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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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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.

Once Upon a Time in Russia is the untold true story of the larger-than-life billionaire oligarchs who surfed the waves of privatization to reap riches after the fall of the Soviet regime: “Godfather of the Kremlin” Boris Berezovsky, a former mathematician whose first entrepreneurial venture was running an automobile reselling business, and Roman Abramovich, his dashing young protégé who built a multi-billion-dollar empire of oil and aluminum. Locked in a complex, uniquely Russian partnership, Berezovsky and Abramovich battled their way through the “Wild East” of Russia with Berezovsky acting as the younger man’s krysha — literally, his roof, his protector.

Written with the heart-stopping pacing of a thriller—but even more compelling because it is true—this story of amassing obscene wealth and power depicts a rarefied world seldom seen up close. Under Berezovsky’s krysha, Abramovich built one of Russia’s largest oil companies from the ground up and in exchange made cash deliveries—including 491 million dollars in just one year. But their relationship frayed when Berezovsky attacked President Vladimir Putin in the media—and had to flee to the UK. Abramovich continued to prosper. Dead bodies trailed Berezovsky’s footsteps, and threats followed him to London, where an associate of his died painfully and famously of Polonium poisoning. Then Berezovsky himself was later found dead, declared a suicide.

Exclusively sourced, capturing a momentous period in recent world history, Once Upon a Time in Russia is at once personal and political, offering an unprecedented look into the wealth, corruption, and power behind what Graydon Carter called “the story of our age.”

288 pages, Hardcover

First published June 1, 2015

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About the author

Ben Mezrich

67 books1,246 followers
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 billionaire Russian Oligarchs.

Mezrich has authored sixteen books, with a combined printing of over four million copies, including the wildly successful Bringing Down the House: The Inside Story of Six M.I.T. Students Who Took Vegas for Millions, which spent sixty-three weeks on the New York Times bestseller list, and sold over 2 million copies in fifteen languages. His book, The Accidental Billionaires: The Founding of Facebook, a Tale of Sex, Money, Genius and Betrayal – debuted at #4 on the New York Times list and spent 18 weeks in hardcover and paperback, as well as hit bestseller lists in over a dozen countries. The book was adapted into the movie The Social Network –written by Aaron Sorkin and directed by David Fincher – and was #1 at the box office for two weeks, won Golden Globes for best picture, best director, best adapted screenplay, best score, and was nominated for 8 Oscars, winning 3 including best Adapted Screenplay for Aaron Sorkin. Mezrich and Aaron Sorkin shared a prestigious Scripter Award for best adapted screenplay as well.

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Displaying 1 - 30 of 371 reviews
Profile Image for Sammy Loves Books.
1,133 reviews1,460 followers
July 16, 2015

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 company. He then purchased the LogoVaz club and started dabbling in politics. After purchasing 49% of ORT, a major russian television station, he started using his power to influence the television broadcasts to make Vladimir Putin look incompetent. Instead of making Putin look incompetent, he made an enemy of a man with serious power. Boris was later forced to sell his shares in ORT, and fled into exile to escape prosecution from the Russian government.

Boris' Yact, Radiant, worth $320 Million

Radiant was seized from it's port in France by Russian officials. Just one of many financial losses that Boris experienced at the hands of the Russian government while in exile.

Boris mocking President Putin in an interview

Exile didn't stop Boris from doing everything in his power to cause trouble for President Putin. His obsession became his downfall, as he waisted multi millions on efforts to undermine President Putin. He only succeeds in making himself look foolish and ending in financial ruin. He eventually committed suicide while in exile.

Roman Abramovich

Roman was Boris' protégé. Roman played the game better than Boris by staying out of the spotlight and refraining from making political enemies. Most importantly, he didn't piss off President Vladimir Putin. Roman Abramovich became a mega oligarch worth over 13 billion. He owns three yachts but his Eclipse is worth one billion.

