Book review: The Man Without a Face: The Unlikely Rise of Vladimir Putin by Masha Gessen, and Nothing Is True and Everything Is Possible: The Surreal Heart of the New Russia by Peter Pomerantsev

Until recently (say, the second half of 2016) Russia was a faraway blip on my day-to-day map: the country version of a mole you registered as possibly malicious but never really pay any attention to. Then Donald Trump happened. It felt like the mole tripled in size overnight but of course, it had been growing steadily over the years, ever since Putin came to power in the late nineties.

Wanting to cure my complete ignorance of Putin’s Russia, I turned to Google. A Guardian rec list put me onto Masha Gessen’s The Man Without A Face and Peter Pomerantsev’s Nothing Is True and Everything Is Possible. Gessen and Pomerantsev are both journalists, and their books read like news blitzes to overseas audiences: absorbing and explanatory, like slightly harangued teachers who hope to convey a lot of information in a limited amount of lessons. Gessen explores the man Putin and is the more formal of the two, while Pomerantsev’s focus is on the Russia that’s sprung up beneath Putin’s floorboards.

So, what’s the verdict?

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Title: The Man Without a Face: The Unlikely Rise of Vladimir Putin
Author: Masha Gessen
Publisher: Riverhead Books (2012)
Rating: 4/5 (Goodreads rating, for comparison: 3.79/5)
The best feature of the book: I’m pretty sure it pisses Putin off. It’s well-researched and well written.
The worst feature of the book: It’s quite dense, especially if your level of knowledge re: Russia is zero.
Trigger warnings: Mentions of things like war and torture.
You’ll like this if… You want to know more about the Russian government behind the American presidency.

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Title: Nothing Is True and Everything Is Possible: The Surreal Heart of the New Russia
Author: Peter Pomerantsev
Publisher: PublicAffairs (2014)
Rating: 4/5 (Goodreads rating, for comparison: 3.95/5)
The best feature of the book: It’s street smart and entertaining.
The worst feature of the book: It’s a more subjective read than Gessen’s.
Trigger warnings: Mentions of things like war and torture.
You’ll like this if… You want to know how Russians have responded to Putin’s Russia.

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