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First Person: An Astonishingly Frank Self-Portrait by Russia's President Paperback – May 5, 2000

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Editorial Reviews Review

The product of six interviews conducted by Russian journalists (and translated into English by Catherine A. Fitzpatrick), First Person is a book-length Q&A session in which Russian president Vladimir Putin discusses his childhood, his life as a spy, and his surprisingly rapid rise as a politician in the 1990s. Parts of this unusual autobiography are plainly banal (he weighs 165 pounds and likes beer), but interspersed throughout are candid comments by one of the world's most powerful men. Putin admits that he didn't know much about Stalin's violent purges in the 1930s when he joined the KGB ("I was a pure and utterly successful product of Soviet patriotic education"). He also scolds Soviet leaders for the invasions of Hungary and Czechoslovakia during the cold war: "These were major mistakes. And the Russophobia that we see in Eastern Europe today is the fruit of those mistakes." At another point, he expresses frustration with some of the things critics have said about him: "Why have they made up so much about me? It's complete nonsense!" On the war in Chechnya, he is predictably defensive: "I was convinced that if we didn't stop the extremists right away, we'd be facing a second Yugoslavia on the entire territory of the Russian Federation--the Yugoslavization of Russia.... We are not attacking. We are defending ourselves." There's also an interview with his wife, who, when asked if her husband ever gets drunk, responds: "There hasn't been any of that." (After Yeltsin, this is apparently of concern to Russians.) The interviewers also ask her whether he ever looks at other women. She replies with a question of her own, intriguingly: "Well, what sort of man would he be, if he weren't attracted by beautiful women?" But Putin is, appropriately, the main show. Readers interested in Russian politics will want to review the final pages closely, as the president discourses on contemporary topics. Confronted with tough questions about Russia's treatment of a journalist who filed negative stories about Chechnya, Putin says, "We interpret freedom of expression in different ways." That's a KGB man talking--and yet another reason Putin is worth watching. --John J. Miller

From Publishers Weekly

Prior to his sudden rise to the Russian presidency, Putin was virtually a mystery; this transcript of recent interviews goes a long way toward filling the blanks in his past. In eight chapters of q&a, punctuated with anecdotes from friends and family members, Putin recounts his boyhood in St. Petersburg (then Leningrad), the three years he spent as a KGB intelligence officer in Dresden, his return to the collapsed USSR and decision to enter politics and, finally, the day Boris Yeltsin asked him to take up the Kremlin reins. In Russia, this slim volume surfaced quickly during the brief interim between Yeltsin's resignation and the March elections. But rather than focusing on his political views and ideology, the interviewers devote the bulk of the text to Putin's biography--an indication of just how unknown the new Russian president is to his constituency. And the book succeeds in humanizing the uncharismatic politician. Through his childhood memories, readers learn that the gaunt, stoic man in the newsreels was once a spunky teen cruising the streets of Leningrad in search of girls and judo matches and dreaming of being a Soviet secret agent. Putin, it would seem, was just the socialist boy-next-door, or, in his own unironic words: "a pure and utterly successful product of Soviet patriotic education." The question he leaves unanswered is: how does such an ordinary and unassuming guy find himself the president of Russia in an era of unabashed political intrigue? (May)
Copyright 2000 Reed Business Information, Inc.

