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The New Tsar: The Rise and Reign of Vladimir Putin Hardcover – Deckle Edge, September 29, 2015
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“Steven Lee Myers’s The New Tsar is not the first biography of Putin, but it is the strongest to date. Judicious and comprehensive, it pulls back the veil… from one of the world’s most secretive leaders. What is most striking, given the aura of steely consistency that Putin cultivates, is how he has changed over the years…. The great strength of Myers’s book is the way it shows how chance events and Putin’s own degeneration gradually cleared the path to the Ukraine crisis… Putin emerges as neither a KGB automaton, nor the embodiment of Russian historical traditions, nor an innocent victim of Western provocations and NATO’s hubris, but rather as a flawed individual who made his own choices at crucial moments and thereby shaped history.”
—Daniel Treisman, The Washington Post
“What Steven Lee Myers gets so right in The New Tsar, his comprehensive new biography — the most informative and extensive so far in English — is that at bottom Putin simply feels that he’s the last one standing between order and chaos… What Myers offers is the portrait of a man swinging from crisis to crisis with one goal: projecting strength… A knowledgeable and thorough biography… Putin himself now represents the chaos he so abhors — the chaos that will surely come in his wake.”
—Gal Beckerman, The New York Times Book Review
"Steven Lee Myers coherently, comprehensively, and evenhandedly tells the story not only of Putin’s glory years, but also of his hardscrabble childhood in Leningrad, his checkered academic career, his undistinguished work as a KGB agent in East Germany, his remarkably loyal service to the mayor of post-Soviet St. Petersburg, and his reluctant but speedy climb through President Yeltin’s ministries in the late 1990s."
— Bob Blaisdell, The Christian Science Monitor
“Combining skilled story telling, psychological examination and political investigation, Steven Lee Myers succeeds brilliantly in this biography of Vladimir Putin. Explaining the dangers that Putin’s Russia may and does pose, Myers effortlessly and expertly guides the reader through the complexities of the Russian Byzantine governing style and the country’s politics and identity. In the end, the book provides one of the most comprehensive answers to a puzzling question: Despite all the changes that Russia has gone through during communism and post-communism, why is it still an empire of the tsar?”
“Such an understanding of Putin’s early life and the evolution of his leadership is lacking. [Myers’s] methodology is sound and, I believe, the only way to capture such an intimate understanding of Russia’s iron man.”
—Ian Bremmer, author of Superpower
“Personalities determine history as much as geography, and there is no personality who has had such a pivotal effect on 21st century Europe as much as Vladimir Putin. The New Tsar is a riveting, immensely detailed biography of Putin that explains in full-bodied, almost Shakespearean fashion why he acts the way he does.”
–Robert D. Kaplan
“The reptilian, poker-faced former KGB agent, now Russian president seemingly for life, earns a fair, engaging treatment in the hands of New York Times journalist Myers… [who] clearly knows his material and primary subject… Putin used the perks of power to create a complex system of cronyism and nepotism. Myers shows how Putin convinced everyone that this way of operating was part of the Russian soul and how he perpetuated it through an archaic form of Russian corruption… Myers astutely notes how Putin’s speeches increasingly harkened back to the worst period of the Cold War era’s dictates by Soviet strongmen… A highly effective portrait of a frighteningly powerful autocrat.”
–Kirkus (starred review)
“What could be more timely and relevant than a new, thorough biography of Russian President Vladimir Vladimirovich Putin, from a writer who was The New York Times correspondent in Moscow for seven years of the Russian chief's reign?... Russia has lived through numerous prime ministers, a stock market crash, a debt default, moments of paralysis, wrenching warfare in Chechnya, brutal murders and good and crooked elections, all recounted succinctly by Mr. Myers… Putin's and Russia's relations with the United States are dealt with candidly.”
—Dan Simpson, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
About the Author
STEVEN LEE MYERS has worked at The New York Times for twenty-six years, seven of them in Russia during the period when Putin consolidated his power. He spent two years as bureau chief in Baghdad, covering the winding down of the American war in Iraq, and now covers national security issues. He lives in Washington, D.C. This is his first book.
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Myers takes on a journey which has as its focus Putin, but for all purposes it is a journey on the change of Russia from Communism to what it is today. In a sense, the Orthodox Church has replaced the Communist Party for the masses, a milder means of establishing the mandated role of the rulers. This comes out in Myers work by the telling tale of Putin being baptized as a child. Myers did not really explore the depths of this ongoing cooperation but he does provide certain pieces. Myers follows Putin and attempts to give some depth to the many by his movement from young KGB “employee”, to the accidental head of the FSB (formerly the KGB) and then to President. In a sense Putin’s life is almost Forest Gump like, just being there when the bus went by and getting on to see where it took him next.
