If thereâs a news-dominating name that isnât Trump, itâs Putin. But as much as we have come to know about Americaâs president, popular knowledge of Russiaâs leader seems limited to a few snapshots of a strongman âÂ bare-chested on a horse, or striding with dark purpose toward a podium. Yes, he used to be a KGB spy, but just who is this guy?
Enter Richard Lourie, who has all the Kremlinological credentials to set us straight. Biographer of Stalin and Sakharov, former consultant on Russia to Hillary Clinton, and Mikhail Gorbachevâs translator for The New York Times, Lourie takes the autocratâs measure in his hot new book, PutinÂ (Thomas Dunne Books, 224Â pp., Â **Â½ out of four stars). With its predictive subtitle, His Downfall and Russiaâs Coming Crash,Â Lourie also takes a leap of expert judgment.
His thesis is that Putin, who came to power in 2000, has squandered his opportunity. After the breakup of the Soviet Union and a sharp, chaotic turn from ossified Communism to a free-booting market culture âÂ with oligarchs skimming billions and former Soviet countries becoming Russiaâs rivals âÂ Putin has âreverted to the tried and true, in his case âthe power vertical,â â Lourie concludes.
Rather than transform Russia into a broadly engaged, knowledge-based society that would mean more jobs for the masses and a more agile future, Lourieâs Putin has been content with a house-of-cards economy based on Russiaâs oil and gas bounty, and with old-school imperial ambitions.
Lourie begins in Leningrad, where Vladimir Vladimirovich Putin â âVolodyaâ âÂ was born in 1952,…