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Sale of the Century: Russia's Wild Ride from Communism to Capitalism Hardcover – September 12, 2000

4.3 out of 5 stars 17 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

Always something of an enigma to Westerners, Russia has become a veritable paradox in the decade following its transformation from communism to capitalism. In Sale of the Century, journalist Chrystia Freeland offers a riveting bird's-eye view of this conversion that should prove fascinating to everyone still hoping to do business there, and to anyone intrigued by the erstwhile superpower. Be forewarned, though: Freeland, who began reporting on the country in 1995 as Moscow bureau chief for the Financial Times, describes a nation of troubling extremes. The nation has evolved into a giddy utopia for some of its citizens, but one unable so far to handle its sudden affluence. The author portrays trendy Versace boutiques and bustling Mercedes-Benz dealerships lining Moscow's fashionable streets, whose sidewalks are patrolled by machine-gun-toting policemen trudging through the corrosive chemical waste used for melting the snow.

In well-written first-person accounts, Freeland goes on to describe how scrappy entrepreneurs made overnight fortunes and then lost them just as quickly to widespread corruption and the 1998 Russian stock market crash. By the end of the 1990s, the economy was half what it had been at the start of the decade, producing less than Belgium and only 25 percent more than Poland. Meanwhile, power blackouts, wildcat strikes, and water shortages had become commonplace. Additionally, the ordinary citizen often grew worse off than before the fall of communism, while a powerful few came to own nearly everything. This cautionary tale ends with a more "workaday economy" emerging from the wreckage, and the author's hope that Russia's economic leaders can stay this new, more-balanced course. All signs to date, however, leave her decidedly pessimistic. --Howard Rothman

From Publishers Weekly

All it takes to derail economic change is a few not-so-good men. That's the message in this page-turning, behind-the-scenes look at Russia's so-far failed attempt to transform its state-controlled economy into a free market. Freeland, who was Moscow bureau chief for the Financial Times beginning in 1995, details how two groupsAformer Communist bureaucrats and a small clique of wealthy Russian menAboth opposed Russia's economic reformers who took power in the early 1990s. The reformers, she shows, had to choose one of the groups to ally with, and they opted for the cliqueAthe oligarchs, as the Russians call them. While this alliance may have been necessary, it hasn't done the governmentAor the countryAmuch good. After a series of barely legal dealings (most notably a 1996 plan in which the businessmen loaned the government money in return for large stakes in government-owned companies), Russian politics quickly descended into palace intrigues between the oligarchs and the government, and, sometimes, among the oligarchs themselves. The oligarchs united to maintain Boris Yeltsin's grip on power in the 1996 elections, but afterwards returned to back-stabbing each other. The effect on ordinary Russians has been to create widespread disillusionment. Freeland, no leftist apologist, quotes one Russian friend as observing, "Everything Marx told us about communism was false. But it turns out that everything he told us about capitalism was true." In an epilogue, Freeland argues that the struggle to reduce the power of the oligarchs and establish liberal capitalism is far from over. As the recent three-day jailing of one of the oligarchs, Vladimir Goussinsky, shows, she's probably right. (Sept.)
Copyright 2000 Reed Business Information, Inc.

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 416 pages
  • Publisher: Crown Business; 1 edition (September 12, 2000)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0812932153
  • ISBN-13: 978-0812932157
  • Product Dimensions: 9.5 x 6.5 x 1.4 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.6 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (17 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,248,725 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover
The book is somewhat entertaining, but its style is a bit too sardonic and her attitude vis-à-vis Russians is patronizing. Even Russians who, admittedly, are not my favorites characters, I feel like defending. She calls Alexander Korzhakov, an influential former head of Yeltsin's Security Service, a Russian illustration of the Peter Principal', because he `climbed to a position of power that far outstripped his intellectual resources'. Granted, Korzhakov is no Socrates, but his college degree in jurisprudence and current post of the deputy chairman of the Duma's (Russian Parliament) Defense Committee is a confirmation that perhaps behind a façade of a simpleton is hidden a smart individual. Even notorious (and wanted by the Russian government) Boris Berezovsky, whom the author calls `a jumped-up car salesman', is much more than that - a highbrow Russian `enfant terrible' with a Ph.D. in mathematics for starters.