Eclipse, worth $1 billion

President Vladimir Putin

Putin moved up the ranks with a quiet power. None of the Oligarchs saw him coming and were all caught off guard when President Boris Yeltsin retired in the middle of his presidency in December of 1999, only to name Putin as acting president. Vladimir Putin then won the upcoming election with ease. He immediately put a stop to Oligarchs interfering in politics. He felt that the state and capitalism should be separate.

Alexander Litvinenko

Alexander Litvinenko was Boris' friend/bodyguard that was also exiled to the UK. Prior to being exiled, he was considered a whistle blower, telling secrets about Russia and the FSB. Once in the UK, he continued to trade secrets and information with ex-FSB agents that had also been exiled.

Alexander on his deathbed after being poisoned

Alexander was assassinated with chemical warfare, Polonium. Polonium-210 is rare, expensive, and practically impossible to obtain. There are theories the polonium was a lethal calling card. It was placed in Litvinenko's food or drink, and he died a slow, painful death. It sent the message to Boris Berezovsky that they could get to him at anytime.

Mikhail Khodorkovsky

Mikhail Khodorkovsky had the opportunity to go into exile, but he refused. He was jailed and his companies and billions were taken away. Mikhail was naive to the power that Putin wielded.

Badri Patarkatsishvili

Badri Patarkatsishvili had an estimated wealth of twelve billion, and was the wealthiest Georgian. Badri and Boris were best friends. When Badri died in 2008, his best friend, Boris, sued his widow for 50 % of his estate. With friends like that, who needs enemies?

Wow!! This book was beyond interesting! I totally enjoyed the political history lesson, mixed with the obscene wealth of the Oligarchs. It's one thing to hear about and see these men on television, with their yachts and mansions. It's even more interesting to read up on how they obtained their wealth.
Profile Image for Sam Quixote.
4,538 reviews12.9k followers
June 24, 2015
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 called oligarchs, business magnates of enormous wealth, who also had political power. And they were responsible for giving the world the ruthless Vladimir Putin, a man they made president, believing they could control him and discovered too late that they couldn’t.

Ben Mezrich’s book tells the interesting true story of the rise and fall of Berezovsky which in turn highlights the corrupt nature of Russian business and politics. Berezovsky was smart enough to make a fortune off of the new opportunities in Russia after it shook off decades of communist rule, but how he acquired and kept it is almost like reading The Godfather! Assassinations, small armies of balaclava-wearing, gun-wielding thugs, massive bribes, car bombings, street executions and intimidation seems to be de rigueur for how Russian business is conducted!

Mezrich explains the concept of “krysha” (roof, or protector), an almost medieval-type system of political patrimony, ie. you only get ahead if you have someone looking out for you. Such was the relationship between Berezovsky and Abramovich as Berezovsky became Abramovich’s krysha, ensuring the young man’s rise through his political connections, while pocketing vast sums of cash (allegedly on one occasion nearly half a billion dollars in a year!), all delivered from Abramovich in stuffed suitcases.

It’s a fascinating story particularly as Berezovsky’s out-of-control ego, that took him so far, became his downfall. Angry that Putin was elected by the oligarchs whom he then turned on once he was in office, Berezovsky used the Kursk incident in August 2000 to take multiple shots at Putin via his media empire. This in turn would lead to Berezovsky having to flee Russia for exile in the UK, an almost Bond-villain-style assassination of his employee, ex-FSB agent Alexander Litvinenko in 2006 (Polonium poisoning!), and Berezovsky’s supposed suicide in 2013.

While it is eye-opening stuff – made all the more incredible by being real-life – I really disliked Mezrich’s thriller-style approach. This is a non-fiction book that reads like fiction. For example, during the chapter on the Barents Sea disaster in August 2000, Mezrich takes the perspective of Lieutenant Captain Dmitri Kolesnikov aboard the nuclear submarine, the Kursk, closing out the chapter by describing Kolesnikov’s actions:

“The last thing he did, before he closed his eyes, was whisper, one last time. “

Um… how did Mezrich know that this was the last thing he did? How did he know Kolesnikov didn’t go out screaming as he drowned? He wasn’t there and Kolesnikov didn’t survive – all hands went down with the sub – so how does he know? Later on he writes:

“Boris crouched low in the backseat of the armored limousine, his face inches from the bulletproof side window, to stare up at the gunmetal canopy of clouds. He couldn’t be sure how long the car had been parked in that spot; he had spent the first few minutes simply gazing at the crown of mountains that surrounded them, his thoughts lost in the swirl of snow that seemed to be blowing through the heliport from every conceivable angle.”

