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Nothing Is True and Everything Is Possible: The Surreal Heart of the New Russia

3.96  ·  Rating details ·  7,585 ratings  ·  860 reviews
In the new Russia, even dictatorship is a reality show.

Professional killers with the souls of artists, would-be theater directors turned Kremlin puppet-masters, suicidal supermodels, Hell’s Angels who hallucinate themselves as holy warriors, and oligarch revolutionaries: welcome to the glittering, surreal heart of twenty-first-century Russia. It is a world erupting with ne
Hardcover, 256 pages
Published November 11th 2014 by PublicAffairs
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Jake Goretzki Expose of the West? Go into any bookstore in an English speaking city and the most heavily promoted titles under 'Politics' will be from the likes of …moreExpose of the West? Go into any bookstore in an English speaking city and the most heavily promoted titles under 'Politics' will be from the likes of Noam Chomsky, Robert Fisk and John Pilger. Chomsky is the John Grisham of the category. Not exactly what one could call a shortage. (less)
Greg “Politics is the ability to use any situation to advance your own status,” Sergey told me with a smile that seemed to mimic Surkov’s (who in turn mimi…more“Politics is the ability to use any situation to advance your own status,” Sergey told me with a smile that seemed to mimic Surkov’s (who in turn mimics the KGB men). “How do you define your political views?” I asked him. He looked at me like I was a fool to ask, then smiled: “I’m a liberal . . . it can mean anything!”

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I recently saw a great Russian film, "Дурак" - Durak, meaning "The fool". The protagonist, Dima, lives together with his wife, son and parents in a single apartment in an ordinary Russian town; although he works as a plumber, he studies architecture in hope of entering university and improving his situation - much to the chagrin of his mother, who doesn't believe that learning alone can get him anywhere. One day, the chief of a local repair group is absent and Dmitri is called in his place to in ...more
Maru Kun
Nov 28, 2014 rated it really liked it
I felt pleased with myself having spotted that the title of this book is an allusion to Hannah Arendt’s The Origins of Totalitarianism but a better reaction is embarrassment at not having noticed earlier:
In an ever-changing, incomprehensible world the masses had reached the point where they would, at the same time, believe everything and nothing, think that everything was possible and nothing was true. The totalitarian mass leaders based their propaganda on the correct psychological assumption
Sleepless Dreamer
May 02, 2020 rated it liked it
I visited Russia exactly one year ago. I liked this book but I'm definitely glad I didn't read it before visiting Russia. In fact, while reading this book, I found myself wondering if Pomerantsev and I visited the same Russia. 

When I think about Russia, I think about Vlad and Slava in Saint Petersburg and how they went to Burger King for literally everything (cold? Burger King! hungry? Burger King! want a place to sit down? Burger King!!). I think about the way they taught themselves English and
Russia is an enigma. For the last over a century it has been under some form of autocratic control, first with the Tsars, then the communists and after a brief dabble with democracy, now has an elective dictatorship under Putin. Each time a new Russian doll is revealed, it is a more intense form of what they have always had. It is into this new Russia that Pomerantsev, a British TV producer with Russia parents, steps.

The Russian TV industry is booming, having removed the shackles of communist pr
Nov 16, 2014 rated it liked it
Recommends it for: BBC Radio Listeners
Recommended to Bettie by: Traveller
(view spoiler)

23.05.2016: 'Anti-travelogue' on Putin's Russia wins £10,000 Ondaatje prize : read about the win here

The shelving, status updates and star rating constitute how I felt about this book.
Caro the Helmet Lady
This book didn't shock me as much as it probably was supposed to, I guess it makes a stronger impact on a western reader, who hears less about Russia every damn day of his life than I do, or one who lives under the rock or in some fairyland and isn't aware of today's world in general. Because of course western world has its own problems (for example Donald Trump, gun un-control, and other fun things you have, America). It's just that in Russia, modern or not, everything comes to gargantuan extre ...more
'Adventures' is the right word. This is exhilarating narrative non-fiction based on the author's experiences of over ten years living and working in Russia; if it's a referenced academic study you want, this may not be the right place to start. I wouldn't be surprised if, to the avid Russia-watcher, there's little new here, and that it might trade in cliches; one phrase, that unique Moscow mix of tackiness and menace sums it up pretty well. But, surprised how little of this I'd heard in detail b ...more
Feb 08, 2015 rated it really liked it
Shelves: politics, general, travel
Nothing is True and Everything is Possible - Well Informed Account of Modern Russia

