Book Review: Russian Roulette

As the movie Anastasia said, “Have you heard? There’s a Rumor in St. Petersburg”. And in Corn and Ishikoff’s book Russian Roulette, the rumors are flying. Following the story of the first year of a tumultuous Trump presidency and the events preceding it within the Russian sphere of influence. The book provides a… lackluster view of the events that transpired and tries to fill in gaps to a story that isn’t yet a full story.

The way it is done is a beautiful narration. However the authors master a soft sense of subtle dread throughout the book, dropping hints about Manafort involvement or lines like “what the letter said has never been revealed” to paint how deep the conspiracy goes and just how much is still left to uncover. In this case in communications between Trump and Putin.

Now to be clear, I absolutely believed that there was collusion before reading this book, primarily because I am a person who reads the news and has eyes. Yet as a critical reader I have to ask, who is the audience for this piece? The authors are obviously critical of Trump, spending much of the book taking shots at his Russian relations or even his intelligence, “if trump does not know the subject he will talk about a subject he knows”. Yes, this line is a direct quote from another Russian official but the choice to include it is just one example of an anti-Trump bias.

Yet the book remains critical of democrats as well especially the Obama administration’s handling of the Russia problem. This comes in the form of criticism of the reset strategy, of the dismissal of Clinton’s advice, or a sense of incompetence (“At this point, Obama’s top national security officials were unsure how to respond”). Not to say you can’t be critical of a person within your own party or interests (God knows I could spend a year of my life ranting about the failures of certain Democrats), but this still seems like it fits a niche only for an educated moderate. Too many of the quotes and descriptions are presented as facts but much of the information comes from quotes or secondary sources leaving the potential for error in remembering, mistranslation or biased twisting.

“It is challenging to write a book on a scandal that is not over” are some of the final words of the book. The book struggles because there is no conclusion and its information is still fluid. Just this morning Trump criticized Putin by name in a tweet, the first time he has ever done so, already challenging the book. God knows what Mueller is doing right now but that certainly is a minute to minute rollercoaster. I understand the need to get the book to the printers and to capitalize on the scandal, however, much is left to be desired by the end as a lot of the information is a retelling of current news and facts that are still being hashed out.

Overall I would give the book 3 out of 5 stars. In tone, dictation, relevance and ability to paint a psyche the book did manage to wow me, however, overall content and lack of clarity deducted points. The book wants to be bigger than it is, stating “A thorough accounting [of the events] was a national necessity”, however by being so bold it falls flat on its own shortcomings.

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