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18 November 2018

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The Less You Know, the Better You Sleep

David Satter (Yale, $30)

David Satter (The Less You Know, the Better You Sleep, Yale, $30) has been reporting on Russia’s “separate truth” for four decades, and writes that “understanding Russia is actually very easy, but one must teach oneself to do something that is very hard – to believe the unbelievable. Westerners become confused when they approach Russia with a Western frame of reference, not realizing that Russia is a universe based on a completely different set of values.”

Yet Satter is not talking about spirituality versus rationalism. “It is necessary to accept,” he continues, “that Russian leaders really are capable of blowing up hundreds of their people to preserve their hold on power.”

Indeed, The Less You Know is a searing, difficult to digest chronicle of tragedies (the 1999 apartment building bombings, Nord-Ost and Beslan, the wars in Chechnya, Georgia and Ukraine) full of unanswered questions and circumstantial evidence that points to nefarious involvement by “competent organs” or other instruments of the Powers That Be. One might be tempted to write the book off as the work of a conspiracy crank, were it not written by a respected journalist for the Wall Street Journal and Financial Times, and published by a highly reputable publishing house.

At the root of everything, Satter writes, is the Russian state’s tendency “to treat the individual as raw material for the realization of the state’s ambitions...” which in the 90s and 2000s meant “the determination to introduce capitalism without the rule of law and Russia’s total criminalization.” And today, he asserts, “it is the Putin regime itself that is the enemy of the population... the regime itself will use any means at its disposal to stay in power.”

— Paul E. Richardson

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Reviewed in Russian Life: July/Aug 2016