Bill Gates's Reviews > A Gentleman in Moscow

A Gentleman in Moscow by Amor Towles
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Melinda and I sometimes read the same book at the same time. It’s usually a lot of fun, but it can get us in trouble when one of us is further along than the other—which recently happened when we were both reading A Gentleman in Moscow by Amor Towles.

At one point, I got teary-eyed because one of the characters gets hurt and must go to the hospital. Melinda was a couple chapters behind me. When she saw me crying, she became worried that a character she loved was going to die. I didn’t want to spoil anything for her, so I just had to wait until she caught up to me.

That one scene aside, A Gentleman in Moscow is a fun, clever, and surprisingly upbeat look at Russian history through the eyes of one man. At the beginning of the book, Count Alexander Ilyich Rostov is sentenced to spend his life under house arrest in Moscow’s Metropol Hotel. It’s 1922, and the Bolsheviks have just taken power of the newly formed Soviet Union. The book follows the Count for the next thirty years as he makes the most of his life despite its limitations.

Although the book is fictional, the Metropol is a real hotel. I’ve even been lucky enough to stay there (and it looked mostly the same as Towles describes in the book). It’s the kind of place where you can’t help but picture what it was like at different points in time. The hotel is located across the street from the Kremlin and managed to survive the Bolshevik revolution and the rise and fall of the Soviet Union. That’s a lot of history for one building.

Many scenes in the book never happened in real life (as far as I know), but they’re easy to imagine given the Metropol’s history. In one memorable chapter, Bolshevik officials decide that the hotel’s wine cellar is “counter to the ideals of the Revolution.” The hotel staff is forced to remove labels from more than 100,000 bottles, and the restaurant must sell all wine for the same price. The Count—who sees himself as a wine expert—is horrified.

Count Rostov is an observer frozen in time, watching these changes come and go. He felt to me like he was from a different era from the other characters in the book. Throughout all the political turmoil, he manages to survive because, well, he’s good at everything.

He’s read seemingly every book and can identify any piece of music. When he’s forced to become a waiter at the hotel restaurant, he does it with this panache that is incredible. He knows his liquor better than anyone, and he’s not shy about sharing his opinions. The Count should be an insufferable character, but the whole thing works because he’s so charming.

Towles has a talent for quirky details. Early-ish in the book, he says the Count “reviewed the menu in reverse order as was his habit, having learned from experience that giving consideration to appetizers before entrees can only lead to regret.” A description like that tells you so much about a character. By the end of the book, I felt like the Count was an old friend.

You don’t have to be a Russophile to enjoy the book, but if you are, it’s essential reading. I think early 20th century Russian history is super interesting, so I’ve read a bunch of books about Lenin and Stalin. A Gentleman in Moscow gave me a new perspective on the era, even though it’s fictional. Towles keeps the focus on the Count, so most major historical events (like World War II) get little more than a passing mention. But I loved seeing how these events still shifted the world of the Metropol in ways big and small. It gives you a sense of how political turmoil affects everyone, not just those directly involved with it.

A Gentleman in Moscow is an amazing story because it manages to be a little bit of everything. There’s fantastical romance, politics, espionage, parenthood, and poetry. The book is technically historical fiction, but you’d be just as accurate calling it a thriller or a love story. Even if Russia isn’t on your must-visit list, I think everyone can enjoy Towles’s trip to Moscow this summer.
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Reading Progress

Finished Reading
Started Reading (Hardcover Edition)
January 2, 2019 – Finished Reading (Hardcover Edition)
January 3, 2019 – Shelved as: to-read (Hardcover Edition)
January 3, 2019 – Shelved (Hardcover Edition)
May 20, 2019 – Shelved

Comments Showing 1-50 of 53 (53 new)

Chris One of my favorite reads of last year. It was such a surprise!

Brandy Nelson I very much loved this read. Tonight our brewery book club will be discussing this and I cannot wait to see what the others thought.

Barbara I am reading it now, in a "bookclub-of-two" with one of my students and we are both enjoying it.

message 4: by Tara (new) - added it

Tara Zirker Thanks for the great review Bill. Now I want to read it. Will add to my list.

message 5: by Nima (new)

Nima do you even read it bro

message 6: by [deleted user] (new)

An easy to read review. I am still cautious about picking it up to read.

message 7: by Yaaresse (new)

Yaaresse I've had this on my TBR list for ages. Maybe I need to bump it up to the top. I'm hearing/reading a lot of good things about it.

Megan Fabulous read. I loved this book and yet couldn't get into his Rules of Civility despite trying twice.

message 9: by [deleted user] (new)

I didn't know the author had written a newer title.

TessaLou Been meaning to read this for ages - just reserved it at my library! :)

message 11: by Tim (new) - rated it 4 stars

Tim Thanks for the review. I plan to read this book.

message 12: by Kent (new) - rated it 3 stars

Kent Carpenter Had this on my reading list, now I can't wait!

Gowri Sudhir It is an extremely well written book. I throughly enjoyed reading it

message 14: by Mimi (new) - rated it 4 stars

Mimi I had wondered if Bill and Melinda did a buddy read!

