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Godfather of the Kremlin: The Decline of Russia in the Age of Gangster Capitalism 1st Edition

3.5 out of 5 stars 62 customer reviews
ISBN-13: 978-0156013307
ISBN-10: 0156013304
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Textbook Amy Krouse Rosenthal
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The bestselling author of "Encyclopedia an Ordinary Life" returns with a literary experience that is unprecedented, unforgettable, and explosively human. Hardcover | Kindle book
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Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

Paul Klebnikov tells the incredible story of Boris Berezovsky, a one-time Russian car dealer who assembled a huge--and illicit--fortune after the collapse of Communism. "This individual had risen out of nowhere to become the richest businessman in Russia and one of the most powerful individuals in the country," writes Klebnikov, a respected reporter for Forbes. "This is a story of corruption so profound that many readers might have trouble believing it." Yet Godfather of the Kremlin is a careful work of journalism in which Klebnikov documents the business dealings of a man who once bragged to the Financial Times that he and six other men controlled half of the Russian economy and rigged Boris Yeltsin's reelection in 1996. Berezovsky survived both an assassination attempt and a murder investigation, and paved the way to power for Vladimir Putin. He and the other crony capitalists of post-Soviet Russia like to rationalize their deeds, writes Klebnikov: "Whenever I asked Russia's business magnates about the orgy of crime produced by the market reforms, they invariably excused it by pointing to the robber barons of American capitalism. Russia's bandit capitalism was no different from American capitalism in the late nineteenth century, they argued." Yet nothing could be further from the truth: Carnegie, Rockefeller, and their peers transformed the United States into an economic superpower. Berezovsky, on the other hand, has "produced no benefit to Russia's consumers, industries, or treasury." It's not that he didn't have an opportunity. To pick one example among many, he took over Aeroflot when it had a monopoly position in a booming market. But the company barely grew, and instead experienced myriad problems. Berezovsky controlled many businesses, but he was a lousy business manager; his only authentic success--as an auto dealer--depended on collusion. His real skill is shady dealmaking, especially with corrupt government officials. That's the way to success in modern Russia, as this well-told but troubling book reveals. --John J. Miller --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Publishers Weekly

After devoting two pages to conspiracy theories about who master-minded the 1999 Moscow bombings that led to Russia's current war against Chechnya, the author admits that it is "all speculation." Such bouts of conjecture mar an otherwise worthwhile examination of how a few tycoons have managed to gain extraordinary power in contemporary Russia. While the title of the book focuses on one of these moguls, the author casts a wider net. Klebnikov, a senior editor at Forbes, does a decent job of describing how Russian political leaders were unable to fashion effective law and economic policy after the Communists lost power in 1991Aand how lobbyist Berezovsky and his cronies employed methods such as pyramid schemes to fuel their rise. The "oligarchs"ABerezovsky, in particularAthen used this economic power to obtain shares in some of Russia's largest companies. As he notes, "It was clear who the losers were: the average Russian." It's difficult to argue with Klebnikov's conclusion that Moscow must limit the power of these businessmen in order to create true democracy. But his hard work occasionally hurts him: he has enough interviews to make interesting hypotheses, but not enough hard evidence to make conclusions about who is responsible for the political violence that has plagued Russia during the last decade. Readers looking for such answers would be better served by thumbing through another new work, Chrystia Freeland's Sale of the Century (reviewed below). Photos not seen by PW. (Sept.)
Copyright 2000 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
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Product Details