How does he know “Boris crouched low” to look up at the clouds? How does he know he spent the “first few minutes” looking at the mountains? How does he know “his thoughts were lost in the swirl of snow”?

Another example, this time the fatal meeting between Litvinenko and a colleague:

“’If you came to London to warn me about my former agency’ Litvinenko said, stabbing at the piece of sushi on the table in front of him with a chopstick, ‘you could’ve put it in a postcard’.”

How does Mezrich know Litvinenko said these exact words while “stabbing at the piece of sushi on the table”?

In non-fiction, you just can’t make these suppositions – you can’t take real people and turn them into characters in a novel. It’s easier to read but it’s wholly inappropriate, disrespectful and false. Mezrich’s choice to do this (and while I quoted a few sections, he writes this way for the entire book) not only took me out of the history but it annoyed me that the author was taking so many liberties with his material.

The writing style and the short length makes for a quick read though it does feel like Mezrich doesn’t delve very deeply into his subjects. We get a surface-level understanding of everything and that’s basically it. It feels like it’s designed to appeal to the largest possible audience by presenting itself as an exciting, fast-moving thriller rather than attempting to be a definitive, in-depth and serious work on the subject.

Once Upon a Time in Russia provides a compelling look at the life of Boris Berezovsky and an overview of the Russian business world but Mezrich’s cavalier approach to non-fiction cheapens its impact. Truth is stranger than fiction but truth should never take the form of fiction.
Profile Image for Esil.
1,118 reviews1,362 followers
July 16, 2015
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 assert his place and control. It is a book about power struggles, greed, ruthlessness, corruption and violence and it does not paint a very flattering picture of Russian contemporary politics. The tedious aspect of the book? At times it reads almost like a mechanical desensitized recounting of killings, betrayals and petty battles with huge consequences. There is a bit of a disconnect between the gravity of the information conveyed and manner in which it is told – factual, dead pan, with little analysis about what this all means for the world and for the ordinary people who have lived under these regimes. I suppose it’s Mezrich’s chosen approach – the information should speak for itself – but at times I found my interest waning as I skimmed over the long list of long Russian names and all of the bad things these men – yes they are all men – have been up to. But mostly, it made me want to know and understand more – so that’s a good thing and a worthy endorsement of Mezrich’s book. Thanks to the publisher and Netgalley for an opportunity to read this book.
Profile Image for Olive Fellows (abookolive).
611 reviews4,984 followers
January 14, 2021
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 he was handed the reigns.

This is a really well-written book. However - I can't pinpoint why, but halfway through the book I lost interest and getting through the rest was a struggle. Because of that, I'm giving this one three stars, but I would certainly still recommend it, especially to anyone who liked the absurdity of The Big Short: Inside the Doomsday Machine.
Profile Image for Lisa.
136 reviews66 followers
August 7, 2022
Once upon a time in Russia, the fall of the USSR led to the privatization of previously state-owned businesses and created a class of oligarchs known for the largest and fastest accumulation of wealth in modern history. Then a man named Putin came in to power and declared war on the oligarchs.

This story is really about the rise (and fall) of one oligarch in particular - Boris Berezovsky. Berezovsky joined the oligarch class as a result of his adeptness of seeing opportunities and capitalizing on them. He's an interesting guy but is burdened with a very large ego and is arguably somewhat delusional. These traits led to his downfall as he tried to fight Putin, and he's ultimately left in financial (and mental) ruin.

