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The Man Without a Face: The Unlikely Rise of Vladimir Putin

3.75  ·  Rating Details  ·  2,813 Ratings  ·  421 Reviews
The Man Without a Face is the chilling account of how a low- level, small-minded KGB operative ascended to the Russian presidency and, in an astonishingly short time, destroyed years of progress and made his country once more a threat to her own people and to the world.

Handpicked as a successor by the "family" surrounding an ailing and increasingly unpopular Boris Yeltsin,
Hardcover, 304 pages
Published March 1st 2012 by Riverhead Hardcover (first published 2010)
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Red Notice by Bill BrowderThe Man Without a Face by Masha GessenThe Great Terror by Robert ConquestRussian Tattoo by Elena GorokhovaStalin by Simon Sebag Montefiore
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2nd out of 35 books — 16 voters
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59th out of 365 books — 228 voters

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This should be more appropriately titled "Why you Should Hate Vladimir Putin."

It is not really a biography on Putin, but rather feels more like a few long essays about random parts of Putin's life that have been laid out in chronological order with a bunch of horror stories sprinkled in. Often times large chunks of chapters aren't even about his life, but rather give background information on random people and their causes, which are then followed by how they were most certainly poisoned/shot/b
Mal Warwick
Jan 10, 2013 Mal Warwick rated it really liked it
Vladimir Putin, the KGB, and the Restoration of Soviet Russia

Every once in a while I’m shocked to learn anew that the American news media has missed the mark in its reporting of events around the world. Masha Gessen’s recent portrait of third-term Russian President Vladimir Putin, The Man Without a Face, is an excellent case in point.

For example, one year ago, in December 2011, we learned about large demonstrations in Moscow protesting the obviously rigged outcome of the latest Russian elections
Based on who you ask, Vladimir Vladimirovich Putin, is either the Ultimate Badass who Single-Handedly Saved Russia or a crony-capitalist autocrat who is the 'Russian Mussolini'. So who is this Putin guy anyway?

Gessen offers a round condemnation of Putin, stopping only from calling him an evil little tyrant (Although one of her interviewees does). She starts the biography with his early childhood (a schoolyard bully turned fervent club member) and early years in the KGB. He was a devoted, but rel
Jun 24, 2012 Paul rated it it was amazing
Some pretty scary stuff here! Fascinating stuff about the head of Russia. Sometimes it seems too crazy, as wild allegations (such as bombs killing Russian citizens set up by Russian security forces) can't be backed up by evidence. But other stories are, and are shocking enough. The author thinks that Putin is a small minded, incompetent KGB man, longing for Soviet greatness, and compulsively taking whatever he can, but surely he there has to be more to him than that.
The characterizations of Put
Apr 17, 2012 Jennifer rated it really liked it
Masha Gessen does a marvelous job on her chronicle of Russian politics. The book is courageous, easy to read and well researched - for a book of this length. Gessen covers roughly the last 25 years of Russian politics. She shows how the attempt at democracy has failed, so far, and manages to place most of the blame on Putin. Her descriptions of Putin and his actions over the last 25 years will keep your eyes wide open far into the night. I am not sure that I would call his rise to power unlikely ...more
Apr 25, 2012 Matthew rated it it was amazing
Gessen, a Russian journalist who saw the collapse of the Soviet Union, discusses how Vladimir Putin got to where he sits today. She covers the bombings Putin and his cronies at the FSB are suspected of organizing in 1999, providing plenty of circumstantial evidence to back up her claims, like the two conscripts who went into a warehouse full of bags marked "SUGAR" to get some sugar for their tea, and found that the bags actually contained RDX, the explosive used in several of the attacks. Gessen ...more
Sep 27, 2012 Margaret rated it it was amazing
Hands down the most important book I've read this year - pretty much everything in this book was new to me. I haven't studied Modern Russian history and am not a policy wonk but at the same time I don't live with my head in the sand. Still, the book was revelation after revelation. If you want to hear about what's been going on in Russia, particularly but not only with Putin, since the U.S. lost interest this is the book for you! If you just want to understand what's behind the jailing of Pussy ...more
Richard Block
Mar 25, 2013 Richard Block rated it really liked it
Shelves: just-read
Stalin 2 - the Sequel

I finished Masha Gessen's evisceration of Vladimir Putin's neo-Stalinist regime the day after Boris Berezovsky's death/murder suicide - how timely was that? Gessen is a Russian journalist who has charted events since the demise of the Soviet Union. She exposes Putin as a mafia boss leading a mob state, all corruption, illegal seizures of money and business, state ownership of media fake elections, and clear suppression of freedom - and that Stalinist standby - the political
Angela Andrewes
Jun 04, 2012 Angela Andrewes rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: favorites
Stunning, brilliant, compelling non-fiction! Gessen's biography/history/expose of Vladimir Putin reads like a spy novel and is just as addictive, but of course so much worse for being truth. How Putin still remains in power is a mystery. Gessen's book rivals Anna Funder's 'Stasiland' for compelling reading. Its only downfall is translation - it fails to read quite as beautifully as Funder's. But in every other way, Gessen is easily Funder's equal, both in journalism and bravery. A must-read for ...more
Apr 08, 2012 Wanda rated it it was ok
I thought that this would be a portrait of the thug who rules Russia. Sadly, it was more about Masha Gessen than Vladimir Putin. Poorly written in tedious prose that has no spark and evokes little interest in the reader. It is also exceedingly self referential and the objectivity is suspect. Lots of speculation. I don't recommend it. Surely someone can do a better job of telling Putin's story within the context of the events that have shaken up the former Soviet Union.
Aug 30, 2012 Billy rated it it was amazing
Shelves: non-fiction
I do not think I have read a more chilling account of a modern day political leader. It made for a wonderful distraction to the politics of the 2012 election season. And we think we have it bad.

