In the new Russia, even dictatorship is a reality show. Professional killers with the souls of artists, would-be theater directors turned Kremlin puppet-masters, suicidal supermodels, Hell's Angels who hallucinate themselves as holy warriors, and oligarch revolutionaries: welcome to the glittering, surreal heart of 21st-century Russia. It is a world erupting with new money and new power, changing so fast it breaks all sense of reality, home to a form of dictatorship far subtler than 20th century strains, that is rapidly rising to challenge the West. When British producer Peter Pomerantsev plunges into the booming Russian TV industry, he gains access to every nook and corrupt cranny of the country. He is brought to smoky rooms for meetings with propaganda gurus running the nerve-center of the Russian media machine, and visits Siberian mafia-towns and the salons of the international super-rich in London and the US. As the Putin regime becomes more aggressive, Pomerantsev finds himself drawn further into the system. Dazzling yet piercingly insightful, Nothing Is True and Everything Is Possible is an unforgettable voyage into a country spinning from decadence into madness.
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I wasn't sure what to make of this book from the description. But it got my attention in the first few pages and just kept getting more interesting from there. I really enjoyed this book, from start to finish.
This is not a scholarly treatise on the culture or geopolitics of Russia. It's more a documentary about the people who inhabit it, told by a writer with a TV documentarian's eye for quirky, fascinating details that taken together tell the larger story better than any intellectualized, scholastic study could. The narrator enhances that documentary effect, telling the story in a clear, intelligent style that works well with the material (although the Russian accents were sometimes a bit strained). Instead of just TELLING you about the New Russia, the author lets the reader discover it by introducing you to people and letting them tell the story through the lives they are living. He doesn't try to explain the whole crazy, wonderful, country, but instead takes small slices and watches them with a practiced, interested eye. It's the epic, unexplainable story of modern Russia told one interesting person at a time.
People like the young, beautiful woman from a small industrial backwater town who, along with scores of similar young girls, comes to the city to meet wealthy men (they call them "Forbes" for the Forbes magazine's rich list). Meeting her and seeing the world through her eyes gives you a sense of both the desperation and the hope that seems to permeate this entire society. Or the wealthy, famous gangster who the author watches and interviews while the gangster is making a film . . . about himself. This clever concept allows the reader to see this character and his world as it appears to an outsider, while the film he is making sheds light on the way this man sees himself.
You see these people head on, in the full light of day, but the book is also full of little vignettes and sideways glances that provide context and detail to the landscape that straight, descriptive non-fiction storytelling often doesn't. For instance, in the chapter about the gangster/filmmaker the author mentions almost offhandedly that many of the gangsters who dominate the Russian economy and culture today were in jail during the heady days of Gorbachev, Perestroika ("restructuring") and Glasnost ("openness"). As a result, they were completely insulated from the massive political and societal upheaval that changed so many aspects of Russia, its people and their world view. These men came out of prison very much the same old-school Russians that went in, although the world had fundamentally changed around them. He didn't spend a lot of time on this fascinating tidbit, but it made me stop the audiobook and think about it, which to me is the sign of the very best writing. In a few short sentences he gave me a world of insight, and changed the way I saw his subject.
Again, I wasn't sure I was even interested in this book at first. It seemed like one of those books that intrigue you just enough to put it on your wishlist but you never get around to buying and listening to it. But I was lucky -- I was voluntarily provided a free review copy by the publisher, and I thought I'd give it a chance once it was in my library. It turned out to be my favorite book of any genre that I've read this year. So if you are already deeply interested in Russia, its people or the way they live and view the world around them, give this book a try. It should add some worthwhile context to your knowledge. And if you're not sure if this subject is all that interesting to you, you might just want to try it, too. A great book is so much more enjoyable when you don't expect it to be. And this was a great book.
A really interesting look at how the Russian central authority has adapted control of the media since the fall of Soviet Russia. It is an important cautionary tale for Western democracies trying to grapple with the rise of authoritarianism, a loss of faith in mainstream journalism and an epidemic of fake news.