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Once Upon a Time in Russia: The Rise of the Oligarchs—A True Story of Ambition, Wealth, Betrayal, and Murder
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Once Upon a Time in Russia: The Rise of the Oligarchs—A True Story of Ambition, Wealth, Betrayal, and Murder

3.80  ·  Rating details ·  3,033 ratings  ·  293 reviews
The bestselling author of Bringing Down the House (sixty-three weeks on the New York Times bestseller list and the basis for the hit movie 21) and The Accidental Billionaires (the basis for the Academy Award–winning film The Social Network) delivers an epic drama of wealth, rivalry, and betrayal among mega-wealthy Russian oligarchs—and its international repercussions.

Hardcover, 288 pages
Published June 2nd 2015 by Atria Books (first published June 2015)
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Sammy Loves Books

This is the True Story of The Rise of the Russian Oligarchs. These are their actual images and their properties.

What an Amazing tale of wealth and murder as communism comes to an end in Russia. A handful of men were savvy enough to jump on this privatization of previously state owned businesses. These few men rose to obscene wealth by purchasing companies for millions that were valued at billions within years of purchase.

Boris Berezovsky


Boris rose through the ranks by first purchasing a car comp
Jan 22, 2015 rated it really liked it
Shelves: netgalley
3 ½ stars. Once Upon a Time in Russian is scary and fascinating – and at times a bit tedious. The author has compiled information about a number of oligarchs in post-soviet Russia, and their role and tactics in shaping Russian politics from the mid 1990s to 2000 during the Yelstin presidency. By the second half of the book, Putin ascends to the presidency and -- while he is not painted as a heroic figure – he is shown as wrestling some power out of the hands of the oligarchs – essentially to ass ...more
Sam Quixote
Jun 24, 2015 rated it liked it
The fall of the USSR led to a rush to capitalise on the new state system as it rapidly became privatised. One such man, Boris Berezovsky, a former mathematician, became a billionaire buying state television on top of his car empire. He used the media to get Boris Yeltsin re-elected, giving him political leverage in the process. He took on an eager young protégé, Roman Abramovich, and together became even richer by controlling Russia’s oil and aluminium markets. They were part of a small group ca ...more
Olive Fellows (abookolive)
This book tells the stories of how the oligarchs rose to power in Russia following the collapse of the Soviet Union and the privatization of industry. There are several main figures who we meet and follow - very rich men who used their wealth and status to ensure victory for Boris Yeltsin over the communist challenger in 1996, knowing that their existence as a class was at risk if the communist system returned. Little did they know, Yeltsin's successor Vladimir Putin would make that a goal once ...more
Jul 04, 2015 rated it really liked it
Shelves: adult-nonfiction
This book is a real page-turner, written with the breathless feel of a political thriller. It could also be viewed as a cautionary tale about completely unfettered capitalism. The Russian oligarchs, who rose in the 1990s after communism in the old Soviet Union fell apart, are profiled in their ruthless grab for money and power as state-held businesses were privatized. These were smart, unprincipled men who made billions, but who had to employ bodyguards in order to go about their daily lives. Th ...more
Ron S
Feb 11, 2015 rated it it was ok
A stranger than fiction tale of the oligarchs that took control of an unbelievable amount of Russia's GDP as it transitioned to capitalism. Mezrich does a poor job of telling the story, primarily concerned with Boris Berezovsky, somehow managing to deflate this incredible tale. ...more
Paul Pessolano
Apr 28, 2015 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
“Once Upon a Time in Russia” by Ben Mezrich, published by Atria Books.

Category – History/Russia Publication Date – June 02, 2015

If you are looking for an eye opener about the fall of communism and the rise of “democracy/capitalism” in Russia, this is about as good as you will get.

This true story revolves around the life of Boris Berezovsky who worked his way up from a car salesman to one of the richest men in Russia and maybe the world. He made his fortune by backing the right man (Boris Yeltsi
Wesley Roth
Apr 22, 2015 rated it really liked it
I was fortunate to get my hands on an advanced paperback copy of “Once Upon a Time in Russia”, and I’m glad I did. Ben Mezrich does a great job of pulling the reader in right away, with a mysterious meet of top oligarchs in Russia in July 2000. Then Mezrich takes you back to 1994 to tell the story of Boris Berezovsky. Then fluidly brings in Roman Abramovich later in the book. I really liked how the author fully described the decision points that each oligarch had to make at critical points in th ...more
Patricia Reding
Mar 14, 2015 rated it it was amazing
For NetGalley.

