The Foreign Service Journal, June 2023

74 JUNE 2023 | THE FOREIGN SERVICE JOURNAL Putin’s Life—Illustrated Accidental Czar: The Life and Lies of Vladimir Putin Andrew S. Weiss (author), Brian “Box” Brown (illustrator), First Second, 2022, $28.99/hardcover, e-book available, 272 pages. Reviewed by Joe Rice Johnson III To be succinct, this graphic biography is a brilliant piece of work with many keen revelations and observations—not the least of which are human frailty and the resounding geopolitical issues of a very complex country. Author AndrewWeiss draws on his deep knowledge of Russian and Soviet history, culture, and politics to present a compelling narrative, pleasantly accented via the engaging visuals by Brian “Box” Brown. In a surreal fashion, the graphic format makes reading the book akin to viewing a captivating slide presentation. Each of the seven chapters gifts the reader with all the infor- mation one needs to know about Vladimir Putin and his quiet yet stunning rise to power—from his challenging youth to the pres- ent day. Clearly, the reader will gain a perspective of his determination to leave The final two piercing sentences of the book are a wakeup call for all globalist stakeholders. behind his early struggles, which ironi- cally have made him who he is today. Additionally, the book reveals the challenges he faced early in his career as an intelligence operative, through his years as a deputy to Anatoly Sobchak (a former pro-democracy mayor of St. Petersburg), and even including a time when he wondered if he would have to drive a taxi to meet expenses for his family. Sparkling flashes of Russian history are sprinkled usefully throughout. We are reminded that Russia is the largest country in the world, covering 6.6 million square miles with 11 time zones. A diverse and multiethnic country, Russia has had to transform itself over the ages to survive. Likewise, throughout his life, Putin has transformed himself to meet the current realities facing Russia. Readers learn how he has carefully crafted an image that dovetails with the sovereign attitudes of Russians: “We are a victori- ous people! It is in our genes and in our genetic code!” and “There are no bad Czars in Russia, just bad advis- ers.” To the overwhelming majority, Putin is Russia and Russia is Putin. Thus, his stratospheric approval ratings from Russians should not be surprising. The final two piercing sentences of the book are a wakeup call for all globalist stakeholders. Those 33 words (and history will prove the authors correct) encouraged me to keep the book at the top of my stacks as I knew I would want to read it again. Curiously, I found the second read more enthralling and enter- taining, though at times more dispiriting, than the first. I see the book’s overall theme as remarkably tied to the ongoing narrative of Russia itself. Weiss also makes clear that U.S.- Russia relations are complicated and complex. He notes the lack of discus- sion of grievances from both sides and the horrific risks associated with this stalemate. He writes that we must do better with this situation, and he is 100 percent right. We should not forget that Putin was the first world leader to call the White House after 9/11 and offer support in our response to al-Qaida and the Taliban. True enough, there has been a dramatic and dangerous departure from those times, but we must not let go of any opportunities wherein the two countries can defuse tensions. Russia is governed much differently than we are, however, Weiss goes on to write. Putin proceeds from the base real- ization that the role of a strong state is an end unto itself. Thus, the interests of the state will always take precedence over the individual and even the rule of law. Clearly, Putin’s belief system is deeply rooted in Russian history and political culture, in which the idea that the country requires and has always required a strong, centralized state to rule society is a truism. This is diametri- cally opposed to the ideals of participa- tory democracy. This book should be required read- ing for students of Russian history or geopolitics, anyone with an interest in U.S.-Russia relations or even a passing interest in Russia, and those living and working in Russia. In my opinion, the excellent work by the author leaves us with the sharpening and glaring reality of today’s tinderbox between the two countries. Either we find a way out of this man-made conun- drum, or we stumble into the abyss of what surely could be an end of humanity as we know it. BOOKS