Peter Pomerantsev is one of the most assiduous observers of modern Russia that there is at the moment, who always gets to the heart of the matter with his observations and comment. Nothing is True and Everything is Possible is yet another wonderful example of his work and one of the most important commentaries on modern Russia and Moscow of the moment. If this were a work of fiction you would think it was a dystop
Nov 28, 2016 rated it it was amazing
This is fabulous. A disturbing look at how contemporary Russia is trapped in the matrix of simulation and authoritarianism, and what it portends for globalization. The book is written as a collection of anecdotes, the athor's experience, rather than analytically, and so is a compelling read. Yet there is real depth to Pomerantsev's insight. Thoroughly enjoyed this. ...more
Sep 18, 2014 rated it really liked it
Shelves: russia, non-fiction
For the reader that chooses his writing on the elegance of its phrasing, the precision of its language, maybe this isn't a great book. Even for the reader who just wants a lively narrative venture-- maybe this isn't the book. (In fact, I read an Advance copy, unadorned by notes or index though complete with typos and awkward grammar at points).

But for the reader whose idea of Writing consists of witnessing the author engaged in a death struggle with his themes, perhaps even not knowing what a gi
Tanja Berg
Feb 08, 2015 rated it really liked it
Shelves: non-fiction
The author is a British TV journalist with Russian parents. He lived many years in Russia and this books gives insight to some of the people he met. The society as a whole can be seen as reflection in the individual stories shown here and it is a bizarre world.

"This isn't a country in transition but some sort of postmodern dictatorship that uses the language and institutions of democratic capitalism for authoritarian ends."

And furthermore:

"The Kremlin has finally mastered the art of fusing real
May 18, 2017 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 2017-reads
Portraits of everyday life in a corrupt state; a series of vignettes told with a filmmaker's eye and without the heaviness of scholarly analysis. The final essay builds to a chilling crescendo. It's all so much worse than I even imagined.

Timothy Snyder names this book in his suggested-reading list within On Tyranny.
Jan 15, 2015 rated it really liked it
Shelves: best-of-2015
A revealing look at the trippy nightmare that is modern Russia. Riveting - a bit much by the end and it's hard to keep all of the players and their various incarnations straight but very, very interesting. ...more
Ted Lehmann
Nov 10, 2014 rated it it was amazing
I fear that Nothing is True and Everything is Possible: The Surreal Heart of the New Russia by Peter Pomerantsev (Public Affairs, 2014, 254 pages, $25.99/14.49) will not be widely enough read nor deeply enough covered by the main stream media to have it gain the sort of attention it deserves. This is an important book presenting the world of contemporary Russia in all the vivid complexity and corrupt duplicity which everyone should be aware of and seek to bring to heel. Since Russia is a land wo ...more
Jake Goretzki
Feb 09, 2015 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: 2015

No great surprises here for the seasoned Russia-watcher, but this book captures the general awfulness of contemporary Russia and of the Putin era very well. All told, it’s the kind of thing you want to buy for anyone who hasn’t been and still thinks Russia - as it generally runs in the UK - as either a) all Pushkin and balaikas and Hermitage or b) some sort of pre-1989 prison camp.

At many points I found myself thinking: yes, exactly. Exactly.

He’s spot on when it comes to everyday li
Nov 14, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommended to Richard by: Ezra Klein
In case you aren’t aware, Ezra Klein (the founder of Vox Media) has a great podcast. He tends to interview people who have deeply thought about something in the world of politics and society, but he isn’t going to let them go without a pretty throughout grilling. Anyway, last October (2019) he had the author of Nothing Is True and Everything Is Possible: The Surreal Heart of the New Russia on. If you don’t want to read the book, at least listen to the podcast (87 minutes).

A big reason I follow K
Nov 17, 2015 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I remember reading an article about this book, probably in the Guardian, at some point in the past. The title was particularly memorable and is very apposite. Pomerantsev takes the reader on a disorientating mini-tour of 21st century Russia, with a focus on the media. It isn’t a linear or thematically structured narrative so much as a series of extended anecdotes connected by meditations on Russian society and culture. The overall effect is unsettling, as well it might be. 'Nothing is True and E ...more
Apr 10, 2015 rated it it was ok
Disjointed accounts of how screwed up Russia is linked by some pretty weak pop psychology. A few interesting stories keep this book from being a total waste if time.
Lance Charnes
Winston Churchill famously called the Soviet Union "a riddle wrapped in a mystery inside an enigma."Opaque was the typical description for the black box of the USSR; many an intelligence analyst made a career of charting the ups and downs of high Soviet government officials by seeing where they stood on Lenin's Tomb in Red Square during the May Day parade. After the USSR imploded, the West had great hopes that post-Soviet Russia would become a normal nation with a normal (read, more transparent) ...more
The journalist Peter Pomerantsev describes a Russia where the boundaries have become blurred and surrealism rules. So-called city engineers corrupts, gangsters have become actors and so-called gold diggers live in a district near rich men's residential areas to be available (they get a salary and free accommodation). Police change laws over night to frame companies. Buildings are demolished and rebuilt. There is a world of bribes, threats, oligarchs, mafia, mystics and glittering super models.