I'd like to see more people in the U.S. pick up this book, especially men and women of faith who could spend their efforts in a much more constructive way fighting for 'freedom of the press' in oppressive countries like Russia, rather than flaunting our freedom so carelessly with our unguarded tantrums fi
Janet Morris
Feb 18, 2015 Janet Morris rated it really liked it
Recommends it for: history nerds
This book was the kind of book that I didn't want to put down, but also couldn't read much of at one time. There was just a lot of information that I needed time to be process. There was a lot of talk of vile things like torture, war, murder, etc., which was uncomfortable to read unless I took breaks between sections of the story.

Another slight issue is that the book was dry, but I wasn't reading it because I wanted to read a good story. I was reading it for the information and insight that it c
Sep 05, 2012 Dmitry rated it really liked it
Shelves: politics, biography
There are probably a lot of people in the West who think that Russia, having lost in the Cold War, and having ceded it's title of a super power, is no longer worth caring about. They can't be more wrong: Russia remains the largest country in the world, the richest in mineral resources, a nuclear power and a country who takes active - and aggressive - stance against its neighbors and towards world politics in general. All the more reasons to keep close attention to it - and, it being a country le ...more
Tom Marcinko
Dec 09, 2012 Tom Marcinko rated it it was amazing
"Once a spy, always a spy." You could read this and definitely come away with the impression that Putin is not a very nice person. What surprised me is his pettiness. I was hoping for a pardon for Pussy Riot, but after reading this book, I knew they didn't stand a chance. A magnanimous gesture seems beyond Putin, even one that would make him look good.

Sept. 13, 2000 Duma session: 'The speaker had interrupted the session by saying, “We have just received news that a residential building in Volgod
The writing included a little too much personal opinion for my taste. While I find Russian history fascinating, by almost halfway I hadn't really learned much about Putin yet.
I got the feeling that the entire book is supposition. There are facts but how they pertain to Putin is entirely opinion. It reads like a blog, a well done one, but still one persons opinion on how things were/are. Well educated guesses but still guesses. Some of it can come across as a bit conspiracy theory.
And the concl
Mar 10, 2012 Gail rated it did not like it
I got about halfway through this book and could no longer read it. I just don't like the way Masha Gessen writes. I have attempted to read some of her other books and it's always the same problem. She's more of a journalist than an author and so the writing is factual with no essence.
Artiom Karsiuk
Jan 28, 2016 Artiom Karsiuk rated it did not like it
I hate books like this. I hate them with a passion. Books that mix speculation with facts are the worst, because you can't tell where one ends and the other begins.
For this book to have any worth, you have to at least divide it into two parts: before Putin comes to power in the year 2000 and after. The first before part that discusses Vladimir's childhood, education and his KGB (later FSB) career is complete and utter trash. Those chapters have minimal factual basis or sources and are littered w
Jun 03, 2014 Rebecca rated it liked it
About what I expected from the prospective of a liberal journalist now living in self exile. It's a real page turner, but the sceptic in me is dying to fact check and cross reference Gessen's sources. Putin comes out as the unambiguous bogeyman, and maybe that's fair, but I'm still left wanting for a nuanced biography of the man himself. Also, the book stops around the turn of 2012, a low point in Putin's popularity, which I believe relieved Gessen from the task of explaining or addressing his s ...more
Sep 06, 2014 Noor rated it it was amazing
I grew up knowing Vladimir Putin as the Russian president, but nothing beyond that. I began hearing his name more frequently in the last few years, mostly in a sarcastic manner that he was basically the Russian Chuck Norris. Earlier this year, when Putin won what was widely considered to be a rigged election, I tentatively started paying attention to what was happening in the country.

The Man Without a Face was published before the 2012 Russian elections were decided. It was also written before
Aug 30, 2012 Rita marked it as to-read
NYR 26 april 2012 by Anne Applebaum

I hope the goodreads bio [below] is outdated and that Gessen has moved back to the US - don't think her life is very safe in russia after this book.

