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The Future Is History: How Totalitarianism Reclaimed Russia

4.19  ·  Rating details ·  5,453 ratings  ·  802 reviews
The essential journalist and bestselling biographer of Vladimir Putin reveals how, in the space of a generation, Russia surrendered to a more virulent and invincible new strain of autocracy.

Award-winning journalist Masha Gessen’s understanding of the events and forces that have wracked Russia in recent times is unparalleled. In The Future Is History, Gessen follows the li
Hardcover, 515 pages
Published October 3rd 2017 by Riverhead Books
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Oct 05, 2017 rated it did not like it
Bias on top of bias on top of bias.

I feel about this book the way I felt about The Bronze Horseman. It is clearly written by an emigrant from Russia who hates EVERYTHING about Russia. There is no attempt to be objective here, vitriol in every sentence, where even the most innocuous things are described as depressing and dire and BAD - free, government sponsored, mind you, preschools portrayed as a "cross between baby prisons and warehouses" - really? how did we all make it then after attending
Oct 06, 2017 rated it really liked it
Shelves: audiobook
4 stars for the content and 3 stars for the audio.

In The Future Is History, Masha Gessen looks at Russia since the mid 1980s to today. It's not a pretty picture. She focuses on three young people born in the mid-1980s, from different backgrounds. She weaves in a lot of history and political theory. She essentially argues that contemporary Russia is under a totalitarian regime, zeroing on themes like the lack of true elections and state sanctioned homophobia.

For anyone interested in recent Russia
The slow transition from one form to another: We see this process, this morphing, through the lives of several individuals - professionals in the 1970/80s USSR, and children born under Soviet control - who witness the shifts through each decade of their lives, and the paths they each take into adulthood.

Gessen is an artful researcher and interviewer. They share the lives subjects without judgement, reserving criticisms for the government (there is a lengthy discussion on how to define the modern
Feb 25, 2022 marked it as to-read
Shelves: usa, russia
I refuse to believe that our common future is already history, but I feel like to make a future for my continent happen, we all need to get as many facts as possible and join the public conversation.
Nov 27, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: audible, russia
One of the most stunningly brilliant books I have read this year. If you are interested in Russia, Putinism, and the depth psychology of totalitarianism, you will find this book fascinating. Gessen is utterly brilliant.
Jillian Doherty
May 05, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Admittedly this book took me longer to read than most I've read in the last year – it's because there's at least five books with in this one!
The quality of journalism, paired with the incredible insight to the timelines of the USSR are unprecedented.
Masha's reporting illustrates far more than the growth of a totalitarian culture – it gives you the personal, socioeconomic, mental 1984-like capacity, and so much more that all comes along with it!
I just hope she keeps writing~
Rory Harden
Nov 13, 2017 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This is an important book.

Its purpose is to explain how, and why, Russia returned to a state of totalitarianism despite the initial hope and democratisation of the Yeltsin period. Why did the Russian people not fasten on to their new freedoms in the way that the citizens of the Baltic republics and, to a lesser extent, those of Ukraine did?

Masha Gessen’s explanation explores, via the lives of seven individuals and through three disciplines which did not exist in the Soviet period – sociology, ps
Jan 06, 2018 rated it it was ok
Imagine the United States collapses in the near future. And imagine someone decides to write about the collapse of contemporary America 20-25 years from now, focusing only on Trump, racism, poverty, health care, etc... In order to do so, this person follows the rise of Richard Spencer and the lives of a bunch of liberal, middle-class individuals from NYC, LA and, let's say, Houston. Would this be a fair depiction of life in the U.S.? Yet this is what Masha Gessen does with the Soviet Union and R ...more
May 30, 2019 rated it liked it

The Future is History by Masha Gessen.

This book won the National Book Award in 2017. It is an oddly constructed read tracing the last thirty years of Russia. Four Russians born in the 1980’s at the dawn of democracy are profiled as they grow into adulthood of the new Millennium. Due to their political beliefs and in some cases sexual identities they become opponents of the Putin regime — on the losing side of this political struggle. But the story also tracks Yeltsin and Putin so there are in ef
Dec 20, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: 2018, 2017
Really brilliant, really heartbreaking and really well-written. Gessen's ability to interweave different stories to tell the sweeping story of Russia from the heady days of glasnost till now is masterful.