It recently came to my attention, having read quite a number of Russian classics over the years, that they all seem to be “gray.” Following that thought, I discovered that ofttimes for me, mysteries or thrillers are “red,” books of encouragement are “blue,” fantasies register “orange,” and so on. However, stories of long ago Russian history and of the days of the Soviet Union are “gray.” The people seem sad, lost, hopeless, forlorn—leaving me feeling “gray.” Once Upon a Time in Rus
Jeff Hanson
Mar 15, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Mezrich has written a history of the rise of the rise of the Russian oligarchy complete with explosions, yachts, nuclear subs, assassinations, and atomic poisonings, that reads more like a thrilling espionage novel than non-fiction. Especially timely reading, as I finished this on the eve of Trump releasing his proposed budget which is supposed to have the biggest cuts to government since post World War II, and the Oligarchs rose to power as the Russian government privatized much of the governme ...more
Harlan Wolff
Jul 07, 2015 rated it really liked it
An excellent history of the oligarchs and their silent coup to govern Russia. They thought they had another Yeltsin when they backed Putin, but instead they got an old style president that wanted all the power back in the hands of the state. Reads like a crime novel.
Mar 16, 2020 rated it liked it
Too fictionalized and superficial to be really good. I don’t doubt the veracity of what’s relayed in the book, but the whole telling felt oversimplified in terms of the people involved and the full extent of their machinations.
Dec 24, 2018 rated it it was amazing
I thought this book was an great read for anyone for awareness and good history lesson how some of the rich men in a Russia needed to become richer than life.
Glen Stott
Oct 13, 2018 rated it it was amazing
This is the biography of Boris Berezovsky, a Russian businessman who was able to become one of the richest men in the world by taking advantage of the new Russia following the breakup of the USSR. Mezrich uses Berezovsky’s life to tell the story of the super-rich Oligarchs of Russia. The Oligarchs are usually depicted as super greedy villains who took advantage of the transition to illegally ravage the riches of the Russian people as the major businesses and assets were divested from the governm ...more
Jan 01, 2021 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This took quite a while to get into but once I’d understood some key concepts like the idea of a ‘roof’ it began to click and I read increasingly quickly. It is interesting and was also useful that much of this is familiar and recent geopolitical history. For example: Litvinenko and his demise. Each chapter has an excellent scene-setting start and the way Mezrich writes transports you from place to place, across Russia, across European cities (and even deep below the frozen seas).

It is importan
Aug 30, 2017 rated it liked it
Shelves: non-fiction
A peek into the world of the Russian oligarchs and their mad scramble to make billions. The story focuses on one oligarch in particular, Boris Berezovosky, and the circle of people his life touches, giving the reader a taste of modern-and corrupt- Russia in the world of Putin. If you read "The New Tsar" about Putin's life, this will offer another perspective that helps round out the picture. It's a very disturbing one. ...more
Ebonique Ellis
Dec 29, 2017 rated it liked it
it felt like a gossipy book, that is likely not entirely true, but I learned a little about modern russia politics.
May 14, 2018 rated it really liked it
All Mezrich books are superb. Author gives insight into unique niche subcultures of small groups of highly intelligent people that capitalize a system to make enormous money. Once Upon a Time In Russia is about the oligarchs that garnered incredible wealth in the changing USSR political system. It's an excellent orientation to where the oligarchs came from and how they "made" their money. ...more
Evie Fowler
More narrative than I expected, and less informative. Not much context given for the stories told, nor much insight drawn from them.
H. P.
Jan 28, 2015 rated it really liked it
Shelves: non-fiction
Once Upon a Time in Russia bills itself as a story of the rise of the oligarchs in the subtitle, and as “the behind-the-scenes, true story of two larger-than-life billionaire oligarchs” in particular—Boris Berezovsky and Roman Abramovich—in the introduction. But this is Berezovsky’s story. Abramovich plays a surprisingly small row, arguably less important than Georgian strongman and Berezovsky’s right-hand muscle Badri Patarkatsishvili, former-FSB agent Alexander Litivenko, and Bond villain Russ ...more
Sep 09, 2015 rated it really liked it
Ben Mezrich has written a number of "fictionalized" non-fiction books, including "Accidental Billionaires" about the founding of Facebook and some very good poker books. his writing style can be polarizing...he writes scenes depicting what he thinks happened in real life as if he had been present at the time. sometimes this is annoying, such as when he clearly speculates about what was going through the mind of a Russian agent as he died. mostly, the style helps make the story move along in an e ...more
Jun 30, 2015 rated it liked it
A meticulously researched and totally compelling account of Russian oligarchs spoilt by an unnecessarily fiction-like approach. The subject matter itself is fascinating, and clearly and succinctly related. I learnt a great deal and gained a much more complete understanding of what happened in the newly capitalist Russia by the end of the book. Mezrich concentrates on Berezovsky and Abramovich but many other characters populate the narrative giving a rounded view of how these oligarchs achieved t ...more
Rita Welty Bourke
Jul 07, 2015 rated it really liked it
When the USSR collapsed in 1991, the country embarked on a painful transition from communism to capitalism. Oligarchs took over, seizing political power and propping up the ailing President Boris Yeltzin. They created monopolies, cornered markets, and controlled the media. When Yeltzin’s health deteriorated, they devised a plan to replace him with Vladimir Putin.
They knew not what they were doing. The man they put in power ultimately turned against them. And he brought his own style of KGB sav
May 27, 2015 rated it liked it
Shelves: read-nonfiction
It was Ok. I'm glad that I read it, and it covers a fascinating time and series of events. However, I felt like the balance between storytelling and historical portrayal was awkward. I fully understand and accept that a book told in this style has to include some conjecture to capture the thoughts, motivations, and state of mind of the main characters, but in this case I just didn't find it very believable.

