The breakup of the Soviet Union was a time of optimism around the world, but Russia today is actively involved in subversive information warfare, manipulating the media to destabilize its enemies. How did a country that embraced freedom and market reform 25 years ago end up as an autocratic police state bent once again on confrontation with America? A winner of the Orwell Prize, The Invention of Russia reaches back to the darkest days of the cold war to tell the story of Russia's stealthy and largely unchronicled counter revolution.
A highly regarded Moscow correspondent for The Economist, Arkady Ostrovsky comes to this story both as a participant and a foreign correspondent. His knowledge of many of the key players allows him to explain the phenomenon of Valdimir Putin - his rise and astonishing longevity, his use of hybrid warfare and the alarming crescendo of his military interventions. One of Putin's first acts was to reverse Gorbachev's decision to end media censorship and Ostrovsky argues that the Russian media has done more to shape the fate of the country than its politicians. Putin pioneered a new form of demagogic populism — oblivious to facts and dangerously manipulative — that has now been embraced by Donald Trump.
“Anyone who has spent time in Russia over the past 30 years should be deeply grateful for Arkady Ostrovsky’s fast-paced and excellently written book. Too often, the story of post-Soviet Russia is presented through a Western prism as a clash of good Westernizers and evil reactionaries, or as a lamentation about what the West could, and should, have done once it “won” the cold war. Mr. Ostrovsky doesn’t waste time on that. A first class journalist who has spent many years covering Russia for The Financial Times and The Economist, he is also a native of the Soviet Union, with an instinctive understanding of how politics, ideas and daily life really work there…. For better or for worse, Mr. Putin has forced the world to reckon with a surly and combative Russia again. Mr. Ostrovky provides a much needed, dispassionate and eminently readable explanation of how it happened.”
– Serge Schmemann, The New York Times
“Russia today is ruled by the worst and least talented group of villains the country has seen since before World War II. How did these men come to power? And how did the phenomenon of Putinism come to pervade the psyche of the nation? In his bold new book, Ostrovsky blames not just systemic pressures from above but also the cumulative effects of generations of genetic depletion — the survival of the least fit… His sparkling prose and deep analysis provide not only a sweeping tour d’horizon of Russia’s malaise, but also a description of the process by which anti-modern ideas combine with postmodern actions to buttress the country’s authoritarian kleptocratic system.”
– The Wall Street Journal
“The reader feels as if on a grand tour, with Ostrovsky at the elbow. . . He is particularly good at hearing the nuances and seeing how identity, ideology and personal experience undermined hopes for democracy and reform.”
– The Washington Post
“A clear-eyed and honest account…A valuable addition to the growing literature on contemporary Russia — at once informed, insightful and highly readable.”
– The Dallas Morning News
“Essential, timely, and always gripping, Arkady Ostrovsky’s book explains today’s reinvention of Russia from the fall of the USSR to the rise of Putin with the narrative flair of a true chronicler of the mysteries of the Kremlin.”
— Simon Sebag-Montefiore, author of Stalin
“A real insiders’ story of Russia’s post–Soviet ’counterrevolution’ — an important and timely book.”
— Anne Applebaum, author of Gulag
“Russia has always been a place where intellectuals, propagandists, viziers, and prophets have played a grand role. All the gangster-, KGB-, and oligarch-focused analyses of the country’s recent history have overlooked the men of ideas behind the tumultuous changes. Now comes Arkady Ostrovsky with a gripping intellectual history of the newspaper editors, ideologues, television gurus, and spin doctors who invented post–Soviet Russia.”
— Peter Pomerantsev, author of Nothing Is True and Everything Is Possible
“Arkady Ostrovsky traces the descent from the heady days of 1991 with deep local knowledge, a journalist’s fluent style and sharp eye for detail, and wit. He places much of the blame on those who owned and dominated the media in the fifteen years after the fall of the Soviet Union.”
— Dominic Lieven, author of The End of Tsarist Russia
“Arkady Ostrovsky’s dazzling book flags up the conflicts over ideas, morality, and national destiny in Moscow politics from Gorbachev to Putin — a triumph of narrative skill and historical empathy based on personal experience and rigorous research.”
— Robert Service, author of Comrades! A History of World Communism*
“For a decade Arkady Ostrovsky has been the most insightful foreign correspondent in Moscow, and in The Invention of Russia he uses his deep understanding of the country he loves to tell the gripping, tragic story of its recent history. A brilliantly original, illuminating, and essential book.”
— A. D. Miller, Booker short-listed author of Snowdrops
"A focused, bracing look at how the control of the media has helped plot the Russian political trajectory from dictatorship and back again. . . astute, accesible, and illumating"
— Kirkus Reviews (Starred)