Published in December 2015 issue of Prospect Magazine
by Steven Lee Myers (Simon & Schuster, £20)
In 1969, 17-year-old Vladimir Putin met a girl at his family’s dacha in Tosno, southeast of St Petersburg. A game of spin the bottle resulted in a brief kiss. “I felt so hot all of a sudden,” she recalled, noting his “small, strong hands.”
In those heady days of revolution—cultural in Paris, violent in Prague—the young Putin would listen to clandestine Beatles records, strum his guitar and dream of a career in the KGB.
These flashes of intimacy are rare moments in The New Tsar, a biography of the Russian president by Steven Lee Myers. Myers, the New York Times’s Moscow Bureau Chief, dispatches Putin’s childhood in 10 absorbing pages, and his undistinguished KGB career in another 33. In less than 10 years, Putin goes from Leningrad special advisor to the presidency, by way of Yeltsin’s feckless Kremlin.