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A Very Expensive Poison: The Definitive Story of the Murder of Litvinenko and Russia's War with the West

4.26  ·  Rating details ·  1,621 ratings  ·  167 reviews
1 November 2006. Alexander Litvinenko is brazenly poisoned in central London. Twenty two days later he dies, killed from the inside. The poison? Polonium; a rare, lethal and highly radioactive substance. His crime? He had made some powerful enemies in Russia.

Based on the best part of a decade's reporting, as well as extensive interviews with those closest to the events (in
Kindle Edition, 432 pages
Published February 11th 2016 by Guardian Faber Publishing
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Start your review of A Very Expensive Poison: The Definitive Story of the Murder of Litvinenko and Russia's War with the West
Alexander Litvinenko solved the crime of his murder as he was dying from poisoning and it took the British government another 10 years to confirm it. Luke Harding takes you through the crime and the issues that surround it. You see how those who fall out of favor with Vladimir Putin are never safe.

Those at the top did not plan it well. While they found two unassuming motiveless assassins, Andrei Lugovoi and Dimity Kovton knew little of their tradecraft. The descriptions of how they dressed, atte
John Anthony
Jul 18, 2017 rated it really liked it
Shelves: non-fiction
Spy thrillers will be tame after this.

Alexander Litvinenko asked too many awkward questions and found too many difficult answers - difficult and unnecessarily inconvenient that is, to the all powerful Vladimir Putin and his banditti. Not many people merit such an expensive poison as Litvenko got for his trouble, costing millions. What a death, courtesy of a couple of bungling amateurs who brought to mind the comedy duo Laurel and Hardy. All this in the heart of Mayfair which this duo proceeded
Feb 13, 2016 rated it it was amazing
In London, 2006, Alexander Litvinenko was poisoned. To the men who ordered his killing, he was a traitor who held dangerous views about the Russian leaders he had previously worked for. Yet, he was also a husband and a father. A man who was trying to provide for his family, having fled his country and moved to London to start a new life.

I will admit that I knew very little about this case. Like many others, I saw the photograph of Litvinenko in hospital as he lay dying. I read his moving stateme
Ripped from the headlines? Yes, but not today's headlines about the poisoning of Sergei Skripal and his daughter in the UK. The poisoning that this book focuses on (although it does explore others) was done in 2006 and the British government did not call Putin out on it, although a 2015 study by a UK judge found that it was probable that Putin was behind the 2006 poisoning of Alexander Litvinenko. It was a messy killing, as the poisoners left quite a radioactive trail behind them.

The author tal
May 16, 2016 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition

This is possibly the first serious book to look at the murder of Alexander Litvinenko, post the publication of the official inquiry. Even prior to that, while there were many books on the subject, more than a few were either conspiracist in nature or had an axe to grind.

Luke Harding, an experienced Guardian journalist and the paper’s former Moscow correspondent, has long followed the story. In fact, as his previous book Mafia State makes clear, part of the reason he was banished from Russia was
Jun 06, 2017 rated it it was amazing
I’ll never look at a cup of tea the same way again. Imagine someone handing you a document classified “top secret”; the anticipation builds as you turn the page. That is this book. James Bond films have nothing on this and one day, much like Harding’s other work, it will no doubt be made into a film.

This book reads like the best spy novel you’ve ever read. Or perhaps even the most gripping Bourne film you’ve watched – but it’s a true story. A terrifying, edge-of-your-seat true story.

Luke Harding
Feb 02, 2017 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: Everyone
Shelves: nonfiction
Easily the best reportage I have read in many years.
Thorough, clear, engaging. It both tells the story of Andrei Litvinenko and places it into the wider context of the criminal nature of the Russian government and in particular Vladimir Putin.
I found much of it chilling, particularly the later chapters on Putin's military invasions in Crimea and eastern Ukraine. This unease is deepened because of the documented links that Trump advisor Paul Manafort has with pro-Putin Russian oligarchs including
If you watched the adoration of Putin last year by a certain orange tinged president, this book will make it even worse.

This does not mean to say that the other world leaders come off much better, but if you needed reason beside election influence and the Crimea to blackball Russia, this book presents it. And I am not even talking about the murder of Litvinenko.