Quotes from the Review:

Andropov [head of KGB 1967-1982] understood very precisely the danger that ‘democrats’ and other free-thinking intellectuals posed to totalitarian regimes. He spent much of his KGB career stamping out dissident movements, locking people in prison, expelling them from the USSR, and sending the
رؤیا (Roya)
May 11, 2016 رؤیا (Roya) rated it liked it
Shelves: biography
An easy to read and engaging book that makes the reader to hate “The man without a Face”. I actually like to call him “The man without a Heart” based on the book stories. A story of a man raised by a middle class family in a rather difficult situation as equal as many others who turned to be very determined and focused on what he was after. And all he wanted was the“power” followed by wealth and full control of everyone and everything . It is always admirable to see a person works so hard for th ...more
John Carter McKnight
Dec 28, 2014 John Carter McKnight rated it it was amazing
I picked this up after having been impressed by Gessen's new book on Pussy Riot, but this biography of Putin - or, situating Putin within contemporary Russian history and politics, as there isn't much conventional biographical data to go on - is a tour de force. It's endlessly fascinating, harrowing, insightful, vivid, complex, depressing.

Gessen is a Russian journalist who covered many of the key events of Putin's presidency, has access to a broad range of activists and oligarchs. And she is a
Jun 18, 2014 Don rated it it was amazing
I recently finished reading The Man Without a Face: The Unlikely Rise of Vladimir Putin (Not available in Russian, thanks to Putin's control of the Russian media). It reminded me a lot of The Nightmare Years 1930-40 which detailed Hitler's ascendancy to power in the 1930s. Hitler arranged for rivals to be jailed or killed. He eliminated political opposition. He destroyed the free press. He faked violent events, blaming them on unpopular elements to create popular support. He created a cult of pe ...more
Mar 05, 2014 Chris rated it it was amazing
This is one of the best, if not the best, political book I’ve read in years. For a while, I had been meaning to read Man Without a Face, but given current events, I pulled it to the top of my reading pile and dug in. Masha Gessen dives in and examines Russia, from the end of the Soviet period to Putin’s reelection as president after a brief period as prime minister. This is not a work of biography. There are certainly biographical elements, but this work examines Putin as the central political f ...more
Mar 26, 2012 Sooz rated it liked it
Putin is a very very scary man. anyone with the kind of power he weilds is scary. but does that make him a bad man? a bad leader? mmmm.....

in The Shock Doctrine, Naomi Klein -focusing on America post-Katina and 9-11 - details how governments use fear during crisis to pass -and put into law- things the public would never allow during more stable times. Putin is a master at the technique. according to Masha Gessen's book he is not above enflaming or completely fabricating a situation so it plays o
Otto Lehto
Aug 26, 2013 Otto Lehto rated it really liked it
The unlikely story of the rise of Vladimir Putin is only a part of the very likely story of Russia's longstanding failure (or grand achievement) of democratization. Russian faith in strong leaders has extirpated, sometimes quite brutally, the spirit and institutional forces of change.

Gessen's book is a splendid history-lesson, told by someone who was there, of Russian power politics since the fall of Leninism-Stalinism. It captures the banal violence of the KGB/FSB, the lone heroism of dissident
Jan 09, 2016 Julia marked it as dnf
I was pretty excited to read this book. Then I started reading it. This is one of the driest books I have ever read. I could not even finish it, and I almost always push through a book, hoping it will get better. I didn't have hope for this book. Masha Gessen is a little too biased for my taste. I wanted an objective rundown of who Vladimir Putin is and how he rose to presidency. That brings me to another point. A lot of this isn't even about Vladimir Putin directly. This book is more about the ...more
Aug 19, 2015 Holly rated it really liked it
Shelves: 2015-reads
Masha Gessen's books are becoming essential reading for me. Last summer I read the story of Pussy Riot in Words Will Break Cement; earlier this summer I listened to the disturbing account of the plights of Caucasus region immigrants and the Tsarnaev family in The Brothers; and I have finally returned to this 2012 book about Putin and contemporary Russia.

Like the other two books this is a cultural history/biography and Gessen spends many pages describing the context and background of her subject
A real eye-opener.

I'll be honest, I'm still very much a newbie at Russian history so this is just the start of what I'll be reading to learn more. And it's a good start. I can't really look at any of this with a critical eye since I have next to no background information and am acknowledging this by putting the book on my 're-read potential' list, which I can revisit when I've done more research.

That said, it doesn't take an expert to see the passion Masha Gessen puts in her writing, which mean
May 08, 2012 Masha rated it liked it
A good read, Gessen is a good story teller. She doesn't say many things that are new about Putin, if you know the story of his coming to power this book won't surprise you, but it does add some colorful details about people that surround him.
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How much of this book do you buy? 2 29 Jun 12, 2014 05:20AM  
Vladimir Putin and his unlikely rise to power 1 18 Jul 10, 2012 05:15PM  
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Masha Gessen (born 1967) is a Russian journalist and author.
Born into an Ashkenazi Jewish family in Russia, in 1981 she moved with her family to the United States, returning in 1991 to Moscow where she lives now.[1] Her brother is Keith Gessen.
She writes in both Russian and English, and has contributed to The New Republic, New Statesman, Granta and Slate. Gessen is the Russian correspondent for US
More about Masha Gessen...

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“No one is easier to manipulate than a man who exaggerates his own influence.” 5 likes
“It turned out that capitalism alone could make people not only rich and happy but also poor, hungry, miserable, and powerless.” 5 likes
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