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The Man Without a Face: The Unlikely Rise of Vladimir Putin Hardcover – March 1, 2012

3.9 out of 5 stars 239 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews


A Slate and San Francisco Chronicle Best Book of 2012

"[An] absorbing portrait… Gessen is most illuminating when she details the historical accidents that allowed an unexceptional bureaucrat to rule Russia." –The New Yorker  

“Part psychological profile, part conspiracy study… As a Moscow native who has written perceptively for both Russian and Western publications, Gessen knows the cultures and pathologies of Russia… [and has] a delicious command of the English language… A fiercely independent journalist… Gessen’s armchair psychoanalysis of Putin is speculative. But it is a clever and sometimes convincing speculation, based on a close reading of Putin’s own inadvertently revealing accounts of his life, and on interviews with people who knew Putin before he mattered.” –The New York Times Book Review  

“In a country where journalists critical of the government have a way of meeting untimely deaths, Ms. Gessen has shown remarkable courage in researching and writing this unflinching indictment of the most powerful man in Russia… Although written before the recent protests erupted, the book helps to explain the anger and outrage driving that movement.” –The Wall Street Journal

“Thanks to her fearless reporting and acute psychological insights, Masha Gessen has done the impossible in writing a highly readable, compelling life of Russia's mysterious president-for-life.” –Tina Brown, The Daily Beast 

"Powerful and gracefully written… Gessen's book flows on multiple tracks, tracing Putin's life back to boyhood, the story of his hometown of St. Petersburg, and finally the last quarter-century of Russian history… For all of the ghoulish detail, Gessen's account of Russia is not overwrought… [she] displays impressive control of her prose and her story, painting a portrait of a vile Putin without sounding polemical." –San Francisco Chronicle

“Engrossing and insightful.” –Bloomberg

"Gessen shines a piercing light into every dark corner of Putin's story… Fascinating, hard-hitting reading." –Foreign Affairs

“[An] incisive bildingsroman of Putin and his regime… Alongside an acute apprehension of the post-Soviet dynamics that facilitated Putin’s rise, Gessen balances narratives of Putin-as-bureaucrat and Putin-as-kleptocrat with a wider indictment of the “Mafia clan” that retains him solely as its Godfather.” –The Daily

“Illuminating… Gessen sprinkles telltale signs of the Putin who would eventually emerge and rule Russia with an iron fist…It is with these explosive revelations that Gessen truly excels… [She] presents her case calmly, picking holes in Putin’s character, his policies, and his rule without stooping to hysterical condemnation… an electrifying read from what can only be described as an incredibly brave writer.” –Columbia Journalism Review

“A chilling and brave work of nonfiction… Gessen has succeeded in convincingly portraying the forces that made Putin who he is today.” –Bookpage

"Although Gessen is enough of an outsider to write beautifully clear and eloquent English, she is enough of an insider to convey, accurately, the wild swings of emotions, the atmosphere of mad speculation, the paranoia, and, yes, the hysteria that pervade all political discussion and debate in Moscow today." –The New York Review of Books

“What Gessen sees in Putin is a troubled childhood brawler who became a paper-pushing KGB man and, by improbable twists and turns, rose to the top in Russia… [She] does not attempt to weigh up Putin’s record but rather examines his biography, mind-set and methods… as a thug loyal to the KGB and the empire it served who never had a clue about the Earth-shattering events that blew the Soviet Union apart.” –The Washington Post

“An eye opening story with all the drama and intrigue of a novel.” –Popmatters

“Written in English but with Russian heart, Gessen focuses on the places and institutions that bred the nation's most resolute leader since Stalin… Some might say that Gessen's interpretation is political. Of course it is… but more importantly, it is thorough. She has seen fellow journalists killed, has been harassed herself, and yet continues to write from Russia… Her urgency is felt on nearly every page.” –Bookforum

About the Author

Masha Gessen is a Russian American journalist and the author, most recently, of the national bestseller The Man Without a Face: The Unlikely Rise of Vladimir Putin and Words Will Break Cement: The Passion of Pussy Riot. Her award-winning work has appeared in The New York Times, Slate, Vanity Fair, and elsewhere. A longtime resident of Moscow, Gessen now lives in New York.