I don’t know if I would consider the pacing of this book to be worthy of the "thriller" classification as its marketed, but there was a lot of ambition, wealth, betrayal and murder as the title promises. However, the bigger question of how to classify this book is whether or not its purely "non-fiction" as I often wondered how many liberties the author was taking to re-create certain events. He states in the author's note that he employs "the technique of re-created dialogue" and I have no doubt that the book is based on hours of research and interviews and court documents. However, there were a number of instances where the recreation felt like it was crossing the line to fiction and the real people became characters. I read non-fiction to learn about actual events and to educate myself on new topics, but this book makes me want to get a second opinion to corroborate some of the information before I feel comfortable sharing what I learned from this book with others.

It's still a quick and interesting read if you like stories about insanely wealthy, egomaniacal men trying to take advantage of a crisis and fighting dirty to remain in power (these stories are fun for me, hence the three stars). But it's a good, not great, book, and the previously raised question marks about fact versus fiction prevent me from recommending it beyond that.
Profile Image for Caren.
493 reviews104 followers
July 4, 2015
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. The focus of the book is on Boris Berezovsky, whose first venture was a car reselling business, but who really began to rise in power after he purchased ORT, the chief Russian TV station. He became a sort of "president maker" by controlling this media outlet. It all worked quite well while he kept Yeltsin in power, but when Yeltsin unexpectedly stepped down six months before his term would end and Berezovsky helped replace him with Vladamir Putin, Berezovsky's world fell apart. Berezovsky had seriously underestimated Putin, who sought to decouple business ventures from the political control the oligarchs had previously wielded. Berezovsky ended up exiled when his media efforts to break Putin's control failed. This book includes exploding cars, stealthy assassinations, business deals conducted on yachts and in dachas, political opponents tracked down and poisoned (remember the Polonium poisoning of Litvinenko?), and unimaginable wealth held by a few while the majority of Russians were barely able to get by. It reads like a novel, but it's all true. You will watch Vladimir Putin with renewed interest after reading of his rise. This is a quick read well worth your time.
Profile Image for Ron S.
420 reviews27 followers
April 1, 2015
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.
Profile Image for Anthony Taylor.
208 reviews41 followers
June 24, 2022
Money, Murder and Modern Russia.

Once Upon a Time in Russia is a fun, face paced tale of the rise and fall of Oligarch and mathematician Boris Berezovsky in the post Soviet world of modern Russia. It tells the story of how following the collapse of the USSR these new men made unimaginable amounts of money as industry, business and media was allowed to be privatised by the state. Built on this was power and politics which these Oligarchs delved into completion to control. The result was death, violence and ostracism. The book also explores Berezovsky’s relationship with Roman Abramovich and Vladimir Putin in the backdrop of the murky world of 21st Century Russia.

Ben Mezrich’s book reads more like a novel than a historical study and Mezrich takes artistic licence when filling in the gaps around what happened in certain events or what went through the minds of those who are no longer here. To the serious student this may be frustrating to others this isn’t so offensive.

I found the book fascinating and shows that from Genghis Khan, Ivan the Terrible, The Troubles, The Revolution and Joseph Stalin the legacy of violence, intrigue and betrayal lives on in this Wild East.
Profile Image for Paul Pessolano.
1,346 reviews39 followers
April 29, 2015
“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 Yeltsin) and making astute business maneuvers when state owned businesses became privatized. He also became friends with Roman Abramovich who became just as wealthy when he took over the oil and aluminum industries. Berezovsky cemented his relationship with Yeltsin by insuring that he would remain President of Russia, thereby exacting favors and security from the government.

Berezovsky, who helped Abramovich, was able to; in exchange for his services receive 491 million dollars in just one year. This allowed him to purchase several luxuriant houses, a plane, a yacht, priceless paintings, and just about anything else he wanted. Unfortunately, his ego and desire for power got into the way of being smart. He chose to challenge Vladimir Putin. Putin who was basically a nobody became head of the KGB and with Berezovsky’s help made his way to the President of Russia on Yeltsin’s resignation.