Seriously a good book.
Mar 28, 2017 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: russia
Super accessible explainer on the polonium tea poisoning of Alexander Litvinenko and how that particularly memorable assassination fits into all the other high-profile killings of Putin's enemies since. Gives great context; highly recced for those without much (or any) background knowledge along with those who are already familiar but want more details.
Brendan Monroe
At the G7 summit yesterday, President Trump fulminated about Russia’s expulsion from the group of nations, formerly known as the G8.

“Where is Russia?” He blathered, in characteristically moronic fashion. "You know, whether you like it or not, and it may not be politically correct, we have a world to run and in the G7, which used to be the G8, they threw Russia out. They should let Russia come back in because we should have Russia at the negotiating table.”

Is Trump just laughably ignorant about
Apr 04, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition

4.5 Stars!

“This was polonium, a rare and highly radioactive substance. It is probably the most toxic substance known to man when swallowed or inhaled-more than 100 billion times more deadly than hydrogen cyanide.”

1 November, 2006 in an upper class hotel in central London is where Alexander Litvinenko was when he was poisoned by Dmitri Kovtun and Andrei Lugovoi. It was later discovered that Litvinenko had an incredible 26.5 micrograms of polonium-210 in his bloodstream. Less than 1 microgram woul
Barbara (The Bibliophage)
So much more than a tense murder investigation. This book details Putin’s rise to power, and the beginnings of his hatred of the West. There are Russian spies, radioactive materials, conquests, grudges, downed airliners, and a trail of money. And every bit of it happened in real life. Very readable, but also scary! Harding makes the complicated aspects feel understandable, however illogical.

Full review on my book blog
Sep 14, 2019 rated it really liked it
Shelves: read-2019
That Russian dissidents, supposed traitors, and pretty much anyone too critical of Putin and his regime stand a not inconsiderable chance of being murdered, whether on Russian soil or abroad, is by now a chilling but wellknown fact. Few such cases, however, become quite as infamous and publicised around the world as the slow and agonising death of Alexander Litvinenko in London 2006 after two almost comically inept yet ultimately successful Russian assassins poisoned his tea with polonium. Hardi ...more
Mar 04, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Details about what one expected on the man poisoned by Polonium and related details on other curious deaths. Much of the tactical playbook seems to have been borrowed recently here, though not the murderous ones. It also amazes me how easily and quickly we forget. Like the title of the other book, the less you know, the better you sleep. I would like to be back in my comfortable bubble.
Jun 20, 2018 rated it really liked it
Shelves: 2018
Finished: 20.06.2018
Genre: non-fiction (true crime)
Rating: B
There seems to be a trend
…but who is the one giving the orders to kill?

Jun 07, 2017 rated it really liked it
This book was published last summer, well before the Trump/Clinton debates and October surprises with their Russian issues and Putin references. It traces the death of Alexander Litvinenko in 2006 and highlights the kleptocratic mess that has become post-Soviet Russia. Along the way the reader gets insights into subjects as diverse as the discovery of polonium, Soviet intelligence services, Ukraine politics, and Russian vacation destinations. It all fits together in a very interesting piece of i ...more
Christy Tuohey
May 05, 2017 rated it really liked it
There are probably few non-fiction books out there that are more timely to read than this one. In light of Russian interference in the United States 2016 election, and current news reports of Kremlin critics being gunned down in broad daylight, suffering unexpected heart attacks or mysteriously falling from high-rise balconies, this is an important read. Journalist Luke Harding, who previously worked in The Guardian's Moscow bureau, meticulously recounts the events leading up to and unfolding af ...more
Apr 15, 2017 rated it really liked it
I remember following news of Litvinenko's poisoning when it occurred in 2006. It was haunting and fascinating then and is no less so 11 years later, particularly in light of all that has happenened since in Putin's Russia. The book was exhaustive and mostly fast-paced, reading more like a novel at times than non-fiction. Harding did a good job of capturing the people and events leading up to Nov. 1, 2006. I felt he got a little bogged down when he ventured into the Panama Papers, Crimea, etc., b ...more
Elizabeth Theiss
Feb 17, 2017 rated it it was amazing
A compulsively readable account of the assassination of Alexander Litvinenko, a Russian who immigrated to London in fear of his life. Oddly, the incompetent assassins left a trail of radioactivity of deadly polonium from Russia to London that made it easy to track their precise movements and pinpoint the teapot and time at which the poisoning occurred. The most chilling character in the book is Vladimir Putin who almost certainly ordered the assassination to avoid Litvinenko's publication of a b ...more
Angelica Pogson
Mar 10, 2017 rated it it was amazing
For anyone who wants to learn more about Putin and the Russian state this is a must.
Sep 05, 2017 rated it really liked it
Sometimes facts of history can be more fascinating than any work of fiction. This is an example of where current events mimics a spy suspense novel of the Cold War era except it is all too real including the fatal consequences. The author Luke Harding is a British journalist who worked for The Guardian and have spent several years as a foreign correspondent in Russia. He has written quite a bit about modern Russia including several books on the topic. I first read his book on Wikileaks which was ...more
Dec 30, 2019 rated it it was amazing
This story is BONKERS and it's also true. WTF? Putin is nasty, which we already knew. I mean, I knew he had people killed for disagreeing with him and his regime, but I was unaware of the exact extent of it. A lot of the early events here (including Litvinenko's poisoning) happened when I was still in high school in the Rust Belt, and so was not exactly conversational material. Some of the more recent things I was aware of. But GEEZE.

