Masha Gessen is the author of The Future Is History: How Totalitarianism Reclaimed Russia, which won the National Book Award for Nonfiction in 2017. She is a staff writer at The New Yorker. (February 2018)

Follow Masha Gessen on Twitter: @mashagessen.


The Real Madman

Donald Trump at a campaign event aboard the retired ship USS Iowa, Los Angeles, September 15, 2015

Trump has become the real version of the man Putin plays on television—an unpredictable, temperamental, impetuous man who will push reality past the limits of the imagination. Putin’s relationship to television is different from Trump’s because Putin controls Russian television outright. But war has been good for him, too. It’s all about the ratings for both men, in the end.

Russia: The Conspiracy Trap

Russian Army clothes store, Moscow, Russia, 2016

The dream fueling the Russia frenzy is that it will eventually create a dark enough cloud of suspicion around Trump that Congress will find the will and the grounds to impeach him. More likely, the Russia allegations will not bring down Trump. Meanwhile, while Russia continues to dominate the front pages, Trump will continue waging war on immigrants, cutting funding for everything that’s not the military, assembling his cabinet of deplorables.

Russia, Trump & Flawed Intelligence

US Defense Under Secretary for Intelligence Marcel Lettre, Director of National Intelligence James Clapper, and National Security Agency Director Michael Rogers testifying before a Senate Armed Services Committee hearing on foreign cyber threats, Washington, DC, January 5, 2017

A close reading of the intelligence report on Russian interference in the US election shows that it does nothing to clarify the abnormalities of Trump’s campaign and election. Instead, it suggests that the US intelligence agencies’ Russia expertise is weak.

Autocracy: Rules for Survival

People protesting outside Trump Tower following Donald Trump's election victory, New York City, November 9, 2016

In the face of the impulse to normalize, it is essential to maintain one’s capacity for shock. This will lead people to call you unreasonable and hysterical, and to accuse you of overreacting. It is no fun to be the only hysterical person in the room. Prepare yourself.


To Be, or Not to Be

Masha Gessen at her apartment in Moscow in the early 1990s, when she was in her mid-twenties
Thirty-nine years ago my parents took a package of documents to an office in Moscow. This was our application for an exit visa to leave the Soviet Union. More than two years would pass before the visa was granted, but from that day on I have felt a sense of precariousness wherever I have been, along with a sense of opportunity. They are a pair.

Visible and Vicious in Russia

Former Russian oil tycoon Mikhail Khodorkovsky, right, during a session of Russia’s Supreme Court at which he was appealing his detention before his second trial in 2009–2010, Moscow, April 2011. He was pardoned by President Putin and released in December 2013.

Human Rights in Russia: Citizens and the State from Perestroika to Putin

by Mary McAuley
In August the Russian supermodel Natalia Vodianova wrote a bitter post on her Facebook page. The previous day, her twenty-seven-year-old sister Oksana, who has autism and cerebral palsy, was taking a customary walk with her caretaker in Nizhny Novgorod, where she lives. They stopped at a café in a park …

Why the Finns Were Lucky!

Tallinn, Estonia, 1973; photograph by Henri Cartier-Bresson

When the Doves Disappeared

by Sofi Oksanen, translated from the Finnish by Lola Rogers
Viewed from the inside and from below, history is frightfully confusing. The movements of troops and borders that will later be described as orderly, planned, and logical feel simply like waves of violence and fear. They are waves of hope, too, though hope wanes as soon as the confusion subsides …

The Weird and Instructive Story of Eduard Limonov

Policemen detaining Eduard Limonov at an unauthorized opposition rally in central Moscow, December 2009

Limonov: The Outrageous Adventures of the Radical Soviet Poet Who Became a Bum in New York, a Sensation in France, and a Political Antihero in Russia

by Emmanuel Carrère, translated from the French by John Lambert
Eduard Limonov’s first book, published as a “fictional memoir” back in 1983, showed the rarest of talents: the ability to laugh at one’s own insecure, obnoxious, angry, and overbearing self. It’s Me, Eddie begins with a rant describing the main character living in squalor—we first see him eating sour cabbage …


Three Tales of Moral Corrosion

Here is one way to take stock of the ways in which this year has changed us. Consider three stories of alliances—or misalliances—unfolding in three different important institutions in this country. One involves Congressional Democrats and the president in Washington; the second is a story of political troublemakers descending on Berkeley; and the third involves political actors welcomed and not welcomed by Harvard. These are stories of new alignments and battles over legitimacy. All three showcase shattered expectations, both institutional and personal, and represent new and profound failures of moral compasses.

Trump’s Hoodlums

A right-wing militia group, Charlottesville, Virginia, August 12, 2017

Trump’s base shares his contempt for the Washington institutions that are once again exposing their duplicitous nature. Some of this base also happens to be armed. Over the last two weeks, we have seen Donald Trump send out signals to the vigilantes of his own choosing. “Be wary of paramilitaries,” the Yale historian Timothy Snyder warned in his recent book On Tyranny.

Why Autocrats Fear LGBT Rights

Marchers with photos of anti-gay activist Anita Bryant, Chechen President Ramzan Kadyrov, Donald Trump, the KKK, and Adolf Hitler at the Pride Parade, San Francisco, June 25, 2017

Trump’s campaign ran on promises to “take back” a sense of safety and “bring back” a simpler time. When he pledged to build the wall or to fight a variety of non-existent crime waves (urban, immigrant) he was promising to shield Americans from the strange, the unknown, the unpredictable. Queers can serve as convenient shorthand for change.

Waking Up to the Trumpian World

Singer Emin Agalarov, Gabriela Isler (Miss Venezuela 2013), and Donald Trump, Moscow, November 9, 2013

After months of talk about what it would take to get Trump impeached, analysts are calling this the “smoking gun” that could actually bring his downfall. Why does the occasion feel so momentous (other than because we want it to be)? After all, we learned only that Don Jr. said in confidence roughly the same thing that his father said for all the world to hear. But the news has been as shocking as it has because, after all this time, we still have not learned to take Trump’s public utterances seriously.