She chooses the lives and work of four young people and three "experts" (a psychoanalyst, a political philosopher and a sociologist) to exemplify what would otherwise be a history too big to get your arms around, and the effect is even more heartbreaking, as it becomes personal. Gessen doesn't
Erik van Mechelen
Gessen's careful telling of the lives of four Russians who saw the Soviet Union collapse and who also saw Putin take power is a thrill to read. Their are three additional characters whose position in Russian society and political influence garners attention.

Despite following the lives of 7 characters across landscapes of city to country life and occupations from psychology to politics, Gessen manages to keep the reader on a path toward making sense of what it was like for these people to live (
Jan 08, 2018 rated it liked it
The parts where Gessen talks about totalitarianism and authoritarianism and the changes in culture and thinking in Russia are so eye opening. It's a great update to Remnick's Lenin's tomb, but this book did not really work for me because I really don't like it when authors try to tell a story through people's lives. Maybe it's a personal pet peeve, but I think the premise is that Russians are relatable and just like us. I already assume this. I want to know about the regime and I promise I have ...more
May 17, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: history, non-fiction
My very first memory of a newsreel was the Hungarian revolution against the Soviet Union. It was crushed. The Hungarians had control for a week or two hoping that the US or UN would help out. Good luck with that. The world ignored them, and they were crushed. As a young boy, I watched them being shot down in the streets by Russian soldiers.

The next memory about the Soviet Union that stuck with me was the Czechoslovakian revolution. Led by Alexander Dubcek, the government there tried to create "
May 05, 2018 rated it really liked it
This explains much about the dichotomies of the Russian citizens' mental, logical, spiritual, economic worldviews. Most of which ride on feelings as much as they do on physical or realistic to quantity facts. It's not just about the period since the 1980's, but that in particular is far more discerned and described through varying well characterized by witness and opinion citizen "eyes"- their life experiences throughout vast (once again) changes.

It's more difficult than just that though. It's a
Oct 16, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: politics, russia, nonfic
An essential book for anyone who wants to understand modern Russia, that now almost mythical country making such an (unfortunate) impact on the world.

Masha Gessen is a great writer who focuses on individual human stories in order to give context to the last several decades of Russian history. A cast of academics, protesters, and LGBT characters highlight the immense struggles going on beyond what was once the Iron Curtain.

It's not just about Putinism, but Putin is of course lingering in the ba
Lyn Elliott
Jun 17, 2019 rated it it was amazing
It seems to be that I have little enough time for reading this year, let alone writing reviews that might do full justice to a book like this, which will be one of the most important books I read this year.

through telling the stories of seven individuals, Gessen tracks the return slide of Russia into totalitarianism over three decades, after what seemed to be a period of liberalisation following the fall of Stalin and then the disaggregation of the USSR..
Late in the book she asks whether Russia
Several years ago I read Masha Gessen’s The Man Without a Face: The Unlikely Rise of Vladimir Putin. It was memorable and ominous, and I meant to follow it up with reading The Future Is History. It has taken me a while to get to it, but now, with the Russian invasion of Ukraine, I realized that I needed to turn to Gessen to help me understand. What an excellent book.

Gessen focuses primarily on a selection of educated Russians born in the 1980s, exploring how Russia moved from seemingly the coll
Little annoys me more than the "blame Russia!" narrative re: Trump. Instead of actually taking a harsh look inward at the brutalities that constitute American social, economic, and political reality, nice people like my Mom's friends seem to look for the scary other as a way of palliating their own shame -- in this case those bad Russians. Red Dawn for Hillary voters.

And I'm afraid Masha Gessen's book seems designed for those same people, which is probably why it won the National Book Award in 2
John Devlin
May 09, 2018 rated it really liked it
So one of the reasons I studied Soviet history during college was to understand this evil empire. Why were they evil and why did they fervently oppose America.

I got my answers and then the Soviet Union fell and my life’s path went another way, and my interest in Russia became tourist-like at best: Yeltsin, boozing, democracy, economic ups and downs, and Putin, Crimea and Ukraine.

