- Hardcover: 528 pages
- Publisher: Riverhead Books; First Edition edition (October 3, 2017)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 159463453X
- ISBN-13: 978-1594634536
- Product Dimensions: 6.4 x 1.6 x 9.3 inches
- Shipping Weight: 1.7 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
- Average Customer Review: 86 customer reviews
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #4,457 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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The Future Is History: How Totalitarianism Reclaimed Russia Hardcover – October 3, 2017
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"Fascinating and deeply felt." -The New York Times Book Review
“Forceful and eloquent on the history of her native country, Gessen is alarming and pessimistic about its future as it doubles down on totalitarianism.” -Los Angeles Times
“A remarkable portrait of an ever-shifting era…Gessen weaves her characters’ stories into a seamless, poignant whole. Her analysis of Putin’s malevolent administration is just as effective…a harrowing, compassionate and important book.” -San Francisco Chronicle
“Ambitious, timely, insightful and unsparing … By far Gessen’s best book, a sweeping intellectual history of Russia over the past four decades, told through a Tolstoyan gallery of characters. … What makes the book so worthwhile … are its keen observations about Russia from the point of view of those experiencing its return to a heavy-handed state. It helps that Gessen is a participant, and not just an observer, able to translate that world adeptly for Western readers. … You feel right there on the streets.” -Washington Post
“It’s great and written in a direct, blunt style appropriate for the subject.” –Bill Clinton, New York Times "By the Book"
“Gessen’s masterful chronicle of how post-Soviet optimism turned to disappointment amid the return of repression and corruption is a book as fascinating as it is urgently relevant today.” – Boston Globe
“[R]eads almost like a Tolstoy novel...Gessen outlines the failure of Russia's reform with precision and humanity, thoroughly explaining the strength of an authoritarian government's hold on its citizens' psyche. It's not just history; it is an urgent awakening.” –Buzzfeed
“[Gessen’s] essential reportage traces her homeland’s political devolution through the dramatic real stories of four citizens who now face ‘a new set of impossible choices.’” –O Magazine
“Current events, ongoing, recognizable, and important to realize.” – Tom Hanks
“Remarkable…Gessen’s deft blending of…stories gives us a fresh view of recent Russian history with from within, as it was experienced at the time by its people. It is a welcome perspective.” –New York Review of Books
“An essential resource in helping us understand just what kind of threat we are dealing with.” – Interview Magazine
“Excellent…Gessen’s cast of characters tell a powerful story of their own, giving us an intimate look into the minds of a group crucial to understanding the country’s brief experience of democracy and of the authoritarian regime that follows.” –New Republic
“One of Putin’s most fearless and dogged critics tracks the devastating descent of post-Soviet Russia into authoritarianism and kleptocracy through the lives of four disillusioned citizens.” –Esquire
“One of our most urgent and iconoclastic journalists...few...are better placed to understand the parallels between the two egomaniacs who now dominate world affairs.” –Out Magazine
“Starting with the decline, if not the disintegration, of the Soviet regime, Masha Gessen’s The Future is History tracks totalitarianism through the lens of generation raised in post-Communist Russia.” -Vanity Fair, "Hot Type"
“Gessen, the sterling Russian-American journalist and activist, has been outspoken in recent press articles about the threat of totalitarianism in America. But in her latest book, Future Is History, she never mentions America’s problems. Here, instead, she examines what is wrong in her native country and lets readers, wide-eyed, draw the parallels." -Christian Science Monitor
“Brilliant and sobering…writing in fluent English, with formidable powers of synthesis and a mordant wit, Gessen follows the misfortunes of four Russians who have lived most of their lives under Putin…Gessen vividly chronicles the story of a mortal struggle.” -Newsday
“Gessen is an exemplary journalist who knows when to sit back and let facts speak for themselves…[and] The Future Is History just might be the culmination of [her] life’s work... If you’ve been confused by all the talk about “Russia stuff,” this might be the most important book you’ll read all year.” –Seattle Times
“Impressive...The Future Is History warns us of what will become of the United States if we don’t push against our burgeoning authoritarian government and fight for democracy…A chilling read, but a necessary one.” –Bitch Media
