PositiveThe Observer (UK)Methodical ... As Figes makes clear, anyone with the most elementary grasp of the shape of Europe, from Berlin to the Urals, would know that borders are determined by raw power, not some mystical racial bond ... This historical primer has only traces of the original thinking that Figes’s other important works on Russia have displayed, but it does effectively lay out with important clarity the \'structural continuities\' of power ... Reading The Story of Russia you would be betting against history to suggest that Putin and his present boyars are not reflecting something deep in the Russian story.
MixedThe Observer (UK)... this new biography should be compulsory reading ... Refreshingly, Short, in this meticulous biography of a man portrayed elsewhere as a 21st-century monster, refuses to moralise, opting instead to lay out how Putin’s recent actions can be seen as the consequence of the 30 years since the collapse of the Soviet Union. The former BBC correspondent is at his best when pushing us to see the world from a Russian perspective ... Short relentlessly traces the journey Putin has taken in rejecting that \'peace\', the Pax Americana, the unipolar world in which, according to Russia expert Strobe Talbott, then US deputy secretary of state, \'the US was acting as though it had the right to impose its view on the world\' ... Short is too astute to indulge in easy post-event speculation about different outcomes. Instead, he charts the inexorable march away from the genuine more liberal aspirations of Putin’s early days to the harsh autocratic isolated tsar of recent years ... There is a blank evenness to Short’s prose, a steady accumulation of information built through intelligence and concentration on detail with emotions coiled tight, which makes this book a perfect mirror to its subject. He calls Putin a liar, regularly, but again and again he pulls back from laying direct responsibility on him for some of the more egregious acts. \'Hard to judge\' or \'Nothing concrete suggests\' and other such qualifiers litter his accounts of critical moments. Sometimes, they usefully temper the more extreme personal charges against Putin. Overall, however, they let him escape true responsibility, not for individual crimes, but for failing to transform Russia, instead reaching back to an arthritic mythical past, not forward to a different future ... The result is a step-by-step journey, whose penultimate chapter is a little surprisingly called \'The Endgame\', hobbled by being published as the climax approaches, not after the event. Short, let alone history, has not had time to judge the success or failure of the latest horrifying act in Putin’s astonishing drive to make Russia great again.
Anabel Hernandez, Trans. by John Washington
MixedThe GuardianWhat emerges is a terrifying picture of how all levels of government have worked to stand up a series of lies as their \'historical truth.\' She provides visceral descriptions of torture to confirm a story that is reminiscent of the dirty war in the Argentinian and Chilean dictatorships of the 70s ... The government \'truth\' is held together by the almost tangible fear that any witnesses feel after decades of violence ... But faced with Hernández’s minute analysis, the discrepancies between their forced accounts, the contradictions of lies, are laid out in pummelling detail ... Unhappily, this meticulously detailed approach may render parts of the book impenetrable to the average reader. Few will have the will to track which bus was which, or remember which acronym stands for which federal body ... Hernández’s achievement is to turn this fate of 43 disappeared students into the continuing story of a state out of control. Mexico is still a democracy, and the president-elect is genuinely offering a radical new agenda in dealing with the cartels.