  • Paperback: 416 pages
  • Publisher: Harvest Books; 1 edition (September 14, 2001)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0156013304
  • ISBN-13: 978-0156013307
  • Product Dimensions: 6 x 1 x 9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.6 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (62 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #527,953 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By taking a rest HALL OF FAME on August 21, 2000
Format: Hardcover
Mr. Paul Klebnikov makes a rather unusual declaration at the beginning of his book by stating that what is about to be read may be difficult to believe. As this work is non-fiction the comment would seem misplaced. However once the reading has begun it not only proves to have been appropriate, but is a fact you will keep reminding yourself of.
The Author relates what is arguably the greatest theft in History, and if he had decided to change some detail, he could have had an outstanding novel. That the events he relates actually took place makes for a reading experience no novel can compete with. I have been following Mr. Klebnikov's stories in Forbes, since December of 1996 when he introduced Mr. Boris Berezovsky as Russia's Godfather. That first article in Forbes brought the wrath of Mr. Berezovsky to bear on Forbes and the Author, but he continued with his research and lived to write this book. Whatever his personal motivation was, and continues to be, is remarkable. This man worked for years on the home field of a variety of people who were capable of removing him from the living, with a glance, and without any fear of consequence to themselves.
The dysfunctional, amoral, nothing is out of bounds world, that was Boris Yeltsin's Russia, truly is difficult to get your mind around. Some minor details that will prepare you for the real story; when Gorbachev was still in power the government budget received 25% of its revenues from where, from the Government monopoly on Vodka! The ruble of Gorbachev was worth approximately one U.S. dollar. At the close of 1992 one dollar would cost 415 rubles, and when Yeltsin finally left office in an alcoholic haze, if you wanted a dollar you needed 28,000 rubles!
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By A Customer on July 11, 2004
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
Paul Klebnikov died yesterday (7/10/04) in Moscow because he had the courage to print the truth as he uncovered it through relentless investigative journalism. Anyone--such as some of the reviewers at this site--who dismisses this book because of some trivial libel suit brought by Berezovsky in London is making a mistake. Klebnikov was no small-time journalist with an axe to grind. He had a PhD in Russian history from the London School of Economics and was a senior editor for Forbes magazine. He was an American of Russian heritage who spoke Russian fluently and who used his abilities to investigate the looting of Russia that took place in the early 1990's. He loved Russia and wrote what he learned about the looting that was going on.
Everything Klebnikov says in this book can also be found in The Oligarchs by Hoffman (Washington Post), Putin's Russia by Shevtsova (Carnegie Endowment) and The Tragedy of Russia's Reforms by Reddaway (George Washington University). They all cite and/or quote Klebnikov with approval.
I can't recommend this book highly enough to anyone who wants an introduction to the murky world of Russian privatization during the '90's.
Incidentally, Berezovsky actually took out a full-page ad in the New York Times to tell the world he is not a crook. However, like some of the other oligarchs, he is wanted in Russia for tax evasion, fraud, etc. Read the book and find out all about him.
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
I remember my first visit to the Soviet Union in 1986. Gorbachev had
recently come into power and one could sense that dramatic events
would soon take place. The "Evil Empire" was showing cracks
and strains of trying to keep up with capatilists. The Russian people
for over 70 years were asked to sacrifice for the glories of
Communism. Five short years later Yeltsin was standing on a tank and
America's hero, Gorbachev saw his power come to an end. Hope sprang
eternal. Glasnost and perestroika. Then came the Yeltsin years which
were witness to the wholesale rape and pillaging of of a great
country with an educated public and vast resources. How did it
happen? Mr. Klebnikov's important book meticulously outlines how in
less than a decade tens of billions of dollars were stolen by a bunch
of unscrupulous men who could care less about the effects their acts
would have in devastating the country they lived in. By concentrating
on the most successful of these "oligarchs", to use a polite
term, the brazen rise of Boris Berezovsky is detailed courageously by
Mr. Klebnikov. He describes the murders, the methodology (steal low,
sell high), the willing and unwilling accomplices, and the total lack
of morality. What a tragedy. One thinks of the some 700,000 orphans
now in Russia mainly as a result of mothers being unable to feed their
infants. And where is the money? Sitting in European banks and
elsewhere outside of Russia. At least the robber barons of the 19th
Century rechannelled their millions back into the U. S. economy and
left us with Carnegie Hall, the University of Chicago and the Frick
Museum.. It may be some consolation if Putin is able to arrest a few
of these criminals. Or is he too, bought and paid for? Read this
book.
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Format: Hardcover
Paul Klebnikov brings to vigorous, swashbuckling life Russia from the death of Leonid Brezhnev (11/10/1982) up to and slightly beyond the resignation of Boris Yeltsin (12/31/99) in favor of Vladimir Putin. A principal literary technique the author uses is to contrast various players: politicians Gorbachev and Yeltsin or Generals Lebed and Grachev, for example. Klebnikov presents no more striking Russian "parallel lives" than those of oligarchs Boris Berezovsky and Vladimir Gusinsky.
Mikhail Gorbachev seems a passably decent, honorable man in the pages of GODFATHER OF THE KREMLIN. Paul Klebnikov's pageant locates, however, almost all his other players at various positions on a wide scale of sheer criminality, venality, murderousness and self-seeking. On that scale Gusinsky is comparatively (and only comparatively) a good guy, while Berezovsky wears a black hat.
Yet the parallels are striking, with the implication that for a time Godfather Berezovsky played "me, too" or "catch up" to Gusinsky. In 1989 Gusinsky partnered with an American, Berezovksy with an Italian. In 1991 Gusinsky established Most Bank, Berezovsky started one, too. Both went after an Aeroflot account. Both reached out for newspapers and TV networks.
But there was one big difference. "In contrast to Berezovsky, who liked to take over existing enterprises, Gusinsky created entirely new companies. He added value to the Russian economy. ... Unlike Berezovsky, Gusinsky could legitimately claim to have played a constructive role in the Russian economy" (p. 148f).
Absent good government and a moral business culture in Russia, Berezovsky and most if not all the other oligarchs found sheer piracy and looting of wealth created by others the easiest way to grow personally rich.
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