Kristine This book is phenomenal!

message 16: by Youmna (new) - added it

Youmna Harb I have been following your reviews and they are personal and comprehensive, really impressed and inspired that you are taking the time to write them down - thank you for leading by example.

message 17: by ELIJAH (new)

ELIJAH cool ebook !

message 18: by gr (new)

gr lol XD

message 19: by gr (new)

gr lol XD

Diane I loved your review Mr Gates. And I loved this book as well. Your points about characterization are spot on! The Count WAS charming and eccentric and Towles added clever touches to make him feel so real. I have never been lucky enough to see the Metropol in person but the descriptions made me feel as if I had. Thank you for writing such a thoughtful review.

Michael Leonard Thank you for the great review!

message 22: by Rebecca Larson (new)

Rebecca Larson I just finished Rules of Civility! I'll have to add this to my TBR pile. Thank you for the lovely review Mr. Gates :)

message 23: by Deborah Steel (new)

Deborah Steel I loved this book

Diane I went through a period of only reading 19th Century Russian literature so it has a familiar yet more accessible feel. The Count is now one of my favorite characters. Thanks for bringing this book to my attention.

message 25: by Ann (last edited Jun 14, 2019 04:10PM) (new) - rated it 5 stars

Ann A wonderful; review. This line in particular sums up Count Rostov so well:
"The Count should be an insufferable character, but the whole thing works because he’s so charming."

One comment of yours puzzled me though - you refer to his "being forced" to become a waiter. I did not get the impression that the Count had been forced to do this. As far as I can see - on my second reading of the book now - there is no explanation of how he suddenly becomes head waiter.

I had imagined that when the position became vacant - by virtue of his nemesis's promotion (once again) - Emile and Andrey had urged the Count to take over, feeling he was the best man for the job. And that, as he had in fact not much else to do, and he loved food and wine and the finer points of upscale dining so much - he took it on.

However, in now considering the idea of his being forced into the role, I can also imagine how that could have happened: that self-same nemesis declaring that since the Count considered himself such the expert, he must now serve as Head Waiter. The nemesis would no doubt think this a punishment, yet it certainly was not!

Marit I thoroughly enjoyed this story, and also felt like the Count was an old friend by the end of it. The writing is beautiful, as is the plot and character development!

message 27: by Basak (new)

Basak Many thanks for the review. It really is a great novel

message 28: by Fermin Tillman (new)

Fermin Tillman fbrciplctplqwvz

message 29: by Hailie Lang (new)

Hailie Lang tybmseczobemued

message 30: by Dante price (new) - added it

Dante price Fatto di tutto per non è più grande successo e il mio primo cittadino che si sono fatti di un po'ke mi utenti che just ogni lunedì

message 31: by Ben (new) - rated it 5 stars

Ben Gigone felt the same way billy!

message 32: by Mary (new)

Mary awww .. so sweet Bill . . you're like a regular guy .. refreshing

message 33: by Prerit (new)

Prerit Bhageria Do you both compete that who will read the book first and remember more in detail 😀

message 34: by Pops (new) - rated it 5 stars

Pops I agree, Ann. To me the Count was by far the best man to become head waiter and gladly accepted the portion rather than being forced into it. Plus, he was charming.
Great review, Bill.

Henry Terrific review.

Daniel Palevski Don't you think the fantastical elements of the story, as well as the overly embellished details, takes away from the horrors and struggles that are happening outside of the Hotel Metropol during the period it is written about?

Knowing the history of the time (as you mention you do and are interested in), isn't it hard to ignore the impact of the totalitarian regime on the regular people in the Soviet Union during this time?

Gurhan uysal Thanks a lot for the review! I’m reading it just because you recommended!

message 38: by Kelly (new)

Kelly Bates In lieu of reading this book for my Monday evening book club, decided to read some of the reviews. Maybe I'm star struck but BILL GATES?! I loved his review and it gave me a good sense of what the book is about. Thanks!

Kelly Absolutely loved stumbling upon this. I’ve been debating for awhile what my next read should be (take a look at my list, so many potential gems in there), but this wonderfully written review from Bill Gates himself cemented the fact that A Gentleman in Moscow would be my next read.
So thanks Bill!

Linda Snow I’m wondering which books you have given a 5 star review, if not this one? Are there any?

Vitalija|Vivija Books I am reading this marvelous book right now and I love it :)

Janet Zutler Just finished A Gentleman in Moscow, and am reading through the reviews...this is a habit of mine, as it helps ease the pain of having to say goodbye to all the characters I have become so close to and will be thinking about and missing for days or weeks...until I pick up my next book. What a cool surprise to see that you, and your wife Melinda, read the same book as me. Now I have to check to see what other books you’ve read. Thanks for being “a regular guy” on here, and taking the time to share your review with others. All the smart people read ;)

Kevin Ansbro A most wonderful review, Bill.
This delightful book had me dancing the Kalinka with mille-feuille in hand!

message 44: by Michelle (new)

Michelle Coletta You had me at "... so I just had to wait until she caught up to me. " 💗

Sassa Great review!

Nezam amazing book i loved it

Hazel Lewis Fabulous story, very well written.

message 48: by Nc23_11 (new) - added it

Nc23_11 Yo that book was boring as shit no offence

Hazel Lewis Great review and I agree, so did OH as we read it one after the other.

message 50: by Tony Jaramillo (new)

Tony Jaramillo I’m broke bill

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