*The Return*

The author is Daniel Treisman and the subtitle is Russia's Journey from Gorbachev to Medvedev.  Is this the first non-fiction book to be making my "Best of 2011" list?  Most of all, it argues persuasively that, rather than botching the transition away from communism, the Russians/Soviets did a remarkably good job, relative to what could have been expected.  It's also the best all-round book-length treatment of what the subtitle indicates and it is readable as well.  Excerpt:

But [under Putin] did the bureaucracy become more effective and the population safer?  The state certainly grew.  In Putin's eight years as president, about 363,000 additional bureaucrats were hired, mostly federal agents stationed in the regions.  Law enforcement mushroomed.  In the United States, there are two judges and prosecutorial employees per 10,000 residents.  When Putin took over, Russia had eight; when he left, it had fourteen.  Federal spending on law enforcement and national security rose from $4 billion in 1998 to $26 billion in 2007.

Despite this influx of resources, most indicators suggest the state became less, not more, effective.  It built less housing, paved fewer roads, and laid fewer water mains and gas lines per year than under Yeltsin.  The number of public schools and buses in service fell faster than before.  Reforms of the education and health systems were repeatedly postponed…As for keeping citizens safe, few saw any improvement.

Here is a recent review of the book from the WSJ; I liked the book more than he did.


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