Unlike a Tsar, one who was born to “greatness” and knew it by birth, Putin just happened to be at the right place at the right time with the right attitude. The appointment of Putin as President by Yeltsin was a turning moment, for up until that moment he was an effective administrative functionary, but then he was thrown headlong into the top leadership slot. His KGB past was his backstop. His trusted friends, if any, were from that time and space. Key among them was Sergei Ivanov, a KGB general and longtime associate. Ivanov flows in and out of Myers book but it would have been worthwhile to have explored him in more depth.
The discussion by Myers concerning Putin and Bush is also telling. At first, after 9/11, there was a bond, but as the US managed to take its aggressive single handed approach to Iraq that bond fell apart. Putting understood Iraq, albeit from afar via Afghanistan and Russia’s disaster. Bush did not, and his team also did not. Thus, the quagmire. There is also the discussion on boundaries and NATO and Russia’s near abject terror of a NATO encroachment. Why the US never truly understood the need for Russia to have a buffer is amazing. Russia just needs neutral borders, ones not militarily aligned with the West.
Myers does a reasonable job on Putin I and Putin II. Namely Putin I is the accidental president. This is a period of his ascending to the highest rank. Much of this time he is learning and expanding. Then after his hiatus, he is now Putin II, no longer accidental, but deliberate and with a depth of team players to make him untouchable in Russia. The problem is when we see Putin II we see in many ways the old KGB tactics. Myers discusses many of the allegations of assassinations and corruption.
The book is exceptionally well written and is a major contribution to the understanding of Putin. But the book also demonstrates that Putin II is a moving target and evolving and expanding player on the world stage, a man who is much more comfortable in his new role rather than the accidental presidency that pushed him to the forefront.
If Myers’ book does anything, it should enlighten some in Washington as to whom they are dealing with. He is a Russian, has a Russian mind, and in a sense a Russian soul. One must understand Russia at least a little to understand Putin. Kennan had such an understanding. Very few have had such in the US since then.
Putin is allowed to speak for himself, though, often with wit, and sometimes making good geopolitical points, but usually being being bound by paranoia, stubbornness, and simple mischaracterization of the truth for his own ends. He is often ridiculously juvenile, intimidating Angela Merkel with his dog (or telling Bush that his dog was weak compared to Putin's Koni) or, more insidiously, creating faux opposition parties or invading Ukraine with un-insignia'd commandos. Putin's methods of consolidating and asserting power are crafty and brutal and have led to him succeeding in what he seems to have aimed to do, restoring Russian nationalistic pride with all the excesses that come with such things, while setting up the West as Russia's alien, perpetual foil and something to be automatically gainsaid. His post-Medvedev rule comes in for particular criticism from Myers, and Putin is depicted as a loner with his dog as his only companion in life, "revealing" his personal, human sides in art exhibitions entitled "Putin: The Most Kind-Hearted Man in the World" and a documentary called "Visiting Putin," where he's shown as soullessly and solitudinously devoting his life to serving Russia. These passages are the most affecting in the book, showing what Putin's grasping power-hungry practices have done to himself and his country (pp. 424-429). Power has changed him and he "used to" have a good sense of humor, say his former confidants. The book certainly displays both Putin's and his opponents' mordant witticisms often.
Ultimately, Putin's methods are saddening and maddening to those of us who'd hoped that the demise of the Soviet Union would be met with greater interaction and understanding and even a certain melding of outlook between Russia and the West. In that spirit, I put down the book in frustration last summer at the persistence of Putin's nauseating practices, but just finished, skimming some over the parts that were simply too detailed for me to want to spend time on. It's hard to imagine a better book for covering in-depth reporting on Putin's life and time ruling Russia. One day a more personal look at Putin and his motivations and frustrations may be written--when he's long gone and his letters and whatever else come to light, if ever. For now, there is this book and the ongoing collection of barbs and jabs and interventions from Putin, and in return from his critics, that will make headlines from now until...
and good ole fashion paranoia, Russia reverted right back to what it has always been: An oligarchy dominated by a few. This book is basically a
biography of Putin but also tells (if you believe the authors version & I think his book is very well researched) how Putin started out as a well meaning guy, essentially a well meaning patriot, who climbs to power & is ultimately a victim of the old adage: Power corrupts, & corrupts absolutely. If you like current events & history you'll like this book.
Most recent customer reviews
Very low quality considering it's a hardcover edition!
Meyers does a beyond excellent job of covering Putin's rise to power and his reign in power to date.Read more