Too dense and scholarly for some general readers but astonishing in its relentless frankness and a refreshing report from an...



Why will democracy refuse to take root in Russia?

In this trenchant exposé of Russia’s totalitarian pathology, Kovalev—who was a member of Mikhail Gorbachev’s secretariat and also worked in the foreign affairs ministry under Boris Yeltsin and Vladimir Putin—blames the country’s enduring “slave psychology” for many of its ills, from the time of the czars to the present. The author, whose high-level career took him into the apogee of government power and whose own father was an eminent Soviet diplomat, approaches the unending Russian cycle of tear-down, reaction, revanchism, and stagnation like a social psychologist. In his early job in the late 1980s, Kovalev worked on the “elimination of punitive psychiatry,” which has helped him diagnose Russia’s chronic problems. Perhaps his current exile in Belgium—he found the Putin regime to be too politically oppressive,” and he includes a horrifying chart delineating the attacks on and murders of journalists and editors since 2001—has allowed him the freedom to skewer the unchecked power of the “secret services,” which took on new life after the failed 1991 coup against Gorbachev. Kovalev methodically works through the stages of this failed coup as reflections of the same “monster” of totalitarianism that the liberal reforms of Gorbachev were supposed to eliminate. Under Yeltsin, a “new elite” formed (really just a replica of the old elite), assuming new powers under former KGB chief Putin, whose apotheosis demonstrated that the Russian population could still be manipulated into “subordinat[ing] its own real interests to the sham interests of the state.” Moreover, Putin capitalizes on the Russian sense of nostalgia for the strong-armed leader who reverts to the familiar ideological dogmatism, sounding the hollow notes of the “National Idea”—i.e., patriotism, Russian Orthodoxy, suspicion of mysterious “interventionists,” need for secrecy, renewed imperialism, infantilism, xenophobia, and so on. Ultimately, Kovalev brings us back to the totalitarian state that won’t go away.

Too dense and scholarly for some general readers but astonishing in its relentless frankness and a refreshing report from an insider.

Pub Date: Aug. 1, 2017

ISBN: 978-1-61234-893-3

Page Count: 392

Publisher: Potomac Books

Review Posted Online: May 15, 2017

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 1, 2017

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If the authors are serious, this is a silly, distasteful book. If they are not, it’s a brilliant satire.


The authors have created a sort of anti-Book of Virtues in this encyclopedic compendium of the ways and means of power.

Everyone wants power and everyone is in a constant duplicitous game to gain more power at the expense of others, according to Greene, a screenwriter and former editor at Esquire (Elffers, a book packager, designed the volume, with its attractive marginalia). We live today as courtiers once did in royal courts: we must appear civil while attempting to crush all those around us. This power game can be played well or poorly, and in these 48 laws culled from the history and wisdom of the world’s greatest power players are the rules that must be followed to win. These laws boil down to being as ruthless, selfish, manipulative, and deceitful as possible. Each law, however, gets its own chapter: “Conceal Your Intentions,” “Always Say Less Than Necessary,” “Pose as a Friend, Work as a Spy,” and so on. Each chapter is conveniently broken down into sections on what happened to those who transgressed or observed the particular law, the key elements in this law, and ways to defensively reverse this law when it’s used against you. Quotations in the margins amplify the lesson being taught. While compelling in the way an auto accident might be, the book is simply nonsense. Rules often contradict each other. We are told, for instance, to “be conspicuous at all cost,” then told to “behave like others.” More seriously, Greene never really defines “power,” and he merely asserts, rather than offers evidence for, the Hobbesian world of all against all in which he insists we live. The world may be like this at times, but often it isn’t. To ask why this is so would be a far more useful project.

If the authors are serious, this is a silly, distasteful book. If they are not, it’s a brilliant satire.

Pub Date: Sept. 1, 1998

ISBN: 0-670-88146-5

Page Count: 430

Publisher: Viking

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 1998

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Doyle offers another lucid, inspiring chronicle of female empowerment and the rewards of self-awareness and renewal.

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More life reflections from the bestselling author on themes of societal captivity and the catharsis of personal freedom.

In her third book, Doyle (Love Warrior, 2016, etc.) begins with a life-changing event. “Four years ago,” she writes, “married to the father of my three children, I fell in love with a woman.” That woman, Abby Wambach, would become her wife. Emblematically arranged into three sections—“Caged,” “Keys,” “Freedom”—the narrative offers, among other elements, vignettes about the soulful author’s girlhood, when she was bulimic and felt like a zoo animal, a “caged girl made for wide-open skies.” She followed the path that seemed right and appropriate based on her Catholic upbringing and adolescent conditioning. After a downward spiral into “drinking, drugging, and purging,” Doyle found sobriety and the authentic self she’d been suppressing. Still, there was trouble: Straining an already troubled marriage was her husband’s infidelity, which eventually led to life-altering choices and the discovery of a love she’d never experienced before. Throughout the book, Doyle remains open and candid, whether she’s admitting to rigging a high school homecoming court election or denouncing the doting perfectionism of “cream cheese parenting,” which is about “giving your children the best of everything.” The author’s fears and concerns are often mirrored by real-world issues: gender roles and bias, white privilege, racism, and religion-fueled homophobia and hypocrisy. Some stories merely skim the surface of larger issues, but Doyle revisits them in later sections and digs deeper, using friends and familial references to personify their impact on her life, both past and present. Shorter pieces, some only a page in length, manage to effectively translate an emotional gut punch, as when Doyle’s therapist called her blooming extramarital lesbian love a “dangerous distraction.” Ultimately, the narrative is an in-depth look at a courageous woman eager to share the wealth of her experiences by embracing vulnerability and reclaiming her inner strength and resiliency.

Doyle offers another lucid, inspiring chronicle of female empowerment and the rewards of self-awareness and renewal.

Pub Date: March 10, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-9848-0125-8

Page Count: 352

Publisher: Dial Books

Review Posted Online: Dec. 22, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 2020

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