There are several books that discuss the turbulent time in Russian history when communism collapsed and capitalism filled the vacuum. This one is my second favorite. What I liked about the book is that it was not written with the dry tone of a professor or the outraged tone of a victim, it was written by a non-native reporter who lived there during the most dangerous parts of the upheaval. He had access to political and economic movers and shakers due to his credentials - he was a Canadian passport holder working for an American news organization and his family was Polish (a few family members were well-known, that worked both for and against him at times). The constant drumbeat of every step in the process, whether small-town politics or control of nationwide utilities, was corruption. We all know how the story ends, it is most entertaining the way he tells it. I've read several books about this same subject, they all piece together the same names over again over again, the same large events, but this one is a lot easier to stay with because this dude is nuts. At about 10 or more points in the first 150 pages of the book, I'd have said "Do svidaniya" because things were getting way too dangerous, but he stuck around and went on to the next assignment, the next interview, the next this-might-kill-me meeting. A good read of the economic side of the political mess, or the political side of the economic mess, lots of good information and some really wild stories.
The Wall Street Journal staffer has gone on to tackle homeland security but this earlier book of his is more comedic journalism with an "innocent abroad" approach to post-Soviet collapse. It isn't journalism that seeks to understand another culture, but it has merits as first-hand humour. Also good lead to financial personalities such as Potanin who has kept his head and fortunes in Putin's regime. In retrospect, his best section tends to be on a woman his book jacket describes as a "gorgeous robber baroness" who flies him down to Ukraine on one of her four personal jets for a talk and shots of vodka. She tells how she got her business start by pirating action dramas like Rambo before becoming a gas baron. Julia Timoshenko went on, of course, to help lead Ukraine's Orange Revolution and Polish Playboy came around to Brzezinski's fawning assessment of her by naming the Ukrainian diva as the "sexiest politician."