Gessen educates me on how fucked up Russia has become, Here’s some low lights: Gays beaten to death and YouTubed, Vo
‘The Future is History’ is a subtle and unusual work of contemporary history, if that isn’t too much of a tautology. Masha Gessen attempts to elucidate the last twenty years in Russia through the lives of four people who grew up after the fall of the USSR. It confirms the message of Nothing Is True and Everything Is Possible: The Surreal Heart of the New Russia, that life under Putin is characterised by complete disorientation. Gessen discusses the nature of Putin’s regime from several angles, i ...more
May 03, 2018 rated it really liked it
Okay, so meandering story before review, but damn did Gessen ever put this shaggy dog into context. About ten years or so ago, I was looking around for movies featuring an up-and-coming Russian actor. About five years prior, I'd seen him in a great film directed by his father, and he’d since gone on to do a lot of interesting projects. To my shock and sadness, I learned that said actor had been killed in an avalanche, and in searching for more news, I stumbled across a guy with the same name--an ...more
Aug 28, 2018 rated it liked it
I should start by saying that I think Gessen is a fantastic writer and her central thesis is completely on target, if a bit obvious (Russia is going back to it’s totalitarian ways and we shouldn’t be surprised).

But I had two main issues: first, this book isn’t sure if it’s meant for people who know nothing about Russia or people who are well versed in Russian and soviet history and politics. There’s a lot of introduction but certainly not enough for the average reader who has no idea about thin
Oct 29, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: history, politics
Quite an amazing book, part history, part novel, with good doses of sociology and philosophy thrown in. I think this is an important book that Americans should read to better understand post-Cold War Russia as well as the present political moment we're living through in our own country.

Masha Gessen tells the story of the late Soviet Union through the eyes of several Russians living in Moscow beginning in the late 80's. Like a Tolstoy novel, the cast is large and includes public figures such as B
Ross Blocher
Sep 22, 2018 rated it really liked it
An important book, if a depressing one. Masha Gessen is a gay, Jewish journalist who was born in the Soviet Union - a country that remains, even now re-established as Russia, virulently anti-homosexual, anti-Semitic, and anti-intellectual. She presents the case that Russia is still a totalitarian state, despite its claims of being an election-driven democracy. The underlying message is that creating a totalitarian regime - one that provides answers for everything and exerts control over every as ...more
Mar 13, 2018 rated it it was amazing
30th book for 2018.

By following the lives of four Russians, born in the early 1980s, Gessen offers a fascinating insight into the failure of democracy to take root in Russia and the birth Putin as dictator.

The book is particularly powerful as it skillfully describes macro-level changes in Russian society, while always keeping a focus on the personal, idiosyncratic trajectories of individuals attempting to navigate a constantly changing society.

It is impossible to read this and not be fearful of
May 26, 2020 rated it really liked it
Shelves: 2020
My eyes have certainly been opened by this book. So much of this history I had absolutely no idea had happened. There's so much information packed into this book. Telling the story by following the thread of the lives of children born in the 1980s helps make sense of it all, but by the end I felt I had fallen into chaos--no doubt a reflection of the state of things in Russia. I am feeling less optimistic about our world but actually--strangely--more optimistic about the U.S.A. ...more
Edward Rathke
Jan 23, 2018 rated it really liked it
Shelves: world-history
When I began reading this, I worried that Gessen wasn't up to the task of writing a history. She's a great journalist and her book length explorations of Putin, Pussy Riot, and the Tsarnaev brothers are all excellent and do a lot to reveal what Russia has become, and also what the United States has become. And she does it through exploring a close subject, a few people, and using their stories to demonstrate something larger, something deeper.

This book is more of a history than it is a journalis
May 12, 2022 rated it really liked it
Honestly pretty masterful storytelling. Very impressed with the craft and execution.

Finished with a better sense of both the universal pining for security, dignity, freedom true of Russians and all people, but also the distinct expressions that pining takes peculiar to the Russian people, and that go beyond my understanding.

I think I naively expected certain pro-democratic reactions to the invasion of Ukraine. To my dismay, support for the regime has deepened. I think this book helped me better
Dec 21, 2017 rated it liked it
I am stretching to give this 3 stars. I was looking for a documentary treatment of the subject of the book's title and the author called this book a non-fiction novel so I decided to give it a try. I found it to be more a "novel" than a documentary history than I wanted.
I like this author a great deal, however; hence the 3 stars.
Russia is an excellent example that you don't just go from a totalitarian state to a functional democracy when you have KGB thugs ready to seize the country as Putin did
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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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