(Mikhail Zygar, PublicAffairs, 2016)
How does one go about telling the story of one of the most well known world leaders? Some look up to him, others despise him and others still begrudgingly respect him. How does one go about telling the story of Vladimir Putin in an age where his fame, or infamy has churned out a large quantity of books about the Russian president. Mikhail Zygar’s approach is to tell the story by telling the stories of those that have most influenced Vladimir Putin in his rise from a Colonel in the Soviet KGB, to a politician in St. Petersburg, to a member of the Boris Yeltsin administration to President of the Russian Federation. From Mikhail Khodorkovsky and Boris Berezovsky to Igor Sechin and Alexey Navalny as well as Ramzan Kadyrov and Bashar al-Assad, Zygar chronicles the history of the Kremlin, its most powerful figures and their struggles to influence elections, policy and the President himself.
Mikhail Zygar started his career as a war correspondent for the Russian media outlet Kommersant, during which time he covered the conflicts in Iraq, Lebanon, Kosovo and Palestine. He went on to be the founding editor in chief of the independent Russian TV-channel Dozhd (Rain) from 2010 to 2015. Zygar has published a few other books including his memoirs as a war correspondent as well as a recent publication about the end of imperial Russia. It is through the lens of a journalist and veteran interviewer that All the Kremlin’s Men is written. The book is divided into 20 chapters that each showcase one of the influential men during the now two decade long reign of President Putin. Each chapter not only provides background and context to each individual but also leads the reader chronologically through the trials and triumphs of Russian politics and the development of Vladimir Putin as a world leader.
I found All the Kremlin’s Men to be a fascinating read that changed the way I view and think about not only the Russian Government but also Russia as a whole. Within each chapter, Zygar underlines and highlights the various assumptions and idées fixes that shape and form Russian domestic and international politics. This collection of portraits turned history lesson paints a very different picture of the Kremlin and its leader than both Western and Russian media currently portray. It is a timely and timeless work that provides a unique and much needed perspective on the leadership of the Russian Federation and how more often than not policy is reaction from a fine tuned echo-chamber. All The Kremlin’s Men should serve as a cornerstone for anyone looking to better understand Vladimir Putin and the Russian government as a whole. I greatly enjoyed the brevity of the chapters and Zygar’s concise style that brings every portrait to a point that underpins the turbulence and battle of wills that influence the Russian President on a daily basis.