Frustrating gaps, but well-rounded evaluation

Published date24 September 2022
Publication titleMix, The
Philip Short

Bodley Head

It seems counter-intuitive to have read a 647-page biography about someone and feel less informed about their life than when you started, but such is the cipher that is Vladimir Putin.

Philip Short, a former BBC Paris correspondent, is an experienced biographer and seasoned observer of both European and geo-politics, so he is well qualified to assess the career of the Russian premier.

There is no dearth of primary source material about Mr Short’s subject but, given the extreme unreliability of much of it, this book in places feels like it has as much factual basis to work from as would a summation of the times of an 11th century Dark Ages ruler rather than a well-documented leading figure from the 21st.

Several times Mr Short has to pause and sum up what written evidence there is and contrast it with what Mr Putin himself has said — which is often varied and contradictory — or those of his contemporaries able or willing to speak freely.

Given those restrictions, Mr Short often has to resort to interpreting and intuiting where the truth may lie, and it proves no easy task given Mr Putin has been reinventing himself almost his whole career.

One area reasonably reliably documented is his childhood and upbringing.

Certainly young Vladimir had few advantages and showed little inkling of the heights he would attain in post Communist Russia.

Mr Short’s thesis that the street smarts Putin developed as a St Petersburg urchin helped him survive and thrive in the...

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