I do with that there had been a little bit more about what hap
Mar 26, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Audio - The basic events of this story were already known to me, namely, Russian dissident is murdered in London by a radioactive poison and the Russian state is implicated. The author filled in much more detail and laid out the evidence making the compelling case that the Russian involvement went all the way to the top.

I won't say much more except that this demonstrates the mafia thugocracy that Vladimir Putin leads. What a shame that he meets such a tepid response - even acceptance by our cur
Shane Galway
May 18, 2017 rated it it was amazing
This book reads like a thriller, it was hard to put down. It has shades of Fleming, with plenty of intrigue and a fast-moving plot, coupled with the mystery and ambiguity of a Le Carré novel.

But it's also more than a good read, it's also an exposé on the current state of affairs with the Russian government, and how it conducts itself internationally. At times, it is alarming and scathing.

I have a huge amount of respect for investigative journalism, and Luke Harding is one of the best there is.
Susan Wilkins
Sep 24, 2020 rated it it was amazing
Listening to the fascinating talk by Luke Harding and Litvinenko's widow at Charleston Festival made this an even more intriguing and compelling read.
Jun 25, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: politics, cold-war
Review originally posted at Book of Bogan.

Russia is something of an enigma to most people in the west, and our perceptions of the country, its politicians, and history are definitely coloured by what we see in the media. Luke Harding's book seeks to lift some of the veil which surrounds the country in his book 'A very expensive poison' which describes the poisoning of a man named Alexander Litvinenko, allegedly or apparently by agents working on behalf of the Russian government. I remember the e
Oct 18, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
What a story! This book had me hanging on every word. Pretty darn good for nonfiction.
Jul 23, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Informative, important and at points mind-blowing in its revelations.
Ricky Carrigan
This book reads like something out of an old spy novel, except Putin's brutal suppression of any dissent is very real. There is no free press in Russia, which is now a modern day mafia state. From radioactive tea to ricin tipped umbrellas, and everything in between, the KGB (now called FSB) is alive and well.
Jun 14, 2019 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Harding retells the assassination of Litvinenko in a fast-paced exciting way. He brings out the findings of the inquest and adds a human perspective and the insight into the Putin regime. Amazing read!
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Luke Daniel Harding is a British journalist working as a foreign correspondent for The Guardian. He was the correspondent of The Guardian in Russia from 2007 until, returning from a stay in the UK on February 5, 2011, he was refused re-entry to Russia and deported back the same day. The Guardian said his expulsion was linked with his critical articles on Russia, while Russia's foreign ministry sai ...more

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5 likes · 2 comments
“In fact, the aim is to blur what is true with what is not, to the point that the truth disappears altogether. By noisily asserting that something is false, you create a fake counter-reality. In time this constructed sovereign version of events becomes real- at least in the minds of those who are watching.” 1 likes
“The common theme here was contempt: a poisonous disregard for human life. For Vladimir Putin’s critics have an uncanny habit of turning up dead.” 1 likes
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