The best books on contemporary Russia

David Satter Author Of The Less You Know, the Better You Sleep: Russia's Road to Terror and Dictatorship Under Yeltsin and Putin
By David Satter

Who am I?

David Satter is a leading commentator on Russia and the former Soviet Union. He is the author of five books on Russia and the creator of a documentary film on the fall of the U.S.S.R. He is a senior fellow at the Hudson Institute in Washington, D.C. He has been a fellow of the Foreign Policy Institute at the Johns Hopkins University School of Advanced International Studies (SAIS), a research fellow at the Hoover Institution, a senior fellow of the Foreign Policy Research Institute in Philadelphia, and an associate of the Henry Jackson Society in London.

I wrote...

The Less You Know, the Better You Sleep: Russia's Road to Terror and Dictatorship Under Yeltsin and Putin

By David Satter,

Book cover of The Less You Know, the Better You Sleep: Russia's Road to Terror and Dictatorship Under Yeltsin and Putin

What is my book about?

In December 2013, David Satter became the first American journalist to be expelled from Russia since the Cold War. The Moscow Times said it was not surprising he was expelled, "it was surprising it took so long." Satter is known in Russia for having written that the apartment bombings in 1999, which were blamed on Chechens and brought Putin to power, were actually carried out by the Russian FSB security police.

In this book, Satter tells the story of the apartment bombings and how Boris Yeltsin presided over the criminalization of Russia, why Vladimir Putin was chosen as his successor, and how Putin has suppressed all opposition while retaining the appearance of a pluralist state. As the threat represented by Russia becomes increasingly clear, Satter's description of where Russia is and how it got there will be of vital interest to anyone concerned about the dangers facing the world today.

The Books I Picked & Why

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The Moscow Bombings of September 1999

By John B. Dunlop,

Book cover of The Moscow Bombings of September 1999: Examinations of Russian Terrorist Attacks at the Onset of Vladimir Putin's Rule

Why this book?

The Russian apartment bombings of 1999 consolidated the criminal system put in place by Russian president Boris Yeltsin and created the conditions for Vladimir Putin to take power. In this book, Dunlop describes in meticulous detail the story of the bombings and shows that they were carried out by the Russian Federal Security Service (FSB) which means that they rank as the greatest political provocation since the burning of the Reichstag.

57 Hours

By Paul Wilson, Vesselin Nedkov,

Book cover of 57 Hours: A Survivor's Account of the Moscow Hostage Drama

Why this book?

Vesselin Nedkov was in Moscow on a business trip when he decided to buy a ticket to the Broadway style musical Nord-Ost, which was being shown at the Theater on Dubrovka. This book is his harrowing account of the ordeal as the theater and its thousand visitors were seized by armed terrorists and held for 57 hours before being "liberated" by the Russian special forces who attacked the theater with lethal gas. Rich in detail, his book also raises the many unanswered questions about the massive loss of innocent life. 

Post-Soviet Russia

By Roy A. Medvedev,

Book cover of Post-Soviet Russia: A Journey Through the Yeltsin Era

Why this book?

Russian historian Roy Medvedev, who has written classic works on Stalinism, recounts in this detailed and highly informed book the true consequences for Russia of Yeltsin era "shock therapy," including the impoverishment of the people, the destruction of the nation's health, and the rise of a criminal business oligarchy which in the words of Alexander Solzhenitsyn was totally indifferent to the Russian people or "even if they survived at all."

Putin's Kleptocracy

By Karen Dawisha,

Book cover of Putin's Kleptocracy: Who Owns Russia?

Why this book?

The late Karen Dawisha offers the best account so far of Putin's early career and the connections and corruption that paved his path to power. Her historical examples of Putin's greed and connections with organized crime shed important light on the way Russia is ruled today.

Godfather of the Kremlin

By Paul Klennikov,

Book cover of Godfather of the Kremlin: The Decline of Russia in the Age of Gangster Capitalism

Why this book?

This biography by Paul Klebnikov, who was assassinated in Moscow in 2004, describes the criminality that accompanied Russia's transition from communism to capitalism as reflected in the life and activities of the most successful new capitalist, Boris Berezovsky. Through the prism of Berezovsky's career, he shows how the wealth created by the combined efforts of an entire people was successfully siphoned off by corrupt insiders to create the fortunes of the members of Russia's new oligarchic ruling class.

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