Berezovsky and Putin did not see eye to eye, each wanting to bring the other down. Their rivalry left a wake of dead bodies, least of which was the supposed suicide of Berezovsky.

An excellent read that will have one shaking their heads at the immense wealth, corruption, and political machinations that still form the Russian version of “democracy/capitalism”.

Profile Image for Nicholas.
174 reviews7 followers
December 27, 2022
The tale: Bonkers.
The writing: Brisk and dripping with thriller-y verve.

Mezrich’s approach of going deep inside the heads of dead men will not be for everyone. This is ‘creative nonfiction’ at its most brazenly entertaining.
Profile Image for Mandy.
3,217 reviews278 followers
June 30, 2015
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 their wealth and how Putin dealt with them when he came to power. However, Mezrich’s approach is to turn what is otherwise an excellent account into a sort of true-life novel and I found that very irritating indeed. Re-created dialogue and the use of vignettes rather than sustained narrative give a rather glib and superficial feel to the book. Certainly it perhaps makes the material more accessible but it also has the considerable disadvantage that many “facts” are imagined and in a situation when the facts need to be verifiable the approach detracts from our confidence in the author. Nevertheless, this is an important and immensely readable account of the rise of the oligarchs and if the language descends into cliché at times, fortunately Mezrich’s mastery of pacing goes a long way towards compensating for this.
Profile Image for Wesley Roth.
220 reviews7 followers
August 26, 2015
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 their rise to the upper echelons of Russian society. Then Putin’s rise to the top collides with Berezovsky’s and Abramovich’s worlds to astonishing affect, as the reader learns. There is plenty of “ambition, wealth, betrayal and murder” as the subtitle suggests. An interesting side story was the beautiful Abramovich aide, Marina Goncharova, who struggles dragging a “forty-three pound” suitcase to the office of Berezovsky (p. 69). What was in it? One million dollars in US cash! This was one of the many “krysha” payments made from Abramovich to Berezovsky over the years, which was a common way to do/still do business in Russia. Overall, I would highly recommend this book, and it’s crazy that its true (not fiction).
Profile Image for Patricia Reding.
Author 6 books161 followers
March 14, 2015
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 Russia, by Ben Mezrich, however, did not fit that mold, perhaps because . . .

Read more at http://www.oathtaker.com/patricias-re....
472 reviews4 followers
July 11, 2015
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 last 20 years about Russia into a more cohesive narrative. Also, got to see Ben Mezrich speak about the book, and he was a highly entertaining speaker and honest about his approach.
Profile Image for Daniel Waddell.
10 reviews
March 24, 2022
This was a captivating read.

If you’re looking for an easily readable crash course of post-Soviet Union Russian history, this is a great book for that. It’s written like an action novel but still paints in broad brush strokes the key players and trends that lead to the current Russian political landscape.

For anyone looking for quick read to dip their toes into recent Russian history, check this out. Just don’t cite it in any dissertations.
Profile Image for Nicola.
95 reviews1 follower
January 1, 2021
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 important to return to the first chapter when reaching its chronological place in the book.

I think that Mezrich might agree with the coursework question - ha! I also wonder if he has written about the more recent poisoning events in Salisbury..?

As with many books on Russia, I had to look up quite a few things about this brutal and murky world of the Russian oligarchs. In the process, I was reminded of McMafia - a BBC drama I tried to watch a couple of years ago but couldn’t get into. So I did a bit of research on that and finally understood the concept underpinning McMafia. I have started to rewatch it. I wonder if there is a link?