“A lively and intimate narrative of the USSR’s collapse and its aftershocks, through the eyes of seven individuals… A gifted writer, Gessen is at her best when she’s recounting her characters’ experiences.” -Bookforum
“A thoroughly-reported history of a dismal sequence of events with a strong, engaging narrative and central set of characters.” –Forward
“A brave and eloquent critic of the Putin regime … For anyone wondering how Russia ended up in the hands of Putin and his friends, and what it means for the rest of us, Gessen’s book give an alarming and convincing picture.” –The Times
“Gessen makes a powerful case, arguing that Putin reconstituted the political and terror apparatus of the Soviet state and that ideology was the last block to fall into place.” –Financial Times
“Russia is more at the forefront of our minds now than it’s been in all the time since the Cold War, and who better to enlighten us on the evolution of this complicated nation than journalist and Putin biographer Masha Gessen? Through her profiles of various Russians including four born in the 1980s, Gessen crafts a narrative that deciphers the Soviet Union’s move toward – and retreat from – democracy.” -Signature Reads
"A devastating, timely, and necessary reminder of the fragility and preciousness of all institutions of freedom." -Booklist (starred)
"Brilliant...A worthwhile read that describes how Putin’s powerful grip on Russia developed, offering a dire warning of how other nations could fall under a similar spell of state control." -Library Journal
"An intimate look at Russia in the post-Soviet period, when the public’s hopes for democracy devolved within a restricted society characterized by “a constant state of low-level dread"...a well-crafted, inventive narrative." -Publisher's Weekly
“Masha Gessen is humbly erudite, deftly unconventional, and courageously honest. At this particular historical moment, when we must understand Russia to understand ourselves, we are all very lucky to have her."
- Timothy Snyder, author of On Tyranny
”A fine example of journalism approximating art. Necessary reading for anyone trying to understand the earthshaking events of our time: how in one country after another individual aspirations for wealth and power mutated into collective cravings for strongmen.”
- Pankaj Mishra, author of An End to Suffering and Age of Anger
‘The Future is History is a beautifully-written, sensitively-argued and cleverly-structured journey through Russia's failure to build democracy. The difficulty for any book about Russia is how to make the world’s biggest country human-sized, and she succeeds by building her story around the lives of a half-dozen people, whose fortunes wax and wane as the country opens up, then closes down once more. It is a story about hope and despair, trauma and treatment, ideals and betrayal, and above all about love and cynicism. If you want to truly understand why Vladimir Putin has been able to so dominate his country, this book will help you.’
- Oliver Bullough, author of Let Our Fame Be Great and The Last Man in Russia
Praise for The Man Without A Face:
“Gessen has shown remarkable courage . . . [An] unflinching indictment of the most powerful man in Russia.” —The Wall Street Journal
“[Gessen] shines a piercing light into every dark corner of Putin’s story. . . . Fascinating, hard-hitting reading.” —Foreign Affairs
“Absorbing.” —The New Yorker
“Powerful and gracefully written.” —San Francisco Chronicle
About the Author
Masha Gessen is a staff writer at the New Yorker and the author of several books, among them The Man Without a Face: The Unlikely Rise of Vladimir Putin. The recipient of numerous awards, including a Guggenheim Fellowship and a Carnegie Fellowship, Gessen teaches at Amherst College and lives in New York City.
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I think for many readers this book will provide deep understanding of why Russia is what it is now and why Putin is is popular. It is also a lesson to all of us on how democracy can slip right thought our fingers.
Gessen tells the story through seven dramatis personae, each “both ‘regular’, in that their experiences exemplified the experiences of millions of others, and extraordinary: intelligent, passionate, introspective, able to tell their stories vividly.” They give first-person accounts of the everyday ordeal of surviving true to oneself in Russia. Like Zhanna, daughter of popular opposition politician Boris Nemtsov and activist in her own right, whose life demonstrates some of the consequences of opposing the regime -- like exile, incarceration and murder. The story of Masha the journalist illustrates the perils of truthtelling. Pioneering psychotherapist Marina Arutyunyan tries to shepherd modern mental health to Russia through lacerating thickets of state-mandated ideology. Openly gay Lyosha tries to advocate for oppressed minorities without getting fired from his precarious university post.
