The Man Without a Face: The Unlikely Rise of Vladimir Putin
by Masha Gessen
Penguin, 2012. 290 pgs. Non-fiction
Who doesn't know that Vladimir Putin is a nogoodnik? But you may not know how bad he really is until you read Masha Gessen's impassioned account of a man who grew up being a thug, refined his skills in the KGB, and then destroyed the flowering of Russian democracy by manufacturing bogus terrorist threats to justify autocratic measures, and rounding up all the rich guys to send them to jail on fabricated charges so that the state could seize their assets. Putin's enemies, particularly in the press, are routinely shot to death or meet with unfortunate accidents. Some are poisoned, some run for their lives leaving everything behind. In this account, he seems sociopathic in his indifference to human life and his inability to connect compassionately on any level, as one may see in his profoundly insensitive, tone deaf meeting with the families of the sailors lost in the sinking of the Kursk. Gessen's passionate prose quickly draws the reader into Putin's story, but she occasionally omits linking information, such as how Putin went from a mid-level bureaucrat to Yeltsin's chosen successor and then Russian president. There are some signs of hope at the end of Gessen's story, as too many people to be arrested take to the streets to protest the recent election, but one still worries for Gessen herself who seems a sitting duck in the heart of Moscow.