The problem with writing a definitive history of the Russia scandal is that the scandal is still writing itself. Revelations come thick and fast, sometimes daily.
What authors are left with is writing primers that background the scandal, and with publication last week of Seth Hetenna's Trump/Russia: A Definitive History, there are now five books in particular that provide comprehensive overviews while providing the details that get lost in the 24/7 drumbeat of news.
Three of the books focus on Donald Trump's rise to the presidency and two on Vladimir Putin's consolidation of power.
The two men could not be more different in background. One was the son of privilege who learned the fine art of fleecing people at his father's knee in an affluent Queens backwater. The other was the son of parents of modest means and had suffered grievously in the Second World War who learned the dark art of spycraft early on.
Yet Trump and Putin are remarkably similar in one very frightening respect: Both are classic bullies and amoral narcissists for whom power and money are holy grails. While Putin by dint of position has been especially ruthless, both will stop at nothing to slake their greed. And both are profoundly awful people who are methodically destroying the nations they purport to lead.
Here are the five books, in alphabetic order:
COLLUSION: Secret Meetings, Dirty Money and How Russia Helped Donald Trump Win (Luke Harding, 2017) Harding is the longtime investigative guru of The Guardian. This, his third Russia-related book, is an explosive exposé that powerfully makes the case that the Trump campaign colluded with Putin's henchmen to cybersabotage the Hillary Clinton campaign through telling the story behind the Steele Dossier and Putin's years-in-the-making puppet mastery of Trump. Harding is British, and his perspective on the U.S. and this sordid tale as an outside observer is priceless.
ORDERS TO KILL: The Putin Regime and Political Murder (Amy Knight, 2017) Knight is the prolific and scholarly author of over 30 papers on Putin and Russia. She makes the compelling case that Putin and the criminal empire he created has survived because dissidents -- be they political activists or muckraking journalists -- can be slain without any consequence at home or abroad, which has been a recurring theme in Russian history from the tsars onward. Knight shatters the notion that Putin will play nice if only the West (read Trump) is nice to him.
THE RED WEB: The Kremlin's Wars on the Internet (Andrei Soldatov and Irina Borogon, 2015-2017) Putin once feared the Internet and believed it was a CIA plot to mobilize his opponents. These Russian journalists, deeply knowledgeable about technology and the feared Kremlin security services, explain how in a few short years the Russian leader came to embrace the 'Net as a vehicle for repression, control and geopolitical cyberwarfare against emerging democracies that reached new heights in interfering in the 2016 presidential election to Trump's advantage. They also sound the alarm about government surveillance everywhere.
RUSSIAN ROULETTE: The Inside Story of Putin's War on America and the Election of Donald Trump (Michael Isikoff and David Corn, 2018) The story these ace investigative reporters tell is by now well know, but they provide rich detail and great insight into the international intrigue and superpower rivalries that informed the 2016 election debacle, most interestingly how the Obama administration struggled to deal with the Kremlin attack and in the end utterly failed in no small measure because of an institutional naiveté, obdurate congressional Republicans and unhelpful responses of the hapless FBI and CIA.
TRUMP/RUSSIA: A Definitive History (Seth Hettena, 2018) Hettena, a former Associated Press reporter, chronicles the many years Trump spent wooing Russian money and power beginning with the collapse of his casino empire through to his improbable ascendancy to the White House. Along the way, we meet Paul Manafort, Felix Sater, Michael Cohen and his extended family, an extraordinary assortment of bad people whom Trump fully understood were crooks -- but were his kind of crooks. You will end up being convinced beyond a doubt that the forty-fifth president is deeply indebted to Russia.
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