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Once Upon a Time in Russia: The Rise of the…

Once Upon a Time in Russia: The Rise of the Oligarchs

by Ben Mezrich

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823147,013 (3.39)4



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Not impressed with this book, having read many on the subject. Written to read like a Vanity Fair article. Many details are omitted (why not mention Anna Politkovskaya by name...does the author assume everyone understands who he means when alluding to her murder, or does he not feel she is important enough to be mentioned? Same for Marie Curie. Also, the number of typos in this edition are simply appalling...at least 20 incidences of Berezovsky spelled Berezovksy...how is this even possible? Or getting Yevgeny Primakov's name wrong throughout, even in the index - Primokov is the book's spelling. Granted, perhaps an editor who does not know what they are reading about, but that kind of defeats the purpose of the editor, no? ( )
  APopova | Jan 2, 2017 |
I wrote a whole long review and then GR ate it...

And I refuse to write it again, so go here and you'll get the gist of this book. Plus pictures!

It was good. I would recommended it.

Screw you GR.

Copy courtesy of Atria Books, via Netgalley in exchange for an honest review. ( )
  GoldenDarter | Sep 15, 2016 |
Once Upon A Time In Russia
Author: Ben Mezerich
Publisher: Atria Books
Published In: New York, NY
Date: 2015
Pgs: 268


Boris Berezovsky, a former mathematician who got his start in a car-reselling business, moved into other more lucrative ventures as well as politics, and became known as the Godfather of the Kremlin. And Roman Abramovich, a dashing young entrepreneur who went from trading in plastic children’s toys to building a multibillion dollar empire of oil and aluminum. After a chance meeting on a yacht in the Caribbean, these two men became locked in a complex partnership that would irrevocably change their lives. They surfed the waves of privatization after the fall of the Soviet regime, amassing megafortunes while also standing in the shadows of power in Russia. Welcome to the Wild East of Russia. Money. Politics. Power. Russia.Oil. Television. Media. Putin. A true life thriller. Broken lives. Dead bodies. And Bondian assassination on the streets of London.

First person sourcing, interviews, court documents...giving way to a narrative account of the rise of the Oligarchy and the people involved. The author does note that some names and places have been changed to protect the “privacy” of sources.

Behind the Scenes
Business and finance

Why this book:
I’ve always been fascinated by Russia.

Favorite Character:
None of these characters come across as particularly likeable. Maybe Litvinenko...maybe not.

Least Favorite Character:
Berezovsky is/was an idiot. Things would go bad and instead of taking his loses, he’d double down...over and over and over again. Billions of dollars. Retire. But no, his pride, his wounded pride, made him continually try to get back at all those who wronged him. Never looking at enlightenment that he had done his share of people wrong as well. He poked the bear that was Putin’s Russia over and over until the bear bit him.

The Feel:
Very paranoid. But is it really paranoid when they are out to get you?

And death. Those are the two things that most characterize this story.

Favorite Scene:
The Oligarchs of Russia meeting in an old house, more museum than home, in Moscow, the house that Stalin lived the last decades of his life in, after receiving an invitation that they could not refuse. They arrive and are left to sweat it out. And then, Putin enters the room. And a pin could drop. In this way, he shows them that they may keep their wealth, but they would be staying out of politics from there forward. It’s a great scene...whether it genuinely happened that way or not.

The pace is a bit plodding. Fascinating, but slow in spots.

Hmm Moments:
When they are trying to put together the Sibneft oil company and dealing with the Red Directors in the lead up to privatization of the oil industry. One goes along fairly easy when he recognized the profit available. The other “jumps” into a 7-degree river at a late night party and his driver, one of the only witnesses to his “jumping” into the river, dies in a bar fight shortly afterward. The book makes reference to how often these “coincidences” occurred in the Russia of this era.

Looking at the gigantic amounts of money that the Koch brothers and their ilk are pumping into American politics and you begin to realize that America is either in her own Oligarch era or almost in our own Oligarch era.

I knew how Litvinenko died. Still. Damn.

This type of story promotes an atmosphere of paranoia. Sure Litvinenko was poisoned by rivals, with a polonium pellet that could only have been developed in the US, China, or Russia. A pellet so powerful that it left a radioactive trail that was traceable for weeks afterward. Sure Badri died of a heart attack. Sure Berezovsky hung himself with his silk scarf. Sure they did.

Berezovsky comes across as a bully, a con man, a thief, extortionist, and a murderer. But he was in fellow company with a lot of those fellows throughout his story.

Last Page Sound:
If these guys had played square with one another and with those in power instead of always being on the hunt for more money and more power regardless of propriety, they wouldn’t have ended up where they did. Litvinenko and Badri would probably both still be alive if they had chosen not to trust or an earlier time to distance themselves from Berezovsky. His life was a dumpster fire of epic proportions. He’s not the villain of the piece, but there aren’t any heroes. It’s a slimy story. It’s encrusted with corruption.

Author Assessment:
Interesting story. Would definitely look at other work by this artist.

Editorial Assessment:
Well edited.

Knee Jerk Reaction:
glad I read it

Disposition of Book:
Irving Public Library
South Campus
Irving, TX

Dewey Decimal System:

Would recommend to:
Russophiles and conspiracy theorists. Maybe historians.
__________________________________________________​ ( )
  texascheeseman | Jul 3, 2015 |
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