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Constant Reader

If the ‘Russia Stuff’ Has You Confused, Let Masha Gessen’s Dense Reportage Help

The nonfiction writer come to Seattle this week with two revealing books on Russia under her belt.

Permit me a moment to entertain my own craven self-interest: Reading Through It, the book club co-sponsored by Seattle Weekly and The Seattle Review of Books, is happening this Wednesday at Third Place Books Seward Park. We meet at 7 p.m., you can bring booze to the book club, and no purchase is necessary. We’ll be discussing Noam Chomsky’s Requiem for the American Dream. Our Trump-era book club is still going strong, with dozens of folks coming out for last month’s event, but there’s always room for you.

Not every book we’ve featured at Reading Through It has been great—looking at you, Hillbilly Elegy—but one of the most successful discussions we’ve had was of New Yorker author Masha Gessen’s The Man Without a Face: The Unlikely Rise of Vladimir Putin. Gessen is an exemplary journalist who knows when to sit back and let facts speak for themselves. When writing about the rise of Putin, she knows that no amount of fancy adjectives can outstrip the horrors he’s committed, so she simply reports in clear language and allows readers to color in the details of the ghastly assassinations and brutal intimidation tactics on their own.

Now Gessen is returning to Seattle, at 6 p.m. on Sunday at Seattle University’s Pigott Auditorium, to read from her brand-new book The Future Is History: How Totalitarianism Reclaimed Russia. It just might be the culmination of Gessen’s life’s work: a comprehensive and dense piece of reportage that details how the world’s other superpower collapsed after communism and then found a weird afterlife as a nasty mobster of a nation.

While it’s unlikely that Gessen included much if anything in History about Russia’s interference in the 2016 presidential election, it’s very likely that American readers will be able to make some inferences. In our book club, Man Without a Face heavily informed both our understanding of Donald Trump and our comprehension of how and why Russia might have gotten involved with our electoral process. If you’ve been confused by all the talk about “Russia stuff,” this might be the most important book you’ll read all year.

Gessen is the best kind of nonfiction writer: She teaches her audience to be smarter. She doesn’t just jump to conclusions; she provides evidence to her readers and allows them to make connections. And from this magnum opus about the fall and rise of the world’s most misunderstood antagonist, it’s very likely that American audiences will soon learn more about Russia than they ever thought possible.

Pigott Auditorium, Seattle University Campus Walk, 652-4255, townhallseattle.org. $5. All ages. 6 p.m. Sun., Oct. 8.

Paul Constant is co-founder of The Seattle Review of Books. Read books coverage at seattlereviewofbooks.com.

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