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 208 pages
  • Publisher: PublicAffairs; 1 edition (May 5, 2000)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1586480189
  • ISBN-13: 978-1586480189
  • Product Dimensions: 5.5 x 0.6 x 7.6 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 12 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (64 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #46,245 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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55 of 65 people found the following review helpful By Igor Biryukov on September 25, 2000
Format: Paperback
This is a remarkable little book of questions and answers. If you read it, you will probably start to understand the enigma called Putin. Almost ten years ago the President of Russia Vladimir Putin left the KGB in the rank of a colonel. One might say that the KGB officer would not be the best person to head a new and democratic Russia. But Putin served in the foreign intelligence and that is the big difference. As he admits in the book, the foreign intelligence officers in the KGB due to many years they spent abroad, were the group most critical towards the Soviet system, because they were able to compare the living standards, economic growth etc.
Soviet foreign intelligence as this type of organization in any other country used to hire the best people, whose tasks included gathering and analyzing information and feeding it back to Moscow. KGB officers saw very vividly the growing gap between the West and the East. Some people defected, but the majority honestly served to the hopeless cause and disintegrating, but their own country.
Putin talks about his family in this book and the story is amazing, albeit not so unusual for a 50 year-old Russian man. His father served in a submarine before WW2, and went to the War as a volunteer. He was almost killed in encirclement. His wounds left him limping for the rest of his life. His mother Maria by miracle avoided death after fainting from hunger in the blockaded Leningrad, but fortunately she moaned and made people aware that she was still alive and was separated from the dead bodies. But the blockade took a life of their son. Vladimir Putin was the only survived child out of their three children.
Life was tough after the war. They were poor. His father worked in a factory and his mother was a simple girl from the province.
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45 of 54 people found the following review helpful By Chapulina R on May 4, 2000
Format: Paperback
The mysterious new Russian President gives us insight, in his own words, of his background, character, and personality. A series of interviews with his wife, daughters, friends, colleagues, mentors, and even former school-teachers gives a human dimension to this cold-eyed ex-KGB agent. Boris Yeltzin's hand-picked successor, hither-to unknown in the Russian political scene, might have been carefully "packaged" by the press to win the election. His KGB past, while a concern to many Russian citizens, ironically also gives him an image of incorruptability. His handling of the Chechnyan conflict has been popular in Russia while drawing criticism from abroad. Many of his interviewers' questions are quite pointed in regards to the War, and his answers are frank and revealing. His years of involvement in the martial-arts inspire his straight-forwardly aggressive but curiously humble approach to solving Russia's many problems. He might not be America's choice for the Russian leadership! But overall, it seems clear that he has a vision of a unified Russia, economically strong, and in partnership with the rest of Europe and the US. And he may be the only person who can unite the various bickering factions within the Duma, confront the oligarchs and mafiya, and bring internal reform to his country. Maybe of equal importance, after years of Yeltzin's embarrassing corruption, alcoholism, and failing health, the vigorous youthful Putin might instill new self-respect in Russia. I recommend "First Person". This is a very interesting and fast-reading book, giving us an unprecidented intimate look at a powerful new leader.
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41 of 51 people found the following review helpful By Theodore A. Rushton on May 21, 2000
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
Once upon a time, there was a belief in America that anyone could rise from the humblest of beginnings -- such as Abraham Lincoln, born in a cabin he built with his own hands -- to become President.
In Russia, without political opinion polls, focus groups or special interest funding, Vladimir Putin rose from a rat-infested cold water apartment to become President of his nation. This book is about a man who spent his professional life assessing people and situations, and thus is not afraid to make tough decisions. In Russia, for the immediate future, tough decisions are needed.
Putin's hero, Czar Peter the Great, used his regal power to make Russia a great, rich and powerful nation. Putin intends to provide similar dynamic leadership with democratic principles. An example may be Singapore, a mix of authority, discipline and prosperity.
The question-and-answer format of this book is based on six four-hour interviews by three journalists. Putin admits he was, ". . . a pure and utterly successful product of Soviet patriotic education." He was smart, dedicated, hard-working and very good in his chosen career with the KGB. He wasn't a old cloak-and-dagger "sneak and peek" spy; he spent his time reading reports, assessing East German officials and skillfully pushing paper.
Trained as a lawyer, he was appalled at how Communist officials assumed they were the law simply because they were Party members. Putin was never a dissident, he was the ultimate Organization Man whose goal was a richer, happier, stronger and freer Russia. He worked hard to become an insider, and as such saw the total incompetence of the Party.
His wife says, "He always lived for the sake of something.
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