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The Brothers: The Road to an American Tragedy

3.61  ·  Rating details ·  1,079 ratings  ·  154 reviews
An important story for our era: How the American Dream went wrong for two immigrants, and the nightmare that resulted.

The facts of the tragedy are established: On April 15, 2013, two homemade bombs fashioned from pressure cookers exploded near the finish line of the Boston Marathon, killing three people and wounding 264 others. The elder of the brothers suspected of c
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Published April 7th 2015 by Penguin Audio
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BancoRadio What I like about Gessen and this book in particular is that she does not make you to pass any opinion. It felt like a reading a story of a family tha…moreWhat I like about Gessen and this book in particular is that she does not make you to pass any opinion. It felt like a reading a story of a family that went through a lot and it gave me a better understanding on the background of the two guys. Not that it made me understand why they did it or condone it. It is a good book.(less)

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Average rating 3.61  · 
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Deborah Markus
When Dzhokhar Tsarnaev was arrested for the Boston Marathon bombing, my husband and I got into an argument.

"Who cares where he's from?" he said. "Everyone's talking about his family being from Chechnya like that's enough to make him a terrorist in and of itself. He's an immigrant. Okay. How is his being from Chechnya any different from his being from Ireland?"

I don't know if he picked Ireland because it's a country he's heard of, because I'm Irish, or because we're both old enough to remember a
Nov 05, 2019 rated it liked it
I read this book in an effort to gain some understanding of how two young men could commit the atrocities they did. Either I was unable to find a place of objectivity or there was sadly not much in these two to understand. I was completely on board at the start as Gessen provides some historical background. Yet as she draws closer to the childhood and adolescence of the Tsarnaevs the book loses steam. There are so many other characters introduced that their story almost fades into the background ...more
“So what if a kid dies, God will take care of him.” Tamerlan Tsarnaev

“Terrorism has become a festering wound. It is an enemy of humanity.” wrote the late former prime Minister of India, Atal Bihari Vajpayee. On April 15, 2013, two dysfunctional angry young brothers carried out the Boston marathon bombings. The oldest brother, Tamerlan Tsarnaev, was a non-practicing Muslim who only became an Islamist militant when his dream of becoming an Olympic boxer ended. At the time of the attack he was twen
Apr 10, 2015 rated it it was amazing
I've been attending Dzhokhar Tsarnaev's trial over the past few months and obtained a media copy of this book. Masha Gessen travelled back to Dagestan and retraced the steps of the Tsarnaev family's life, leading up to the denouement of the bombing. Gessen is deeply steeped in contemporary Russian history, particularly as it pertains to Chechnya, and has written this book with characteristic empathy, nuance and understanding. Not only that it is written with considerable verve and was pretty muc ...more
Jun 03, 2015 rated it it was ok
Well alrighty then. This looked so promising from the New Books shelf, I actually put down something else I was going to take. While it kept my interest, this book frustrated the ever loving crap out of me.

She starts well, giving some background on Chechnya, it's problems with Russia, etc. There's a lot of background about the Tsarnaev families movements hither and yon, along with a time line and the most God-awful map "illustrating" said travels. Much time then is spent telling us of the Tsarna
Aug 05, 2017 rated it it was ok
Masha Gessen did such a good job on her Putin bio, I was excited to find this more recent book on the Tsarnaev brothers. Unlike other terrorists, they seemed to have too much going for them for them to commit murder as they did. Unfortunately this book is nowhere near the standard of the Putin book. The brothers have less going for them than it seemed, but so much is half reported its hard to know them.

The book started off well enough with Gessen, relating the culture and history from which the
Hank Stuever
May 31, 2015 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
The Boston Marathon bombing is yet another news event where I seemed to lose focus before I lost interest. I ached for the victims but I didn't respond to the big wave of "Boston Strong" that followed -- the vengeance, the wounded civic pride -- and which seemed to outpace the magnitude of the event itself. Was it just me or were the details of how and why it happened just overwhelmed by the anger and tears? I was particularly surprised by the negative reaction to Dzhokhar Tsarnaev's photo appea ...more
Apr 16, 2015 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
This was a strange book. In light of the recent anniversary of the Boston Marathon bombing and the close of the trial against one of the brothers, this seemed like a good pick up. I was intrigued by the title and the idea that it was not about the bombing itself, but rather what led up to it and its aftermath. I did not know and was somewhat expecting being left with answers, but the book is a little odd and I'm not entirely sure what a reader is supposed to get out of it.
It's the story of the
Apr 11, 2015 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I'm sure this will be controversial.

