Our book last night was Once Upon a Time in Russia: the rise of the oligarchs: a true story of ambition, wealth, betrayal, and murder by Ben Mezrich. The book is set in Boris Yeltsin’s post soviet Russia, a time of great change and chaos, when a group of men, formally poor, mostly academics, were able to accumulate enormous fortunes through the manipulation and acquisition of former state properties. They displayed their wealth ostentatiously, acquiring estates all over the world, enormous yachts and, of course, beautiful young women.There was jealousy between them, resulting in bitter rivalries that sometimes resulted in gun battles between their hired thugs and bodyguards and sometimes murder of those who stood in the way or questioned what they were doing. Then Yeltsin, already suffering very bad health, resigned as president and shortly afterwards died. He was replaced by Vladimir Putin. At first, the oligarchs assumed it would be business as usual, but Putin had other ideas. He insisted they could keep what they had earned or stolen, but the interests of the state had to come first. He systematically clamped down on their activities and, in several cases, destroyed them. Krysha is the Russian word for roof and meant protection from the higher ups. Putin removed that roof, leaving the oligarchs vulnerable. Our discussion was lively and centered on the relationship of money and power and how our current president is cozying up to someone who is essentially a despot. It was an interesting evening.
Our next meeting will be on February 22nd, 2018. The book to be discussed, The Lost City of the Monkey God by Douglas Preston, is available at the Circulation Desk. All are welcome.