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The New Tsar: The Rise and Reign of Vladimir Putin Paperback – August 23, 2016
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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
From the Hardcover edition.
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.
From the Hardcover edition.
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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.
Between 1998 when Russia defaulted and Putin's 2000 presidency, Yeltsin has a steady stream of prime ministers--each of which keeps getting replaced for no other reasons than Yeltsin's whims. It doesn't help matters that Yeltsin feels threatened as the attorney general threatens to investigate Yeltsin and his family. Increasingly feeling like he has no one to trust, while knowing his presidency can't last any longer--not only because of the eroding support but his own health problems--Yeltsin secretly plots to appoint a successor, someone who he can not only trust with the country, but with his own fate. Someone who won't go after Yeltsin or his family as soon as the former is no longer president. Impressed with Putin's loyalty to his former boss--St. Peterburg's former mayor Anatoliy Sobchak who suffers a heart attack after his enemies arrest him, and who ends up getting rescued by Putin who helps him escape Russia by chartering a plane that takes him to Paris--Yeltsin chooses him for succession. And true to Yeltsin's expectations, the first decree that Putin signs as president is one exonerating Yeltsin and guaranteeing him a comfortable retirement.
Myers goes on to cover the highs and lows of Putin's presidency-including Nord Ost (the siege of the Moscow theater) and Beslan (the siege of a Beslan school) by terrorists, the drowning of the submarine Kursk, the arrest of oil tycoon Mikhail Khodorkovsky and the dismantling of the company Yukos, the intrigues surrounding the ownership re-structuring of Russia's oil companies, the growing wealth of those surrounding Putin, the wars in Chechnya, the still unsolved 1999 apartment bombings which the government blamed on Chechen terrorists but which others blamed on the FSB, the murders of journalist Anna Politkovkaya and ex-FSB officer Alexander Litvinenko among others, the 2004 orange revolution in Ukraine including the poisoning of eventual president Viktor Yuschenko, the 2008 war in Georgia and South Ossetia, the 2014 Sochi Olympics, and ultimately the annexation of Crimea among other events.
Overall, I found Myers' book to be a serious biography, that sticks to a chronological timeline and covers all the major political events. The book ends with a detailed list of bibliographical references, and the author's acknowledgement which mentioned that as he was finishing the book one of his informers and Kremlin critics over the years, Boris Nemtsov, was assasinated. This would have also been an interesting addition to the book, which otherwise covered a lot of ground. Overall, if you're looking to learn more not just about Putin himself, but also about the political backdrop of his ascent to the presidency as well as the evolution of the political climate in Russia, this is a comprehensive and informational read.
Most recent customer reviews
Meyers does a beyond excellent job of covering Putin's rise to power and his reign in power to date.Read more
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