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Putin's Labyrinth: Spies, Murder, and the Dark Heart of the New Russia Paperback – April 21, 2009

3.6 out of 5 stars 25 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

In this uninspired look at recent Russian politics under Vladimir Putin, author and journalist LeVine (The Oil and the Glory) examines the murders of several key opposition figures, including courageous Russian reporter Anna Politkovskaya and long-time dissenter (and London exile) Alexander Litvinenko. LeVine provides ample background on Putin's rise to power, but fails to shed light on the famously authoritarian ruler's mindset; it's the kind of failure that's repeated throughout. More successful is his take on the Nord-Ost catastrophe, in which Chechen rebels held hostage an audience of more than a hundred attending a popular musical; the Kremlin's response was to release a cloud of fentanyl, meant to cause everyone inside to "fall safely asleep." Three survived, and LeVine's interviews make his reconstruction of the events truly chilling. Unfortunately, LeVine tends to insert himself into his accounts often and inappropriately (he begins his profile of Politkovskaya, "I never met the journalist Anna Politkovskaya"), and his prose is marred by cliché, bad humor and stabs of sentimentality. Though an impressive reporter, LeVine is a frustrating writer, too often putting himself in the way of a good story.
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

From Booklist

Journalist LeVine tracked the Caspian Sea region’s post–Soviet Union oil and gas boom in The Oil and the Glory (2007) and now turns his attention to a different sort of power source, Vladimir Putin. LeVine sets the stage by assessing Russia’s historic tolerance for tyrants and sanctioned “murder and mayhem,” then launches his portrait of Putin as “the archetypal man from nowhere” who proves to be exceedingly shrewd and ruthless. LeVine documents the rise in “state-sponsored assassinations” of Putin’s critics, sharply analyzing the shooting of the courageous journalist Anna Politkovskaya on Putin’s birthday and the nuclear poisoning of the former KGB officer and defector Alexander Litvinenko. Throughout this hot-off-the-presses exposé, LeVine presents vivid and compelling profiles of knowledgeable “intended victims” brave enough to talk about Putin’s immense ambition and “pragmatism, Russian style.” With fresh insights into the Chechen wars and Putin’s postpresidency plans, LeVine’s important take on the all-too-real machinations and bloodthirstiness from which espionage thrillers are made is both unnerving and intriguing. --Donna Seaman --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.
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Product Details

  • Paperback: 240 pages
  • Publisher: Random House Trade Paperbacks; Reprint edition (April 21, 2009)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0812978412
  • ISBN-13: 978-0812978414
  • Product Dimensions: 5.2 x 0.5 x 8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 7 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (25 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,119,580 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover
I found this to be a solid and compelling piece of investigative journalism on the state of affairs in contemporary Russia. Levine sets out to depict the shadowy and violent zeitgeist of the "New Russia" that has unfolded with the ascension and consolidation of power by Vladimir Putin. After the Soviet collapse, and the haphazard, gangster infested transition years of Boris Yeltsin, many Russians longed for another strongman that could replace the corruption and anarchy with the stable and powerful Russia of old. In many ways, Putin has succeeded in doing just this. The problem, says Levine, is that while the reckless and bloody gangsterism of the 90's has been mostly cleaned up, Putin has effectively turned Russia into a quasi-fascist (my word) state. Political murders have replaced criminal murders, and anyone seen as opposing the state is branded as fair game for retribution. Russian nationalism is on the rise and the country's rising stability and prosperity is enough for most Russians to look the other way.

Central to Putin's mindset and thus the general direction of the country is his connection to Russia's intelligence services. This once undistinguished KGB agent, who managed to become director of the FSB (the successor to the KGB) before being anointed President by Yeltsin, has apparently made his former livelihood the backbone of the new Russian state. His ex-FSB cronies occupy many of the top governmental positions and the secretive "us against them" mentality seems to be the mood of the day. To highlight the tragic consequences of Russia's current trajectory, Levine uses the stories of several high profile victims of the current political climate. Most notable are the murders of renowned journalist Anna Politkovskaya and defector Alexander Litvinenko, just to name two.
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Format: Hardcover
This is a tremendous read for anybody with a general interest in Putin's Russia, and stories of spies, deception, and assassination. LeVine is a truly gifted writer, and his style makes this book read like a thriller. The two most notorious recent assassinations, of Andrew Litvinenko and Anna Politkovskaya, are covered fairly in-depth. Russia is such an intriguing country, at least to me it is. My only complaint is that LeVine seems to have made a conscious effort to keep this book short (166 pages!). I'm not sure why, maybe his publishers thought a short one would be more likely to sell. He could have gone into much greater detail about Putin himself, and his governing style and connection to the KGB and FSB. But I can't complain. A great quick read, and a real page turner.
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
This is probably one of the only assigned college books that I read the whole way through, even though I dropped the class that assigned it before it started. The writer's voice is kind of douchey, but that's normal for journalists. The content is about as interesting as a book about modern politics can be.
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Format: Paperback
If you read Death of a Dissident: The Poisoning of Alexander Litvinenko and the Return of the KGB by Alex Goldfarb, then this book by Steve LeVine is a good alternative history. Goldfarb is close to Boris Berezovsky who, in turn, employed Litvinenko (and sustained his family in exile) for a number of years. Plus, Goldfarb is lauded here in LeVine's text as a master at PR. So, while 'Death of a Dissident' painted Litvinenko in a somewhat glorious, almost martyr-like light, LeVine is much more circumspect about Litvinenko's background, motives and often questionable assertions. Still, as LeVine concludes at the end of the ominiously entitled chapter, 'Polonium,' "those who scoffed at Litvinenko's paranoia had been proven wrong - the devilish forces he said he was battling turned out to be all too real."

Author LeVine gives the same in-depth treat to two other victims of Russian murder: Forbes Russia editor Paul Klebnikov and crusading Russian journalist Anna Politkovskaya. In each case - both unsolved - LeVine contends that it is Russian President Vladimir Putin who "is responsible because...he created the climate of impunity in which someone decided [they] could die. Putin's rule protects those who are inside the system or at least accept it. Outsiders cannot expect the same protection."

That passage reflects the main tenet of the book. LeVine sets out his conclusion quite forcefully in the book's introduction. Noting what he has assembled for the reader in the pages that follow, he states that "the shared testimony paints a disturbing picture of assassination and other brutality, and leaves the unmistakable impression that the Russian state under Putin is at least partially responsible."
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Format: Hardcover
Steve Levine's portrayal of VLADIMIR VLADIMIROVICH PUTIN, "newly " elected President of Russia who has nevertheless been in control of Russia for 12 years, is unrelenting & complex. Levine is one of the few authors who truly grasps the dangerous nature of Vladimir Putin.

President Putin is on the rise as the most powerful man in the world backed by a strenghtneing military, billions of dollars at his disposal, massive fuel resources, and an increasing diplomatic presence in the Middle East and elsewhere.

It is too late for the United States to do anything about this because George Bush looked into Putin's eyes and impossibly
"got a sense of his soul". Then Obama came along and has been MIA from the scene in Middle East and is Barney Fife to Putin's ALPHA DOG.

The only outcome unfortunately is that Russia, lead by Putin, will continue to rise, and will eventually absorb the EU into the future Eurasian Union, and then tomorrow...the world

Sound alarmist? Not really...all you have to do is be able to read.

the news will tell you everything you need to know
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