of the economy, and the fates of millions of Russians. Vladimir Putin’s system of personal protection has been successful in keeping peace among these oligarchs and Russia’s industrial heartland—but can it continue?
In Russia’s Addiction, Clifford Gaddy and Barry Ickes argue that the country’s addiction to oil and gas are a comparable to a physiological compulsion—the country understands that it is destroying itself by continuing down this road, but is unable to stop. They investigate the country’s dependence on oil, and how Putin manages to run his corrupt system, focusing on keeping oligarchs happy and expecting their full support in return. And they ask the important question: What will happen to this system when Putin is gone?

Eurasian Disunion: Russia’s Vulnerable Flanks by Janusz Bugajski, Margarita Assenova

Eurasian Disunion: Russia’s Vulnerable Flanks examines the impact of Moscow’s neo-imperial project on the security of several regions bordering the Russian Federation, analyses the geopolitical aspects of Kremlin ambitions, and makes recommendations for the future role of NATO, the EU, and the United States in the Wider Europe.

Russia’s attack on Ukraine and the dismemberment of its territory is not an isolated operation. It constitutes one component of a broader strategic agenda to rebuild a Moscow-centered bloc designed to compete with the West. The acceleration of President Vladimir Putin’s neo-imperial project has challenged the security of several regions that border the Russian Federation and focused attention on the geopolitical aspects of Kremlin ambitions.

This book is intended to generate a more informed policy debate on the dangers stemming from the restoration of a Russian-centered “pole of power” or “sphere of influence” in Eurasia. It focuses on five vulnerable flanks bordering the Russian Federation—the Baltic and Nordic zones, East Central Europe, Southeast Europe, South Caucasus, and Central Asia. It examines several pivotal questions, including the strategic objectives of Moscow’s expansionist ambitions; Kremlin tactics and capabilities; the impact of Russia’s assertiveness on the national security of neighbors; the responses of vulnerable states to Russia’s geopolitical ambitions; the impact of prolonged regional turmoil on the stability of the Russian Federation and the survival of the Putinist regime; and the repercussions of heightened regional tensions for U.S., NATO, and EU policy toward Russia and toward unstable regions bordering the Russian Federation.

From Russia with Drugs by David Walsh

It was the story that shocked the world: Russian athletics was revealed to be corrupt from top to bottom, with institutionalised doping used to help the nation’s athletes win medals they did not truly deserve. There had always been suspicions, but now WADA had the clearest evidence of what had gone on. As a result, Russia was banned from international athletics until they could show that they were competing clean. With the Rio Olympics imminent, it was a shattering blow to the country’s prestige. At the heart of it all, however, was a very personal story of a couple who had risked everything. Vitaliy Stepanov had been part of the Russian anti-doping squad, and during his work he had met and fallen in love with Yuliya, one of the country’s most promising 800m athletes. But soon Vitaliy discovered that his bride was not all she seemed: she was taking performance-enhancing drugs. It could have been the end of their relationship, but instead they decided they would reveal the scale and the scope of the corruption in Russian athletics – the bribes, the drugs, the abuse. At enormous personal risk to their marriage and even their lives, they recorded and filmed athletes and officials involved in the scandal, and then escaped to Germany to pass on their devastating evidence. Now, with award-winning journalist David Walsh, the man who broke the Lance Armstrong story, they reveal the full truth of what went on in Russia, and the corrupt system that surrounded everything they did. But it is not only an unrivalled and comprehensive account of the biggest sporting scandal, it is a warm and human story of a couple fighting to tell the truth and to save their family at the same time. 

Power Politics How China and Russia Reshape the World by Rob de Wijk

We tend to think of ourselves as living in a time when nations, for the most part, obey the rule of law and where they certainly don’t engage in the violent grabs for territory that have characterized so much of human history. But as Rob de Wijk shows in this book, power politics remains very much a force on the international scene. Offering analyses of such actions as Putin’s annexation of the Crimea and China’s attempts to claim large parts of the South China Sea, de Wijk explains why power politics never truly went away and why, as the West’s position weakens, it’s likely to play a bigger and bigger role on the global stage in the coming years.

Vodka Politics: Alcohol Autocracy and the Secret History of the Russian State by Mark Lawrence Schrad

Russia is famous for its vodka, and its culture of extreme intoxication. But just as vodka is central to the lives of many Russians, it is also central to understanding Russian history and politics. — In Vodka Politics, Mark Lawrence Schrad argues that debilitating societal alcoholism is not hard-wired into Russians’ genetic code, but rather their autocratic political system, which has long wielded vodka as a tool of statecraft. Through a series of historical investigations stretching from Ivan the Terrible through Vladimir Putin, Vodka Politics presents the secret history of the Russian state itself-a history that is drenched in liquor. Scrutinizing (rather than dismissing) the role of alcohol in Russian politics yields a more nuanced understanding of Russian history itself: from palace intrigues under the tsars to the drunken antics of Soviet and post-Soviet leadership, vodka is there in abundance.

Beyond vivid anecdotes, Schrad scours original documents and archival evidence to answer provocative historical questions. How have Russia’s rulers used alcohol to solidify their autocratic rule? What role did alcohol play in tsarist coups? Was Nicholas II’s ill-fated prohibition a catalyst for the Bolshevik Revolution? Could the Soviet Union have become a world power without liquor? How did vodka politics contribute to the collapse of both communism and public health in the 1990s? How can the Kremlin overcome vodka’s hurdles to produce greater social well-being, prosperity, and democracy into the future?

Viewing Russian history through the bottom of the vodka bottle helps us to understand why the “liquor question” remains important to Russian high politics even today-almost a century after the issue had been put to bed in most every other modern state. Indeed, recognizing and confronting vodka’s devastating political legacies may be the greatest political challenge for this generation of Russia’s leadership, as well as the next.

Beyond Crimea: The New Russian Empire by Agnia Grigas

How will Russia redraw post-Soviet borders? In the wake of recent Russian expansionism, political risk expert Agnia Grigas illustrates how for more than two decades Moscow has consistently used its compatriots in bordering nations for its territorial ambitions. Demonstrating how this policy has been implemented in Ukraine and Georgia, Grigas provides cutting-edge analysis of the nature of Vladimir Putin’s foreign policy and compatriot protection to warn that Moldova, Kazakhstan, the Baltic States, and others are also at risk. 

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2 comments

  1. Short comment here. Really short.

    These books are pure cancer. Weep for the fallen trees. And then kill them with fire.

    Like

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