BOOKS: The Man Without a Face: The Unlikely Rise of Vladimir Putin: Masha Gessen

Nov. 5—Vladimir Putin quickly rose from obscurity about a quarter century ago to become the leader of Russia.

Masha Gessen explores this ascension to power in her book, "The Man Without a Face: The Unlikely Rise of Vladimir Putin."

The book was first published a decade ago — more than a dozen years after Putin became the Russian president. An updated postscript was added to the paperback edition in 2014.

So the book does not look at Putin's actions now, or the war in Ukraine; however, it does provide some insight into the motives behind some of the things he's doing there and what he may do next.

Gessen reviews the information that is known about Putin's background — which is scant and has often been shaped by him.

He grew up the youngest, only surviving son of a Russian World War II veteran and his wife. He describes being a thug as a child while dreaming of being a KGB agent. He attained his dream of joining the agency, and though it offered travel to Germany, the job was far from glamorous.

With the fall of the Soviet Union, things changed and so did his job. He took a political job inside the administration of Russian President Boris Yeltsin. He worked behind the scenes, remaining anonymous to most Russians.

When Yeltsin ran into political problems in the late 1990s, his people tapped the mostly unknown Putin to be president, believing they could control him.

They were wrong.

Putin soon outmaneuvered them, then other political opponents. He closed the free press in Russia. He removed political adversaries. He dismantled free markets. He toppled Russia's democracy in its infancy. He reversed and hardened military policies, taking firm control of the nation's military.

Within a few years, Putin was in complete control of Russia.

Gessen grew up in Russia and was a journalist during the fall of the Soviet Union, the tender rise of a democratic Russia and the ascension of Putin and democracy's fall. She writes this book with hard-won insight and shares personal experiences and observations.

"The Man Without a Face" may not be a complete or the definitive profile of Putin but it shows how easily and quickly a country can lose its democratic institutions in the face of a person who has no respect for them.