The best books on Putinism

1 authors have picked their favorite books about Putinism and why they recommend each book.

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All the Kremlin's Men

By Mikhail Zygar,

Book cover of All the Kremlin's Men: Inside the Court of Vladimir Putin

Of course, it takes more than one man to run a country, and in All the Kremlin’s Men, opposition journalist Mikhail Zygar expands that scope to examine various important figures within Putin’s inner circle. From good friends to politicians, important bureaucrats, and oligarchs—and in many cases, the lines between those categories are very much blurred. Zygar builds on a decade’s worth of interviews and investigative journalism to give a rare, behind-the-scenes look at Russia’s elites, how they relate to one another, and to Putin. The book presents an immensely readable history of post-Soviet Russian politics, moving the chronology forward from 1980s reformism to the tumultuous 1990s, and into the era of High Putinism, with each chapter highlighting the role of this leader or that. The Russian-language original, Vsya kremlevskaya rat’, quickly became a bestseller in Russian nonfiction, which also resulted in ever greater political pressure by the Kremlin…


Who am I?

I’ve lived, learned, and loved Russian politics since before the collapse of communism. My Vodka Politics book takes a deep dive into Russian history but is ultimately focussed on better understanding contemporary social, economic, and political developments in Russia, where Putin and Putinism are at the core. Having taught graduate and undergraduate courses on Russian and post-Soviet politics for the past fifteen years, I find it essential to keep up-to-date on the latest scholarship. There are many great works out there by gifted journalists, writers, and scholars, many of which illuminate perhaps only part of Russia’s personalized autocracy. The ones I’ve listed here I feel present the most well-rounded picture, from a wide variety of perspectives.


I wrote...

Vodka Politics: Alcohol, Autocracy, and the Secret History of the Russian State

By Mark Lawrence Schrad,

Book cover of Vodka Politics: Alcohol, Autocracy, and the Secret History of the Russian State

What is my book about?

Vodka Politics is a history of Russia through the bottom of the vodka bottle, from Ivan the Terrible through Vladimir Putin, and beyond. Rather than just a series of drunken vignettes, the book tries to better understand that persistent stereotype of the drunken Russian—an important reality that has serious ramifications for the economy, politics, and societal health and well-being. Ultimately the book argues that societal alcoholism isn’t some deeply ingrained, almost genetic predisposition; but rather the consequence of centuries of autocratic political and economic decisions that put state finances and political expediency ahead of the physical well-being of society.

The New Autocracy

By Daniel Treisman (editor),

Book cover of The New Autocracy: Information, Politics, and Policy in Putin's Russia

How is it that political strongmen—from Putin in Russia to Hungary, Venezuela, Peru, and beyond—are able to impose their authoritarian control without the mass bloodshed of dictatorships past? UCLA Political Science Professor Daniel Treisman—along with Russian economist Sergei Guriev (Sciences Po)—have developed a New Autocracy model suggesting that individuals are less concerned with democracy per se, and more with competent government. Leaders, accordingly, use mechanisms of media manipulation and selective suppression to build the image of government competence. In this edited volume, Treisman and his co-authors demonstrate convincingly that this framework better explains political outcomes—including the annexation of Crimea—than alternative explanations, from Russia as the reincarnation of the Soviet Union, a mafia kleptocracy, a KGB state, or other formulations of “illiberal democracy”.


Who am I?

I’ve lived, learned, and loved Russian politics since before the collapse of communism. My Vodka Politics book takes a deep dive into Russian history but is ultimately focussed on better understanding contemporary social, economic, and political developments in Russia, where Putin and Putinism are at the core. Having taught graduate and undergraduate courses on Russian and post-Soviet politics for the past fifteen years, I find it essential to keep up-to-date on the latest scholarship. There are many great works out there by gifted journalists, writers, and scholars, many of which illuminate perhaps only part of Russia’s personalized autocracy. The ones I’ve listed here I feel present the most well-rounded picture, from a wide variety of perspectives.


I wrote...

Vodka Politics: Alcohol, Autocracy, and the Secret History of the Russian State

By Mark Lawrence Schrad,

Book cover of Vodka Politics: Alcohol, Autocracy, and the Secret History of the Russian State

What is my book about?

Vodka Politics is a history of Russia through the bottom of the vodka bottle, from Ivan the Terrible through Vladimir Putin, and beyond. Rather than just a series of drunken vignettes, the book tries to better understand that persistent stereotype of the drunken Russian—an important reality that has serious ramifications for the economy, politics, and societal health and well-being. Ultimately the book argues that societal alcoholism isn’t some deeply ingrained, almost genetic predisposition; but rather the consequence of centuries of autocratic political and economic decisions that put state finances and political expediency ahead of the physical well-being of society.

Weak Strongman

By Timothy Frye,

Book cover of Weak Strongman: The Limits of Power in Putin's Russia

The most recent book on the list, Timothy Frye’s Weak Strongman brings together many of the different factors and perspectives from previous readings. Rather than playing to contemporary stereotypes of the omnipotence of the Russian political system and its leader, Frye explores the limits of Putinism. It highlights the importance of maintaining a positive image for Russian public opinion, and how that weighs into the various policy tradeoffs and strategic decisions made by the Kremlin. These more distant, theoretical questions are couched in prescient and timely discussions of Putin’s enduring popularity, the prospects for Russia’s resource-based economy, the role of strategic repression and media manipulation, the roots of frayed relations with the West, and the questionable utility of foreign election meddling and cyber-warfare.


Who am I?

I’ve lived, learned, and loved Russian politics since before the collapse of communism. My Vodka Politics book takes a deep dive into Russian history but is ultimately focussed on better understanding contemporary social, economic, and political developments in Russia, where Putin and Putinism are at the core. Having taught graduate and undergraduate courses on Russian and post-Soviet politics for the past fifteen years, I find it essential to keep up-to-date on the latest scholarship. There are many great works out there by gifted journalists, writers, and scholars, many of which illuminate perhaps only part of Russia’s personalized autocracy. The ones I’ve listed here I feel present the most well-rounded picture, from a wide variety of perspectives.


I wrote...

Vodka Politics: Alcohol, Autocracy, and the Secret History of the Russian State

By Mark Lawrence Schrad,

Book cover of Vodka Politics: Alcohol, Autocracy, and the Secret History of the Russian State

What is my book about?

Vodka Politics is a history of Russia through the bottom of the vodka bottle, from Ivan the Terrible through Vladimir Putin, and beyond. Rather than just a series of drunken vignettes, the book tries to better understand that persistent stereotype of the drunken Russian—an important reality that has serious ramifications for the economy, politics, and societal health and well-being. Ultimately the book argues that societal alcoholism isn’t some deeply ingrained, almost genetic predisposition; but rather the consequence of centuries of autocratic political and economic decisions that put state finances and political expediency ahead of the physical well-being of society.

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