Saturday, July 25, 2015

Ben Mezrich's "Once Upon A Time In Russia"...A Book Review


I don't read a lot of non-fiction. Friends of mine who do read a lot of non-fiction find this unusual, especially because of all the time I spend reading or listening to audiobooks. I can understand why they think this way. After all, non-fiction books are crammed with real facts about real people and real events. I know if I read more non-fiction I would love it, but right now, I just have more fun with fictional stories.

However, Ben Mezrich just might make me change my mind.

This week I finished Ben's latest book, Once Upon A Time in Russia, The Rise of the Oligarchs, and unlike the other books of his I've read (Bringing Down The House, The Accidental Billionaires...), this book made me consider just how many things are going on in the world to which I am totally clueless.

I try to say up with current events, but after reading this book, I realized there's so much I don't know. Mezrich introduces us to a world, as imaginative and amazing any any fictional story, except this one is real, or was real at one time. It's the story of incredibly powerful people in Russia after the fall of communism. To fast-track the transition from socialism to capitalism, certain men were chosen to take over previously state-run industries like oil refineries, mining operations and transportation systems. A man savvy enough and who had the right connections within the government could do things and amass power like no one else could in the history of humanity. Almost overnight these men became billionaires.

Of course, with great power usually comes great corruption. The story focuses mainly on one central character, Boris Berezovsky, a former academic turned car salesman turned media mogul turned political godfather. We follow Boris from an early assassination attempt to his meteoric rise in power until he becomes on of the riches men on the planet. We then follow him as he loses everything he once had until only the shell of him remains. 

What I loved most about this book is that it showed me a world I thought I at least understood. For me, the mid-1990s was not that long ago, and as I read the book I remembered hearing about some of these events on the news. It's like Mezrich pulled back the curtain as we saw the real wizard pulling the levers.

If you've read and enjoyed Mezrich's books in the past, you'll love this one, too. If you've never read anything he's written, this is an excellent introduction to a talented writer and researcher. Once Upon A Time in Russia is a history lesson and a fascinating one at that.

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