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The Man Without A Face

The Unlikely Rise of Vladimir Putin

By Masha Gessen
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The Man Without A Face by Masha Gessen

A biography of Russian President Vladimir Putin, The Man Without A Face shines a clear light on one of contemporary history’s more shadowy political figures. The book charts Putin’s almost accidental rise to Russia’s highest office, starting from his benign beginnings in the state secret police. His vindictive personality, overwhelming greed and disdain for democratic norms continue to transform Russia today.

Key idea 1 of 11

Young Vladimir Putin was a fighter, quick to anger, but dreamed of being a spy.

The story of Vladimir Vladimirovich Putin begins in the desolate years following the end of World War II. Leningrad, today’s Saint Petersburg, was a bombed-out shell, its people equally damaged. It was in this bleak environment that Putin’s aggression and violent tendencies took form.

The Putin family suffered during the war: Putin’s soldier father had damaged, disfigured legs and two children had died. Fortunately, they still had somewhere to live, an uncommon luxury. In 1952, Vladimir Putin was born.

The family lived in a small, 20-square-meter room, with a stove in the communal hallway and a makeshift toilet in the stairwell. Putin called this place home until he was 25 years old.

As a boy, Putin was easily angered. He channelled a lot of his aggression in his practice of the martial art Sambo, yet still was frequently involved in fights; as a result of this, he was excluded from the Communist youth organization, called the Young Pioneers.

Putin’s young life wasn’t only hardship, however. Despite their close living quarters, the family had a telephone, a television and even a summer cabin. How could they afford these luxuries?

When Putin’s father had served as a soldier in in World War II, he had ties with the then state secret police, the NKVD. After the war, he remained in active reserve, so kept his factory job – and in exchange for giving information to the secret police, he received additional pay.

It was around this time that Putin too became interested in spy work. When he was 16 years old, Putin approached the KGB, the Soviet intelligence agency, about a job.

However, he was told that before he could join, he needed a college degree or army experience. So despite not being an exemplary student, Putin applied to Leningrad University and was accepted.

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