Christopher May
Aug 24, 2014 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: first-reads
When looking at the "new" Russia and its leadership, I can't help but wonder about the country sometimes. What's going on over there? What is the story with Putin? Is the real Russia the one of beauty portrayed during the Sochi Olympics or the one that is supporting rebels that shoot down passenger planes? When I read about Peter Pomerantsev and his background, I had a hope that he would be uniquely positioned to tell the story of today's Russia. I wasn't disappointed.

Nothing Is True and Everyth
Rodrigo Acuna
Apr 03, 2017 rated it liked it
"The aim, to own all forms of political discourse."

!984 and Brave New world were a warning, that Russia has developed into a lesson in how to rule by schizophrenia and is now spreading to the rest of the world, the west thinks itself immune to corruption, but all are corruptible given the right amount of money and Russia is pumping money into the west to legitimise the illegitimate the cleptocracy, the criminal government that rules by fear, murder and chaos, where the ignorant and the malicious
Tariq Mahmood
Jan 11, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: slav
If you want to understand Putin's Moscow and Russian mindset than this book is a great start. From escorts to gangsters, to political masterminds and cults. The only missing characters are politicians and oligarchs. The style and tone of the book was very engaging making it a very easy read. Although the book leaves a very dark miasma by the end. Maybe Peter should have heeded the advice of the three Russian producers to find some happy stories as well? ...more
This is everything you already know to be true, and yet so well put together it feels wholly original.
Bayliss Camp
Mar 17, 2017 rated it really liked it
This was a fun, if distressing read. Distressing because of the subject matter, first and foremost: the ongoing catastrophe of anomie in Russian society. But distressing also because the author invites the reader to take seriously a (bowdlerized, but nonetheless important) point currently being bandied about by a number of spokespersons on the American right, including persons speaking on behalf of the current President. Namely, that the poststructuralist critique is correct, and there is no the ...more
Jul 08, 2018 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Anecdotal evidence of the new culture, which is both orchestrated and predated upon by an amoral mafia state.

Postmodern dictatorship unnerves me more than the clumsy fascism of the Ba'ath or Juche. It's one thing to steal almost everything from your people; one thing to demean, torture and murder millions; one thing to employ a large fraction of the entire country as rabid unaccountable secret police. Even if you do all of this, your people still know you're evil and long for your death. It say
Jan 09, 2015 rated it did not like it
Messy collection of unrelated stories with no point or connective narrative in sight.
Jul 18, 2020 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition

I have just finished this book and my head is actually spinning - the tempo, the chaos, the drama, the paranoia, the absurd mix of power and cynicism and theatrics. There is the old saying that if something did not exist, we would need to invent it. If Russia as described in this book did not exist, I am not sure it could be invented, it is too crazy, does not follow any known rules, and whatever logic there could be (if any) totally defies reason. A quote from the book sums it up nicely: “if I
This book contains some really interesting snapshots of life in Russia, especially about corruption and the media. But, for a book that's been so highly praised and nominated for several prizes, I expected more. My main letdowns and irks:

- I wish this was marketed as some type of memoir, instead of an insightful look into Russian propaganda/politics/history, because that's not what it felt like. For many things mentioned, there are no sources. Often facts, happenings, and details seem to be not
Conor Ahern
Jan 24, 2017 rated it liked it
Shelves: non-fiction, russian
I'm not sure if this is/was a stock phrase or not, but while reading this book and searching for quotes from Arendt's The Origins of Totalitarianism, I realized that its title might spring from a passage she wrote on the public's receptivity to lies under totalitarian rule:
In an ever-changing, incomprehensible world the masses had reached the point where they would, at the same time, believe everything and nothing, think that everything was possible and that nothing was true.... Mass propaganda
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Peter Pomerantsev is an award-winning contributor to the London Review of Books. His writing has been published in the Financial Times,, Wall Street Journal, Foreign Policy, Daily Beast, Newsweek, and Atlantic Monthly. He has also worked as a consultant for the EU and for think tanks on projects covering the former Soviet Union. He lives in London.

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“Care stops at the threshold of your apartment. You lavish and stroke your personal world, but when you reach the public space, you pull on your war face.” 7 likes
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