Product Details

  • Hardcover: 304 pages
  • Publisher: Riverhead Books; First Edition edition (March 1, 2012)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 9781594488429
  • ISBN-13: 978-1594488429
  • ASIN: 1594488428
  • Product Dimensions: 6.3 x 1.2 x 9.3 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.2 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 3.9 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (239 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #365,597 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Following the collapse and dissolution of the Soviet Union, political, economic and social chaos ensued across Russia as reactionary and progressive democratic factions attempted to shape the future of Russia. As the economy collapsed and the initial optimism and hope of post-totalitarianism began to fade, a power vacuum existed and the question was who would fill it. The who became Vladmidir Putin and the hope of many around the world for a more democratic, economically and politically open country aligned to the West became dashed.

After hearing an interview of Masha Gessen when this book was published, I immediately downloaded it to my Kindle although never got around to reading until a few weeks ago. Based on the interview with Gessen, I was quite optimistic to read "The Unlikely Rise of Vladimir Putin", but was disappointed with the fruits of Gessen's labor. I recognize some of the fiercest critiques of this book come from Russian individuals who consider this a hack job on Putin. I think much of their criticism is unwarranted as the reality of Putin's methodical and systemic crushing of political opposition, the free press and a growing capitalistic economic infrastructure is without question. To dismiss legitimate and real concerns about the brutal crackdown of Putin and his cronies is to ignore reality and impugn ones own credibility. Gessen is an ardent critic of Putin's and while I expected a book that covered the reality of his impact on Russia, I wasn't expecting the overt polemic that this book really is. Gessen's language is so ruthless and loaded about Putin that the book reads more like a couple hundred page op-ed than an investigative and highly researched biography.
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Masha Gessen deserves a standing ovation for this brave work. In a society where the press has been routinely crushed, terrorized and indeed killed for their writings, she has created a deep look into the past of this very powerful man. I am thoroughly enjoying her writing style and the depth of her research into Putin's past. Putin just this week in his latest address post election characterized the USA as adversarial. I recommend this book for anyone who seeks peace and freedom. I am reading this book on my Samsung Galaxy Tablet.

I have now finished the book. Highly recommend. The number of people Putin hurt, killed, destroyed is amazing. Sad that he is still skimming BILLIONS from the society for his own estate and "CASTLE."

I got a giggle from the "comment." They must have a track on the book and dis it whenever they can to try to convince people to NOT read it. Power does corrupt in so many cases.
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Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
A story with mostly hearsay and disjointed evidence. I am not a lover of Mr Putin but a biography should consist of a solid story of the person.
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I read the whole book and it was fascinating. The author really did a disservice though which left me questioning the validity of all of their assertions. By the end it was clear the author supported the big oligarchs who had obviously made their money from unregulated practices. There was no attempt to be critical of them, and even sought to be apologetic and supportive of their plight. This I found to ruin the credibility of the whole book. It is really wrong to be critical of one lot of people for doing 'not good things' then apologise for others when they're doing the same 'not good things' but that's ok, cause they seemingly didn't win.. If its not ok, then you can't apologise for any one of them..

One lot gained political success through a period of turmoil and unregulated structures, the other lot made billions of $$. I can't feel sorry for either, and I'm not sure if I believe the author after reading they want us to feel sorry for the ones who made billions..

Otherwise it was interesting, a good insight into how someone inside Russia views their own country. How true what they say is, is now not so certain. But still interesting.
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Every once in a while I'm shocked to learn anew that the American news media has missed the mark in its reporting of events around the world. Masha Gessen's recent portrait of third-term Russian President Vladimir Putin, The Man Without a Face, is an excellent case in point.

For example, one year ago, in December 2011, we learned about large demonstrations in Moscow protesting the obviously rigged outcome of the latest Russian elections, which had awarded nearly 50 percent of the vote to the President's party, United Russia. What I didn't learn from the reports I read here in America was that estimates of the crowd in Moscow ran as high as 150,000 and that "[p]rotests were held [the same day] in ninety-nine cities in Russia and in front of Russian consulates and embassies in more than forty cities around the world." Reports in The New York Times and other U.S. news sources gave the impression that the events were the work of Russia's tiny, long-beleaguered liberal minority and meant little. In fact, the demonstrations and marches were far more broad-based than the liberals had ever shown themselves to be capable of organizing. Masha Gessen tells the whole story in The Man Without a Face.

Or consider the experience of the brave souls who put themselves forward as candidates for President to replace Putin. It's possible but unlikely that you came across something awhile back about Garry Kasparov, the world's most famous Russian and the most celebrated chess player of all time, when he announced he was running for President. Kasparov could easily have attracted crowds of thousands anywhere in the vast expanses of Russia, but everywhere he went he found the doors locked at the venues he'd arranged and often found himself speaking to 50 or 100 people out-of-doors.
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