The first sign is the disclaimer at the beginning that says, essentially, I realize that a lot of people were hurt in the Boston Marathon bombing, but this isn't about that.

Not that this book should be obligated to be about how bad the marathon bombing was. As if. In fact, I ended up liking this a lot more than I would have if it had been a straightforward account of the attack itself, which I probably also would have enjoyed.

The author covered the wars in Che
May 08, 2015 rated it really liked it
All I ever say about books anymore is that they are/n't interesting, which is not an interesting way to consider a book. Let's call this one "thought-provoking," then, because it's very well-written and gets into the family history and history of the fraught regions they come from, much deeper than anyone else (writing in English, anyway) has — Masha Gessen is a TREASURE — because she wrote it (mostly?) before the trial had started, it's incomplete, and you feel that incompleteness. It'd be amaz ...more
Margaret Sankey
Sep 20, 2015 rated it really liked it
Gessen a pretty fearless Russian-American journalist with experience covering Putin, Pussy Riot and the Chechen Wars, is probably one of the best equipped people to handle the complex post-Soviet world of Dagestan/Avars/Chechens/Kazakhs and Russians who produced the Tsarnaev family, as well as their decade of American life in Cambridge. The whole story defies easy categorization--the elder brother returned to Dagestan, but never joined existing actual rebels in the woods and was kind of a joke a ...more
Dec 13, 2017 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
2 stars may be a bit harsh. It was interesting and I paused my other books to finish it. It had real promise, but the writing seemed rushed. There were far too many loose mentions, tangential relationships, etc that were just pointless. It could have gone the way of "In Cold Blood" that created a weird understanding if not an ounce of compassion for the killers --guilty as they obviously are. I don't think any credible source disputes that these guys were the perps but I could have been left fee ...more
Will Nelson
Jan 19, 2016 rated it liked it
I really liked this book at the beginning, when Gessen is describing the fraught history of the Chechen people during and after the Soviet times. It was also quite interesting to follow the specific history of the Tsarnaev family, how they came to emigrate to the U.S, and how they got settled here, or tried to.

Unfortunately as the book approaches the time of the bombing it becomes less enlightening. Its title is "The Brothers" and I expected to learn something about why they did what they did, b
Apr 23, 2016 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This book is about the rootlessness of the Tsarnaev family, constantly immigrating between the 'stans of the former USSR and then to Boston. The first half focuses on their migrations and failed dreams and then the second half switches to the way the FBI effectively destroyed the tentative hold the Tsarnaev's acquaintances had on a settled life in the US. Right at the half way point of the book, the bombs go off at the Boston marathon. This event is, rightly, given little coverage. What Gessen i ...more
Cia Mcalarney
Jul 31, 2015 rated it it was ok
This book was disappointing overall. The background on the conflict in Checyna was interesting and informative but the heart of the book should have been the brothers. One would think, given the title, that this book would have attempted to unpack the motivations of the brothers, or at the very least attempt to understand their relationship. Instead the second half of the book seems to focus on a half-baked conspiracy theory that suggests the FBI targets immigrants. Don't waste your time. ...more
Jul 05, 2020 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 2020
This (like Pilgrim's Wilderness) was another book that has long been on my to-read list and when it finally came up I was like, "Masha Gessen wrote a book about the Tsarnaev brothers AND I WASN'T INFORMED?!?!?" And then I tore right through it. It was just as good as I hoped it would be, even if it turned out to not exactly be ABOUT what I thought it would be.

This book truly is about the brothers, not so much the bombing. Gessen handles this family's (and their circle's) complicated immigration
Oct 13, 2019 rated it really liked it
3.5 stars
Falters a bit in the last 2 chapters. The history of Russia over the past 80 years and the brothers' family story is absorbing & fascinating. The description of the students fumbling and throwing out evidence unexpectedly made me laugh. There are many dangling threads that can never be resolved, unless someone in power comes clean.
May 19, 2018 rated it liked it
Shelves: 2018
My overall impression of this one was that it was just too weak. If this had been just about the Tsarnaev brothers themselves or just about Chechen/Russian history or even just about the Boston bombing trials and conspiracy theories, it might have worked better, but the mash up of all three was very uneven.
Jun 29, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Ok, I absolutely LOVED this audiobook!! I have been obsessed with the Boston bombing since it happened and I learned so many things from this book that I never would've known otherwise!

