An uneven but still useful documentation of the disturbing reach of a dangerous world leader.



The global investigations editor at BuzzFeed News examines “Kremlin-sanctioned killing around the world.”

British journalist Blake (co-author: The Ugly Game: The Corruption of FIFA and the Qatari Plot To Buy the World Cup, 2015) builds on a June 2017 BuzzFeed News exposé to delineate how Vladimir Putin and his Russian assassins have murdered political opponents over the years. Some of the killings occurred within Russia, but the author focuses on the assassinations of dissidents who escaped from Russia to the U.K. To a lesser extent, Blake also discusses those who fled to the United States. To assist readers in understanding the context of each death, Blake provides detailed explanations of why world leaders—including Tony Blair, Gordon Brown, David Cameron, Bill Clinton, George W. Bush, and Barack Obama—believed Putin might liberalize Russian society and become an ally of democratic nations. That severe misreading led the British and U.S. leaders to deemphasize the significance of the assassinations ordered by Putin. Along with her BuzzFeed colleagues, Blake accuses the British and U.S. governments of coverups, which have taken various forms—e.g., labeling murders as suicides, withholding gory details of the deaths, and conducting desultory law enforcement inquiries so that journalists would feel discouraged about publishing information that might agitate their readers. Blake explores the highly publicized murder of Russian reporter Anna Politkovskaya, but that case is an outlier in a narrative filled with foreshadowing about which dissident will be killed next. As the author shows, the 2006 death of Russian defector Alexander Litvinenko not only eliminated a high-profile Putin opponent; it also showed “Putin to be just as brutal as his critics claimed, and finally the world was listening.” The most thoroughly documented case is the death of Boris Berezovsky, a wealthy Russian exile who delighted in taunting Putin from afar. Though well-researched, the narrative sometimes bogs down in the author’s discussions of Russian and British politics. When Blake focuses on the circumstances surrounding the murders, the narrative moves more smoothly.

An uneven but still useful documentation of the disturbing reach of a dangerous world leader.

Pub Date: Nov. 19, 2019

ISBN: 978-0-316-41723-5

Page Count: 336

Publisher: Mulholland Books/Little, Brown

Review Posted Online: Sept. 15, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 1, 2019

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A clear and candid contribution to an essential conversation.


Straight talk to blacks and whites about the realities of racism.

In her feisty debut book, Oluo, essayist, blogger, and editor at large at the Establishment magazine, writes from the perspective of a black, queer, middle-class, college-educated woman living in a “white supremacist country.” The daughter of a white single mother, brought up in largely white Seattle, she sees race as “one of the most defining forces” in her life. Throughout the book, Oluo responds to questions that she has often been asked, and others that she wishes were asked, about racism “in our workplace, our government, our homes, and ourselves.” “Is it really about race?” she is asked by whites who insist that class is a greater source of oppression. “Is police brutality really about race?” “What is cultural appropriation?” and “What is the model minority myth?” Her sharp, no-nonsense answers include talking points for both blacks and whites. She explains, for example, “when somebody asks you to ‘check your privilege’ they are asking you to pause and consider how the advantages you’ve had in life are contributing to your opinions and actions, and how the lack of disadvantages in certain areas is keeping you from fully understanding the struggles others are facing.” She unpacks the complicated term “intersectionality”: the idea that social justice must consider “a myriad of identities—our gender, class, race, sexuality, and so much more—that inform our experiences in life.” She asks whites to realize that when people of color talk about systemic racism, “they are opening up all of that pain and fear and anger to you” and are asking that they be heard. After devoting most of the book to talking, Oluo finishes with a chapter on action and its urgency. Action includes pressing for reform in schools, unions, and local governments; boycotting businesses that exploit people of color; contributing money to social justice organizations; and, most of all, voting for candidates who make “diversity, inclusion and racial justice a priority.”

A clear and candid contribution to an essential conversation.

Pub Date: Jan. 16, 2018

ISBN: 978-1-58005-677-9

Page Count: 256

Publisher: Seal Press

Review Posted Online: Oct. 9, 2017

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 1, 2017

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This moving, potent testament might have been titled “Black Lives Matter.” Or: “An American Tragedy.”

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The powerful story of a father’s past and a son’s future.

Atlantic senior writer Coates (The Beautiful Struggle: A Father, Two Sons, and an Unlikely Road to Manhood, 2008) offers this eloquent memoir as a letter to his teenage son, bearing witness to his own experiences and conveying passionate hopes for his son’s life. “I am wounded,” he writes. “I am marked by old codes, which shielded me in one world and then chained me in the next.” Coates grew up in the tough neighborhood of West Baltimore, beaten into obedience by his father. “I was a capable boy, intelligent and well-liked,” he remembers, “but powerfully afraid.” His life changed dramatically at Howard University, where his father taught and from which several siblings graduated. Howard, he writes, “had always been one of the most critical gathering posts for black people.” He calls it The Mecca, and its faculty and his fellow students expanded his horizons, helping him to understand “that the black world was its own thing, more than a photo-negative of the people who believe they are white.” Coates refers repeatedly to whites’ insistence on their exclusive racial identity; he realizes now “that nothing so essentialist as race” divides people, but rather “the actual injury done by people intent on naming us, intent on believing that what they have named matters more than anything we could ever actually do.” After he married, the author’s world widened again in New York, and later in Paris, where he finally felt extricated from white America’s exploitative, consumerist dreams. He came to understand that “race” does not fully explain “the breach between the world and me,” yet race exerts a crucial force, and young blacks like his son are vulnerable and endangered by “majoritarian bandits.” Coates desperately wants his son to be able to live “apart from fear—even apart from me.”

This moving, potent testament might have been titled “Black Lives Matter.” Or: “An American Tragedy.”

Pub Date: July 8, 2015

ISBN: 978-0-8129-9354-7

Page Count: 176

Publisher: Spiegel & Grau

Review Posted Online: May 6, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1, 2015

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