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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The value of this book is the context it provides, in a style aimed at a concerned citizenry rather than fellow academics,...


A provocative analysis of the parallels between Donald Trump’s ascent and the fall of other democracies.

Following the last presidential election, Levitsky (Transforming Labor-Based Parties in Latin America, 2003, etc.) and Ziblatt (Conservative Parties and the Birth of Democracy, 2017, etc.), both professors of government at Harvard, wrote an op-ed column titled, “Is Donald Trump a Threat to Democracy?” The answer here is a resounding yes, though, as in that column, the authors underscore their belief that the crisis extends well beyond the power won by an outsider whom they consider a demagogue and a liar. “Donald Trump may have accelerated the process, but he didn’t cause it,” they write of the politics-as-warfare mentality. “The weakening of our democratic norms is rooted in extreme partisan polarization—one that extends beyond policy differences into an existential conflict over race and culture.” The authors fault the Republican establishment for failing to stand up to Trump, even if that meant electing his opponent, and they seem almost wistfully nostalgic for the days when power brokers in smoke-filled rooms kept candidacies restricted to a club whose members knew how to play by the rules. Those supporting the candidacy of Bernie Sanders might take as much issue with their prescriptions as Trump followers will. However, the comparisons they draw to how democratic populism paved the way toward tyranny in Peru, Venezuela, Chile, and elsewhere are chilling. Among the warning signs they highlight are the Republican Senate’s refusal to consider Barack Obama’s Supreme Court nominee as well as Trump’s demonization of political opponents, minorities, and the media. As disturbing as they find the dismantling of Democratic safeguards, Levitsky and Ziblatt suggest that “a broad opposition coalition would have important benefits,” though such a coalition would strike some as a move to the center, a return to politics as usual, and even a pragmatic betrayal of principles.

The value of this book is the context it provides, in a style aimed at a concerned citizenry rather than fellow academics, rather than in the consensus it is not likely to build.

Pub Date: Jan. 16, 2018

ISBN: 978-1-5247-6293-3

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Crown

Review Posted Online: Nov. 13, 2017

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 1, 2017

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If that promise of clarity is what awaits us all, then death doesn’t seem so awful, and that is a great gift from Sacks. A...


Valediction from the late neurologist and writer Sacks (On the Move: A Life, 2015, etc.).

In this set of four short essays, much-forwarded opinion pieces from the New York Times, the author ponders illness, specifically the metastatic cancer that spread from eye to liver and in doing so foreclosed any possibility of treatment. His brief reflections on that unfortunate development give way to, yes, gratitude as he examines the good things that he has experienced over what, in the end, turned out to be a rather long life after all, lasting 82 years. To be sure, Sacks has regrets about leaving the world, not least of them not being around to see “a thousand…breakthroughs in the physical and biological sciences,” as well as the night sky sprinkled with stars and the yellow legal pads on which he worked sprinkled with words. Sacks works a few familiar tropes and elaborates others. Charmingly, he reflects on his habit since childhood of associating each year of his life with the element of corresponding atomic weight on the periodic table; given polonium’s “intense, murderous radioactivity,” then perhaps 84 isn’t all that it’s cut out to be. There are some glaring repetitions here, unfortunate given the intense brevity of this book, such as his twice citing Nathaniel Hawthorne’s call to revel in “intercourse with the world”—no, not that kind. Yet his thoughts overall—while not as soul-stirringly inspirational as the similar reflections of Randy Pausch or as bent on chasing down the story as Christopher Hitchens’ last book—are shaped into an austere beauty, as when Sacks writes of being able in his final moments to “see my life as from a great altitude, as a sort of landscape, and with a deepening sense of the connection of all its parts.”

If that promise of clarity is what awaits us all, then death doesn’t seem so awful, and that is a great gift from Sacks. A fitting, lovely farewell.

Pub Date: Nov. 24, 2015

ISBN: 978-0-451-49293-7

Page Count: 64

Publisher: Knopf

Review Posted Online: Nov. 1, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 15, 2015

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