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Darkness at Dawn: The Rise of the Russian Criminal State First Edition Edition

4.6 out of 5 stars 19 customer reviews
ISBN-13: 978-0300098921
ISBN-10: 0300098928
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Editorial Reviews


".... [A] humane and articulate attempt to record the consciousness of ordinary Russians waking up to an unrecognizable historical reality." -- Raymond Asquith, The Spectator (U.K)

".... [V]ivid, impeccably researched and truly frightening." -- Martin Sieff, United Press International/Washington Times

"Satter has.... a reporter's eye for vivid detail and a novelist's ability to capture emotion." -- Robert Legvold, Foreign Affairs

"This brave engaging book should be required reading for anyone interested in the post-Soviet state." -- Newsweek

David Satter must be commended for saying what a great many people only dare to think." -- Matthew Brzezinski, The Toronto Globe and Mail

[Satter]. . . .describes, more compellingly than any abstract theorist could, the consequences of nominal freedom without rule of law. -- Michael Potemra, National Review

From the Publisher

Also Available by David Satter: Age of Delirium

Product Details

  • Hardcover: 336 pages
  • Publisher: Yale University Press; First Edition edition (April 10, 2003)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0300098928
  • ISBN-13: 978-0300098921
  • Product Dimensions: 9.3 x 6.4 x 1.1 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.4 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (19 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,262,584 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover
David Satter has done a masterful job of exposing the horrifying, pervasive dark side of life in Russia today. The distinctions to be made between politicians, business executives, law enforcement officials and gangsters are often blurred, thanks to a virtual absence of rule of law. The average Russian citizen cannot even afford to trust the cop who walks past him down the street, lest he be shaken down then and there, or taken to jail and held until willing to pay a large bribe to be released.

The author explains that, as the Iron Curtain fell, the powers that be, who had a strong systems orientation (the Communist system was the Russians' diet for seven decades), maintained that systems orientation when they embraced capitalism. Leaders of the post-Gorbachev reform movement blindly assumed that all that was needed to introduce free market mechanisms was to ensure that all property and assets got into private hands. The huge weakness in this approach was the failure to understand the importance of first introducing rule of law. As a result, former Communist Party bigwigs and factory owners set up shadow "daughter" companies to acquire vast business empires for next to nothing; they then funneled profits into offshore bank accounts. Gangs then moved in and extorted protection money from businesses large and small... from large aluminum smelters, down to corner kiosks selling cigarettes. These gangs served as the "roof" to thousands of businesses. With cash flow drained off to Switzerland, employees of these enterprises then went weeks, if not months, without pay. Living conditions fell below even the grim levels experienced during the Second World War: malnutrition skyrocketed and life expectancy dwindled to Third World levels.
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Format: Hardcover
This is an absolutely riveting book that well describes the absolute mess that Russia has been in the past 15 years. Satter sugar-coats nothing, and quite appropriately does not strive for "balance" by including any "feel-good" stories. Reading this book will of course not let you know the ordinary moments of happiness that Russians (like all people) feel, but this is because Satter is writing about the economic and political structures of Russia, which really do cause nothing but misery for the vast majority of Russians. This book is valuable precisely because it does not flinch from the darkness. It is a pure chronicle of suffering, something which may be "uncool" among writers these days but which corresponds well to the ordinary person's situation in Russia. Satter also does not make the mistake that so many Russia-watchers do; that of making a false distinction between the "good reformers" and the "bad Putin". They are all actually the same gang.

That being said, I can't give this book 5 stars because underneath the wonderful expository writing I can sense a vaguely repulsive thesis: that Russians are the way they are because of their unique "moral failings". All readers should be aware that Satter was financed by the Scaife crew. This probably makes Darkness at Dawn by far the best book ever funded by these fanatics, but I can't help but wonder if this funding came at a small cost. Why, for instance, does Satter not mention that cronyism, viciousness and lack of concern for human life hardly stops when one exits the borders of the old USSR? Why is he so reluctant to place even a smidgen of the blame on the army of Western advisors and pundits that helped to create and still apologize for the "shock treatment" reform? Do we not live in a global economy these days?
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9 Comments 62 of 72 people found this helpful. Was this review helpful to you? Yes No Sending feedback...
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Format: Hardcover
After reading this book, I recalled the final scene from George Orwell's Animal Farm. This was the one where the supposedly benevolent pigs who were in charge of the farm sat down with the humans, but when the other animals looked in, they could not tell the difference between them all.
In other words, I'm beginning to think that the Russians traded one system of oppression for another when they rallied behind Boris Yeltsin in August 1991. That is the impression that I get from reading "Darkness at Dawn." I have an undergraduate degree in Russian and Soviet Studies, so I knew that the Russians had a huge problem with mafias and corruption, but I had no idea that it was bad as the picture painted by the author here.
Satter tells us how bad and mobbed up the "new" Russia is with a series of anecdotes, from the tragic and avoidable deaths of the crew of the Kursk to the appalling deaths of ordinary Muscovites unlucky enough to fall into sinkholes full of scalding hot water created by defective pipes that burst.
But for me, the most disturbing story is the allegation that it was not the Chechens who were behind the series of apartment house bombings that happened in 1999, which provided the Russian government with a justification for attacking Chechnya. Satter presents evidence that suggests that it might just have been the Russian government itself that did this, in order to distract the people and more or less make Vladimir Putin's ascension to power irrevocable.
I pride myself on being profoundly skeptical of conspiracy theories. But knowing what I know about the corrupt system of government in Russia (something discussed in Handelman's "Comrade Criminal" as well), I find myself really wondering. I really, really do.
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