Robert Cottrell has served as a Moscow bureau chief for both The Economist and the Financial Times. (June 2007)

Denis Dutton, Intellectual Entrepreneur

Denis Dutton, the founder of Arts & Letters Daily, in his office at the University of Canterbury, Christchurch, New Zealand, August 3, 2002

For a man of his age and background—a non-techy, 50-something, university professor—Denis Dutton was a crucial few years ahead of his time in understanding the Internet. He saw its potential as a publishing platform. (He was also an early publisher of e-books.) He anticipated information overload. With Arts & Letters Daily, he identified a market for what media people now call “curating,” which is to say, selecting and recommending content for a particular audience. All this was at a time when the Web was still, by and large, a morass of dial-up connections and bad typography in need of a decent search engine. (In 1998, Google was still in a garage.)

Moscow’s Espionage Addiction

Headquarters of the former KGB at Lubyanka Square in downtown Moscow, August 14, 1995

The arrest of ten Russian spies in America on June 27, and the exchange of them last week for four Russians accused of spying for the West, has brought inevitable comparisons with the Cold War. But really, it has little to do with war or peace. Russia simply cannot help itself. For most governments, espionage is a tool, used for gathering intelligence abroad. In post-Cold War Russia it is a passion, even an organizing principle, and it begins at home. The Tsars had the Third Department and the Okhrana as their eyes and ears. The Communists had the KGB. Russia is generally freer now than it was under communism, but its spy-chiefs are, if anything, even more entrenched. No longer is it the government that is running the spies. The spies are running the government.

Death Under the Tsar

You used to be able to view Russia optimistically as an emerging democracy with a lot of rough edges. Now it seems to be all rough edges and no democracy to speak of. It is disconcerting to find how accurate a guide Mussolini’s “Political and Social Doctrine of Fascism” can …

The Emperor Vladimir

“This book is about Vladimir Putin,” says Anna Politkovskaya, a leading Russian journalist, “but not, as he is normally viewed in the West, seen through rose-coloured glasses.” Which may seem a puzzling way to start. There is a lot of indifference toward Putin in the West. There is a lot …

The Emperor Putin

Run your finger around the borders of Russia, and you begin to realize what a worrying place the world must seem when viewed from the Kremlin. Ukraine, supposedly the closest and best-loved of Russia’s immediate neighbors, has just biffed its big brother on the nose by electing a West-backed president, …

An Icelandic Saga

The passage of time has been kind to the reputation of Ronald Reagan, less so to that of Mikhail Gorbachev. The reappraisals of Reagan provoked by his death in June were so handsome as to undermine the proposition that the only unwelcome publicity for a politician is an obituary notice.

Russia: Unmanifest Destiny

Foreigners have tended to see Russia as a state with an excessive appetite for land, whereas Russians have tended to see themselves as a naturally restless people. It is a matter of national pride to Russians, even of national identity, that their borders stretch for thousands of miles in every …

Putin’s Trap

When I began working as a foreign correspondent in Moscow in 1995, the chaos of the place was, from a narrow professional point of view, one of its more attractive features. Nobody was absolutely sure of anything, which meant that your guesses about what was happening were as good as …

L’Homme Nikita

William Taubman’s monumental, long-awaited biography of Nikita Khru-shchev is the most important book on Khrushchev to appear in English since the deposed Soviet leader’s own memoirs in 1970. It is rich in analysis and factual detail, shedding new light both on Khrushchev’s life and on the Soviet state. Taubman says …

Big Money in the New Russia

Say what you like about Russia in the 1990s, at least it was never boring. Anything was possible, and, indeed, most things happened. Laws and institutions crumbled before an onrush of greed and desperation. As David Hoffman and Stephen Kotkin recount, the events of the period included hyperinflation, a financial …

Russia: Was There a Better Way?

It was Victory Day in Russia when I finished reading The Tragedy of Russia’s Reforms, and Moscow was celebrating the fifty-sixth anniversary of Hitler’s defeat, the one event in Russian history which all Russians can agree to have been a great and glorious moment. In May 1945 Russia got it …

Founding Father

The act of resigning from supreme office was a novelty introduced to Russian politics, under some duress, by Mikhail Gorbachev. His example having been followed nine years later by Boris Yeltsin, Russia has been able to contain for the past fifteen months the presence of two past leaders of the …

Mr. Bigsky

After observing Boris Berezovsky in Moscow for several years and meeting him once or twice, I found I rather liked him. And I suspect from the fascinated tone of his book that Paul Klebnikov does too, notwithstanding the part he considers his subject to have played in hijacking the government …

It Still Flies

In these pages two weeks ago I concluded an article on the European Union with the observation that “so far it flies,” quoting from one of the books under review, Redrawing the Map of Europe by Michael Emerson. Barely had those words been printed than the Union—or a main part …

Europe: So Far, It Flies

As home to the main institutions of the European Union, Brussels likes to call itself “the capital of Europe.” But the conceit does Europe no favors. Brussels is a dank, irritable city with some of the ugliest public buildings west of Warsaw. Think of it rather as the world’s biggest …

Chechnya: How Russia Lost

When Anatol Lieven says he has …never wholly lost the sense that to go among the Chechens is to go into a certain kind of morning, cold and stormy, but bright and somehow transcending the normal run of existence… it is fairly clear on which side of the Chechen-Russian conflict …

Russia’s Dream City

The Soviet Union’s standing order to its scientists echoed that of Karl Marx to philosophers. Their job was not so much to understand the world as to change it. Those who sank too deep in theory were liable to face charges of “idealism” or “formalism” brought by jealous colleagues. When …

Russia: The New Oligarchy

The task of inventing a market economy for Russia would have daunted more experienced minds. But the economists to whom President Boris Yeltsin turned in 1991 were sure of themselves, and impatient. They believed they must destroy the principles on which the old Soviet economy had rested, so that a …