Through the lives of the protagonists, Gessen weaves the last century of Russian history. Stalin’s self-cannibalizing reign of terror is particularly chilling: “Stalin’s terror machine executed its executioners at regular intervals. In 1938 alone, forty-two thousand investigators who had taken part in the great industrial-scale purges were executed, as was the chief of the secret police, Nikolai Yezhov.” Stalin once invited an old friend from Georgia to Moscow for a reunion, and after lavishly wining and dining him, had him executed before dawn: “This could not be explained with any words or ideas available to man.”
And that is the most astonishing aspect of this book: it is not fiction. The protagonists’ experiences are so logic-defying, so disheartening, and such violations of basic human decency as to exist in a separate universe that no novelist could concoct. And yet, this universe has an internal logic. Perhaps it's best explained through Hannah Arendt, whose three-volume “Origins of Totalitarianism” Gessen deftly scrunches down to a few essential paragraphs: “What distinguishes a totalitarian ideology is its utterly insular quality. It purports to explain the entire world and everything in it. There is no gap between totalitarian ideology and reality because totalitarian ideology contains all of reality within itself.”
And yet, the book reads like a novel, which is why I don’t want to give away too much. Who is Homo sovieticus? For whom do Russians vote in the “Greatest Russian Ever” (aka “Name of Russia”) contest year after year? What’s going to happen to Boris Nemtsov after he defies Putin? Do our heroes avoid getting beat up and arrested at the demonstrations? Why is Putin so popular in Russia?
One pervasive theme of the book is the hegemony of doublethink over the Russian psyche. Coined by Orwell in “1984”, doublethink is the necessity of maintaining two contradictory beliefs for survival, e.g. publicly supporting the government ideology while knowing that it oppresses your very existence.
This is some crazy-making stuff that Russians seem to have been put through for over a century. And yet, there are still people who fight for truth, healing, and freedom. Over and over, they rise to attend banned protests very likely to land them in jail (or worse). Their stories of stupendous bravery and selflessness consistently inspire.
And lest you as a Westerner think that you’re somehow safe because, oh, this is something happening elsewhere, please note that the recent rise of authoritarianism in countries like America takes its playbook straight out of Russia. Attacks on the press, construction of alternate realities, propagation of fake news, persecution of minorities, and the shameless grabbing of executive power: it’s all happening right now.
And you know what else? We’ve seen it all before: Hitler, Mussolini, Stalin, Mao. So don’t read this book just because it’s a riveting account of life in what’s still an undiscovered continent for most Westerners. Don’t read it just because it’s a tour de force of journalistic craft and bravery. Read it because it also informs your life as an American, German, Frenchman, Hungarian, or anyone who values the freedom of human life and ideas. Read it so that you may be impelled to take action.
-- Ali Binazir, M.D., M.Phil., author & public speaking trainer
PS: Congratulations to Masha Gessen for winning the National Book Award. Thoroughly deserved.
The Future is History does a very important thing - it tells people's stories. Gessen has the clear-cut eloquence to preserve those stories' voice and weave them into a larger political narrative. I appreciate the focus on people's perception of themselves within the country, and on the shaping of their memories - and the bold incorporation of trauma frameworks to articulate the historical experience. The book is a very earnest, ethically driven, intellectual, and somehow unavoidably personal attempt to understand what happened to Russia - and to articulate that understanding.
The Future Is History without doubt becomes one of the most excellent and important books on contemporary Russia.
My issue is the scope of Gessen's interviews. They are seven people - a sociologist, a historian, a psychologist, and the rest are participants and witnesses of their times. But six out of seven are Moscovites. And seven out of seven hold university degrees. Six out of seven were born into intelligentsia. Two out of seven come from prominent political families. And while those are the people who are most visible - due to their location and privileged background - and active in the story that Gessen is telling, they do not have to consume the central spot within it. What happened to Russia is not solely what happened to academics' kids in Moscow.
While non-fiction, it is not written as non-fiction. We live the lives of Masha’s interviewees in her elegant prose. For much of the book (90’s and 00’s) we can almost relate to their aspirations. As Putin’s second time in power (in name) begins in 2012, we see authoritarianism fall across Russia like a blanket. The violence against LGBT people and the political assassinations are not just abstract events helping elsewhere, they happen to people we know through the text.
Russia’s story isn’t just disaster tourism - events in China, the EU, and even the USA demand that this book be taken seriously. Anyone who believes it can’t happen here, wherever here may be, needs to read the last chapters where the pace of democratic collapse is as dumbfounding to Russians as it is to readers.
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