Interestingly, the family at the centre of McMafia is named Godman. Which is the family name of Papa Jack who runs the emporium in my new book: The Toy Makers. And they too, of course, are Russians. Also in exile in London, but at the turn of the twentieth century. Will be very interesting to see how that develops...
Profile Image for Jeff Hanson.
217 reviews1 follower
March 16, 2017
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 government they couldn't afford to maintain. The government functions Trump cuts will likely be picked up by new corporations, and you can bet that a few existing 1%ers (and probably a few lucky new ones) are about to get even wealthier and more powerful. Mezrich also shows how the oligarchs knew the power of the media and by acquiring and controlling that, they could in fact buy an election, first retaining Yeltsin, and then installing a young man named Putin whom they thought they owned, but who had powerful aspirations of his own and enough KGB experience and savvy to eventually stand up to them. However, the best lesson to take from this book is that all power is fleeting and when you're talking billions of dollars, no allegiances last forever.
155 reviews3 followers
October 8, 2015
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 deals) lacked depth and detail. Plenty of information about some of these events is publicly available, but this book seemed to just rush over them to get back to passages concerned with the internal brooding of the characters.
Profile Image for Alain DeWitt.
311 reviews9 followers
November 29, 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 he indulges in this exercise but he clearly labels it as speculation. Here he does not and the book suffers from it.
Profile Image for Shawn.
Author 10 books23 followers
July 21, 2015
Frustrating book to read. Almost every chapter begins with a narrative gimmick wherein the narrator initially conceals the identity of a character in a scene, only to reveal it a bit later. I suppose this is meant to prove intriguing, but I mainly found it to be an annoying trick. There also are many scenes in which he purports to know the thoughts of people shortly before they die. (I am not sure how one gets this info.) Finally, at one point "Putin" is misspelled "Putting."
Profile Image for Louis.
16 reviews
August 5, 2015
What I want to know is: when did he interview the guy in the submarine about what he was thinking just before he died? Maybe they did find something on the guy that told something when the the submarine was brought up ( I have no idea), but what a bunch of made up crap. It's this a screenplay? Historic fiction? I'm sure there's an interesting enough story here to not have to make up weird, sensational drama.
178 reviews
January 6, 2019
The author tells an engaging story about oligarchs in Russia. In the end, however, I'm not sure it told me anything significant I didn't already know.

But what really bugged me in the book was the author's obvious fictionalizing of so many details he could not possibly have known, yet stating them as fact. I think he easily could have (and should have) made clear what he knew and what he didn't. Not doing so cast doubt on everything he wrote.
Profile Image for Radu.
87 reviews7 followers
September 2, 2018
Complete waste of time - a childish dramatization with limited and sometimes misleading information.

One example : in order to support the narative, relationship between Abramovich and Yeltsin is severely downplayed - no mention of the fact that Abramovich was living in Kremlin starting with 96, invite by the ruling family. Same for Abramovich relationship with Putin.

Profile Image for Harlan Wolff.
Author 5 books171 followers
July 7, 2015
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.
Profile Image for Mwenzie.
84 reviews2 followers
March 16, 2020
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.
Profile Image for Madlyn.
683 reviews2 followers
December 24, 2018
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.
Profile Image for Evie Fowler.
53 reviews1 follower
February 16, 2021
More narrative than I expected, and less informative. Not much context given for the stories told, nor much insight drawn from them.
32 reviews1 follower
April 8, 2021
Over-written and under-developed; reads like a poor Bond novel.
Profile Image for Glen Stott.
Author 6 books9 followers
October 13, 2018
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 government to the people. Those riches didn’t go to the people but landed in the hands of very few men who manipulated the government to get them for practically nothing. With all those vast fortunes flying about, a Russian version of organized crime quickly developed.

Berezovsky one of the early Oligarchs, developed protection organizations to combat the Russian mafia and used his influence and his TV station to control government. He purchased the country’s most influential TV station and used it to get Yeltsin elected President of Russia twice. Then he helped Putin get elected. Through Berezovsky, Mezrich is able to tell an interesting and detailed story of all the twists and turns between the super-rich and the government from the early 1990’s to the early 20-teens. Sometimes Berezovsky comes off as a hero and sometimes a villain. I found the book enlightening and extremely interesting.

2018.09.19 - Finished; 2018.09.25
Profile Image for Jody Bachelder.
Author 1 book7 followers
August 30, 2017
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.
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