However, the most important thing is that the book appears, as the French say, engagé. I believe this book's real purpose is to divert attention from the individuals and institutions, which are really responsible for the debacle of the Russian privatization. For one thing, she mentioned the name of Gregory Yavlinsky only once in her 360-page long book about Russian capitalist revolution and only at the end of the book. Yet, Yavlinsky, who is household name in Russia and twice-also-ran-presidential-candidate, was one of the midwives of Russian privatization. His `500 days' program was written in the late 1980s with Mikhail Gorbachev's blessing. It was supposed to transform Soviet centralized economy into a market economy by the end of 1993. Yavlinsky resigned form the government after Gorbachev rejected the program in 1990.
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By A Customer on November 1, 2001
Format: Hardcover
Wow, what a great book! Not just one of the best books on post-Communist Russia, but one of the best books on anything.
Ms Freeland brings to life the key characters in what is undoubtedly one of the most gripping stories of our time. It is a real page-turner. She writes beautifully, colouring her text with engaging personal anecdotes which bring the realities of modern Russia to life.
The book is a work of journalism (based on personal interviews) rather than history or economics. All the same, Ms Freeland also has an excellent understanding of the theory and practice of economic reform. A first-class journalist, she can break a complicated issue down to its essential core, in terms anyone can understand.
Her analysis and judgements are very level-headed and fair. From the perspective of 2001 she is probably too pessimistic about Russia's economic transition. Still, Ms Freeland is a lot more balanced than so many other commentators (notably hysterical Americans of the "who lost Russia?" school). For example, she draws a necessary distinction between the early phase of Russian privatisation, and the sordid "loans-for-shares" scheme of the mid-1990s, which is the centrepiece of the book.
The book probably overstates the centrality of the loans-for-shares scheme. But it isn't really a comprehensive survey of Russian economic transition. Rather it concentrates on the rise (and ultimate falling out) of the oligarchs, whose corrupt and scheming ways culminated in the 1998 crash. As the Financial Times correspondent in Moscow, Ms Freeman knew all these remarkable characters intimately.
At the same time, though, the book shows the complexity of post-communist Russia, with a colourful cast that goes beyond the oligarchs and their cronies.
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Format: Hardcover
Compliments to Chrystia Freeland who has written a comprehensive, intelligent book on how the combination of naive reformers, corrupt officials and ambitious "oligarchs" succeeded in ripping off poor Russia of untold billions as it tried to transform itself from 70+ years of Communism to a free market economy. The West has its share of the blame with its band of greedy investment bankers and other rogues who participated in the heist of the century. An incredible story told with exceptionally clarity by Ms. Freeland , former Moscow bureau chief for the Financial Times of London. I have spoken to people who are very well informed on what is happening in Russia who unanimously support the accuracy of the book and highly recommend it.
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Format: Hardcover
The doings of the so-called Russian oligarchs are almost daily mentioned in the western media, but due to the way they operate, largely in the shadows, always manoeuvering and plotting, much of it has remained obscure. Chrystia Freeland, who has worked extensively as a journalist in Russia, has succeeded in interviewing practically all the main protagonists. Amazingly enough, oligarchs such as Berezovsky, Gusinsky and others (there are said to be seven of them) are quite open to her about their political motives and how they managed to amass such wealth in Russia through a series of pseudo-privatizations in such a short period of time, around the mid-1990s. It becomes clear how ruthless they operate, scheming incessantly, sometimes with each other and often against each other. In the meantime, they are trying to win protection and support for their economic deals from a practically collapsing and totally corrupt Russian state. They succeeded in robbing their weak state and thereby the Russian people of a large part of its wealth. Very often, observers of the Russian scene tend to focus on presidential elections, the wars in Chechnya and other dramatic political events. This book explains important developments which have reshaped the Russian economy and will exert their influence for years to come, also in the political field. A lot of what happened in this field consisted of unclear backroom deals and manoeuverings which were only partially described in the media, Russian or western. It is the achievement of Chrystia Freeland that she makes this process understandable and writes about it in a very exciting and illuminating way. A great read, this book, and wholeheartedly recommended.
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