I was also disappointed that key moments in the story (assassinations and major business d
Imad Tabet
Sep 18, 2015 rated it really liked it
I first rated this book a 3 then changed to 4. I would give a 3.6 if it was an option and I'll tell you why. You will love this book if you are familiar with the Russian culture and the way business is done there. I am not. I bought the book to know more about Roman abramovich since I'm a football lover and not much is talked about him in the press. The author explains to you in the first half of the book the many dirty works done in russia to gain power giving you an idea of how business is con ...more
Jul 11, 2015 rated it it was ok
First time reading Ben Mezrich -- I didn't realize the genre was "creative nonfiction", and I have to say that in places it seemed really audacious to describe thoughts inside a real person's head that you don't have evidence for. I also was disappointed that despite the sub-title "The Rise of the Oligarchs," this is really the story of Boris Berezhovsky with others mentioned but not really explored. Nonetheless, it was a helpful story to integrate many smaller news items I've absorbed over the ...more
Debra Lowman
Dec 22, 2015 rated it liked it
"Let the bodies hit the floor. Let the bodies hit the floor..."-Drowning Pool.

Oh my gosh. What to say? Mezrich's book is a well written non-fiction narrative style book on the wealthy Oligarchy that came into being with the fall of Russia, Yeltsin's rule and the fall again when Putin came, rather unexpectedly, into power. It reads a lot like Scarface. If you told Quentin Tarantino was the orchestrator, I'd believe you. The book is really good, but wow, just wow. The plotting, murder, and mayhem
Vinay Badri
Dec 31, 2015 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: 2016-read
Russia has always intrigued and fascinated me in equal regards especially so after the rise of Putin. This book detailing the rise of the capitalism and oligarchs eventually looks at the collapse of the Oligarchs under Putin through the lens of a particularly strong Oligarch Berezovsky who failed to understand the real power of Putin and paid the price for it

Coupled with snippets of news read here and there in the form of Litivinenko poisoning, the drawn out legal proceedings between Berezovsky
Alain DeWitt
Oct 29, 2018 rated it did not like it
Shelves: 2018
I have read a couple others by Mezrich and enjoyed them which was the main reason I picked this one up. Unfortunately this one didn't hold up for one pretty huge reason.

Mezrich writes a non-fiction story but uses the style and format of a novel. In doing so he imputes thoughts and feelings to real-life figures when he would have no access to this inner dialogue. He gives no indication that he spoke to any of the principals involved.

I can recall one chapter in "The Accidental Billionaires" where
Jun 07, 2015 rated it did not like it
Shelves: dnf
When I got to page 14, I asked my husband if it was bad that I didn't want to read any further because of the writing style? He said it was not. After reading other reviews, I've come to the conclusion that either you love or hate the style of this book. The author is talented (as shown by his other works), I just couldn't stomach the hyperbolic wording that pervaded just about every sentence. Way overblown. Need to find another book that tells this story, so I can actually enjoy the read! ...more
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Ben Mezrich has created his own highly addictive genre of nonfiction, chronicling the amazing stories of young geniuses making tons of money on the edge of impossibility, ethics, and morality.

With his newest non-fiction book, Once Upon a Time in Russia, Mezrich tells his most incredible story yet: A true drama of obscene wealth, crime, rivalry, and betrayal from deep inside the world of billionair

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