A lot of people questioned why Jahar (I'm using the spelling of his nickname because I have no idea how to spell his birth name) would follow his older brother Tamerlan so devoutly, even though Jahar didn't really have any passionate, radical ideologies of his own. In Chechen culture, the eldest son RULES the fami
Dec 29, 2016 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
I had high hopes for this book after having lived in Massachusetts over the past decade. I was working in the city on Patriots day in 2013, and I have vivid memories of seeing the first accounts of the bomb and people feverishly trying to rush out of the city. I had been hoping the book might add context to the events of the day and/or give a better picture of the Tsarnaev brothers. Unfortunately the book provides the reader with neither.

It's not to say this is a bad book, but it didn't add mu
I think like a lot of people I approached news of the 2013 Boston Marathon bombing with horror and disgust. I followed the breaking news of the ensuing manhunt and capture of the perpetrators during the following week, but then information/further updates started to fade into the background after that. What I saw on the news was all I knew. Masha Gessen has investigated the story further, however, with her new book, "The Brothers."

In structuring her explanation of events, Gessen goes back in ti
Apr 09, 2017 rated it really liked it
This book is soaked in pain. I could not help feeling sorry for everyone involved. A lot of insight into Tsarnaevs' background, history, immigrant life in Boston - although it was almost like using binoculars. The past in the former Soviet Union was more vivid, more detailed, came out much clearer. As we were approaching most recent events, it was almost like time and circumstances were compressing more and more, until almost no details were visible.

I still don't understand why the brothers did
Jenifer Calandra
Apr 20, 2015 rated it it was ok
Shelves: nonfiction
I really wanted to like this book. It just jumped around out of chronology too much and focused less on the Brothers Tsarnaev than one would expect for a book called "The Brothers." The author is renowned for her journalistic books about all things Russia, and I felt she (maybe unintentionally) tried to inspire sympathy for the bombers. The book also didn't feel timely, what with the conclusion of Dzokhar's trial happening now. It left facts unexplained that certainly have been resolved by now. ...more
May 29, 2015 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
This book provides interesting background about the family's life in Chechnya and Cambridge and details the events leading up to the Boston Marathon tragedy. Overall, it was an informative read, although I don't think the conspiracy theory elements were necessary. They detracted from my ability to trust the objectivity of the information being presented. ...more
Aug 19, 2015 rated it did not like it
This was a disappointing read. I would give the first half of the book two stars but once the author went down the path of conspiracy theories, she lost me for good. Janet Napolitano's review of this book, available in the April 7th issue of the New York Times, provides an excellent counterpoint to Gessen's assertions. ...more
Catherine Fitzpatrick
Jul 16, 2018 rated it it was ok
This is really a terribly biased book, and I had hoped for so much better, given Gessen's past books although her journalism in recent years has taken a decidedly "moral equivalence" turn regarding the US and Russia.

To be sure, Gessen is very close to the story, and has done a lot of research and following up on all the details of the story. You learn a lot from her research.

BUT she has a basic built-in bias -- she believes America is more guilty than Russia in their act of terrorism, and tends
Jack Heath
Synopsis: in 2013, bombs exploded near the finish line of the Boston Marathon. The American Dream had gone terribly wrong for two immigrants.
Nov 14, 2020 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
James Joyce wrote the short story “The Sisters,” which I thought of more than once as I read this book. In Joyce’s story the sisters are tangential characters, they don’t shed much light on the central dilemma and by the end the reader is left with an unsolvable mystery, deliberately designed by the author: what exactly happened here?

I came away with the same question as I finished Gessen’s “The Brothers.” While it is clearly, very thoroughly researched: we get a history lesson on Dagestani pol
Jun 13, 2020 rated it liked it
The first three-fourths is this book we’re excellent and thought-provoking. Gessen paints a deeply moving picture of the Tsarnaev family’s multi-country struggles, and her talents as an investigative journalist are evident in this feat. Her discussion of Dagestan, Chechnya, and Central Asia was particularly interesting, and I was impressed how she managed to weave the personal narrative of the Tsarnaev’s into a larger thread about the region. Her analysis of Putin’s crackdown on Chechen terror w ...more
Alisa Wilhelm
My memory of what actually happened at the Boston Marathon bombing was fuzzy and missing large chunks of information. I felt like I never got the true account in the first place because there was so much media saying so many things and no one was hearing actual facts from law enforcement.

This book straightened up the story. It is fascinating and more about the history of the entire family than about the bombing. But there is a reason I had so many gaps in my memory: there are a lot of lingering
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Masha Gessen (born 1967) is an American-Russian journalist, translator, and nonfiction author. They identify as non-binary and use they/them pronouns.

Born into an Ashkenazi Jewish family in Russia, in 1981 they moved with their family to the United States to escape anti-Semitism. They returned in 1991 to Moscow, where they worked as a journalist, and covered Russian military activities during the

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