On the 63rd birthday of Russian President Vladimir Putin, we’ve assembled a list of the ten books that provide the greatest insights into his thoughts, ideas, and worldview.
A wall clock in a hotel room in Kazan, Russia, with a picture of President Vladimir Putin, 2015. Photo: Reuters
Oct. 7 marks the 63rd birthday of Russian President Vladimir Putin, and to mark that occasion, we have selected the top ten books that best reveal his persona.
1. "First Person: An Astonishingly Frank Self-Portrait by Russia’s President Vladimir Putin," Nataliya Gevorkyan, Natalya Timakova, Andrei Kolesnikov. (2000, Public Affairs)
This book, which contains frank conversations with journalists at a time when Putin’s political career was still on the rise, is probably the most extraordinary book about Russia's president. The numerous conversations reprinted in this book – about parents and children, youth, work and personal life, on friendship and betrayal – gives the reader an opportunity to look at Putin as an ordinary person, with personal weaknesses and interests.
2. "The Strongman: Vladimir Putin and the Struggle for Russia" by Angus Roxburgh. (2013, I.B. Tauris)
The European view of Putin is presented by Angus Roxburgh, a British journalist who worked in Russia and even consulted the Russian leadership on media policy. In his native Britain, Roxburgh has been criticized for his overly positive attitude towards Putin, even though in his book, the author demonstrates a desire to write about Russia's president as objectively as possible, showing his strengths and weaknesses, his mistakes and successes.
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Mr. Roxburgh did not create a biography about Putin, but attempts to put a spotlight on his activities in domestic and foreign policy, to explain his motives and decisions since Russia-West relations are directly dependent on perceptions of the Russian leader.
3. "Putin: A Guide For Those Who Care" by Vladimir Solovyov. (2008, Eksmo)
Vladimir Solovyov is one of the best-known political journalists, broadcasters and political consultants in Russia. His book sheds light on the entire path of the leader, elaborating on specific key periods for Putin, for example, his struggle against the oligarchs in the early 2000s, which Solovyov believes became a kind of personal matter of the president. The author attempts to take a look on how Putin has changed since his rise to power, and recalls the ideological inspirers and teachers of the Russian leader.
4. "The New Tsar: The Rise and Reign of Vladimir Putin" by Steven Lee Myers. (2015, Knopf)
A new book released in late September by New York Times journalist Steven Lee Myers, who worked for many years in Russia and observed the formation of Putin’s regime first-hand, attracts attention, at the very least due to its provocative title.
However, this is not the only reason this book is remarkable – it is, in fact, the most complete up-to-date English-language biography of the Russian leader, which talks about his origins, his achievements and failures on the path to power. Furthermore, the author attempts to explain what really motivates Putin, which benchmarks he attaches the most importance to when making decisions, and how he sees the world.
5. "Putin’s Kleptocracy: Who Owns Russia?" by Karen Dawisha. (2015, Simon & Schuster)
In September 2015, an updated version of the book “Putin’s Kleptocracy: Who Owns Russia?” was released, which caused quite a stir as early as 2014, when it first hit the bookshelves. Dawisha, in analyzing Putin’s path to the presidency, has come to a disappointing conclusion: The nature of the Russian leader’s power lies in its greed and uncontrolled tendency to steal resources from his own people.
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The author believes that Putin has surrounded himself with colleagues of the same ilk – kleptomaniacs - who are gradually destroying Russia. The special character of this book, according to the official release, consists in the huge amount of research carried out by Dawisha (her sources included Russian and Soviet archives, as well as articles written by journalists and insiders).
6. "Sex, Politics, and Putin: Political Legitimacy in Russia" by Valerie Sperling. (2014, Oxford University Press)
The reader should not be misled by what appears to be such a frivolous study of the Russian leader. In actual fact, Sperling, for whom this is not the first work on gender and sexual topics in Russia, analyzes the image of a “macho man” that is constantly being formed around the Russian leader. She especially looks at the conservative attitudes of the country’s population, in which Putin plays the role of a defender of traditional values in the fight against “homosexual” Western influence.
One can argue with the author’s view as to how much Putin’s desire to look like a “real man” influences the domestic and foreign policies of Russia, and yet due to its non-standard approach, we include this book in our Top 10 list.
7. "Putin Era" by Roy Medvedev. (2014, Vremya)
The Russian (and formerly Soviet) writer and historian Roy Medvedev has devoted more than just a book to Putin, as he has had many personal meetings with the president over the years, and remains on friendly terms with the country’s leader. In a sense, Medvedev’s works, including the “Putin Era,” are a kind of an ode to the Russian leader, in which Putin appears as the savior of Russia and the Russian people, the real mastermind behind the development of the country, and its return as a major player in the foreign policy field.
However, we should also note the particular perspective of the material discussed in this book – this is the perspective of a publicist and historian, an expert on leaders such as Joseph Stalin and Yuri Andropov.
8. "Putin: His ideology" by Alexei Chadayev. (2006, Evropa)
In this book, the Russian public figure, publicist and politician Alexei Chadayev attempts to reconstruct the ideology that has guided Putin in his decision-making. The book focuses on numerous public statements made by the President, the texts of which the author analyzes in an effort to identify the “general rules” that paint the ideological picture of Putin.
Chadayev is a young and energetic politician, who has been a member of the opposition and has worked in the ruling political party as well. He has taken great pains in working on this text “to help the reader get a better grasp of the logic behind the activity and inactivity of the Russian authorities during the Putin Era.”
9. "Vladimir Putin: Renaissance Man" by Kenneth Goddard. (2015, Stock & Brick)
This book is yet one more attempt by a Western author to solve the mystery that surrounds the persona of Vladimir Putin. Goddard offers the reader not only a diverse set of facts about the Russian leader, but also the author’s own interpretation of these facts. The analyst strongly feels that the West too often paints a portrait of Putin in exclusively gloomy tones, calling him a dictator and an imperialist. Whereas in actual fact, the essence of Putin’s activities is in striving to make Russia a strong and independent country, to achieve its “rebirth.”
10. "The Putin Mystique" by Anna Arutunyan. (2014, Olive Branch Press)
A very specific look at Putin and “Putin’s Russia” is given by the Russian-American author Anna Arutunyan. She was born in the U.S.S.R., but was educated and lived in the United States for many years, returning to Moscow as an adult. Arutunyan tries to grasp the origins of the Russian president’s power, finding these in the culture and mentality of the Russian people.