• Between Two Fires

  • Truth, Ambition, and Compromise in Putin's Russia
  • By: Joshua Yaffa
  • Narrated by: Fred Sanders
  • Length: 14 hrs and 58 mins
  • 4.6 out of 5 stars (63 ratings)

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Publisher's Summary

From a leading journalist in Moscow and correspondent for The New Yorker, a groundbreaking portrait of modern Russia and the inner struggles of the people who sustain Vladimir Putin’s rule

In this rich and novelistic tour of contemporary Russia, Joshua Yaffa introduces listeners to some of the country’s most remarkable figures - from politicians and entrepreneurs to artists and historians - who have built their careers and constructed their identities in the shadow of the Putin system. Torn between their own ambitions and the omnipresent demands of the state, each walks an individual path of compromise. Some muster cunning and cynicism to extract all manner of benefits and privileges from those in power. Others, finding themselves to be less adept, are left broken and demoralized. What binds them together is the tangled web of dilemmas and contradictions they face.

Between Two Fires chronicles the lives of a number of strivers who understand that their dreams are best - or only - realized through varying degrees of cooperation with the Russian government. With sensitivity and depth, Yaffa profiles the director of the country’s main television channel, an Orthodox priest at war with the church hierarchy, a Chechen humanitarian who turns a blind eye to persecutions, and many others. The result is an intimate and probing portrait of a nation that is much discussed yet little understood. By showing how citizens shape their lives around the demands of a capricious and oftentimes repressive state - as often by choice as under threat of force - Yaffa offers urgent lessons about the true nature of modern authoritarianism.

©2020 Joshua Yaffa (P)2020 Random House Audio
  • Unabridged Audiobook
  • Categories: History

Critic Reviews

"Between Two Fires is a study of compromise, opportunism, and the fraught moral choices available in Putin’s Russia. In a series of carefully reported stories, Joshua Yaffa shows how people choose - sometimes consciously and other times not - to adapt, change, and otherwise ‘make do’ in an authoritarian state. This is the real story of how modern authoritarianism works and even thrives, by manipulating the motivations of the regime’s most capable and ambitious citizens." (Anne Applebaum, author of Red Famine and Gulag)

 

"In Between Two Fires, Joshua Yaffa brilliantly captures the complex choices and compromises that Russians make to survive, thrive, or remain true to their principles in Putin’s Russia. Through captivating storytelling, Yaffa drills deep into profiles of a very diverse set of Russian personalities, capturing with nuance the contradictions of contemporary Russia." (Michael McFaul, former US ambassador to Russia and author of From Cold War to Hot Peace)

"Joshua Yaffa’s portrait of a people is a triumph - a brilliantly original, deeply literate path through the moral struggles and calculations of a modern Russia he knows in his bones. He is allergic to the caricatures of the ruler and the ruled, and is, simply, a beautiful writer, with the humane, tragicomic eye of a novelist and the tough-minded rigor of the best journalists." (Evan Osnos, author of Age of Ambition)

What listeners say about Between Two Fires

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Stimulating

This book deserves a wide reading and discussion, as it describes a particular place and time, yet like any fundamental work on ethics and belief, is applicable to our own cultural pressures in elite organizations toward conformity, as truth is crucified on a cross of gold.

5 people found this helpful

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Good sociology and good storytelling

This is a well written account of life in Russia and the compromises and pitfalls of living in an authoritarian society highly recommended very nuanced and I appreciate the nuances

4 people found this helpful

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Utterly engaging

I highly recommend this book to anyone who wants to gain insight into today’s Russia, and its people. Well done.

3 people found this helpful

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Thorough, but repetitive

While ‘Between Two Fires’ does offer a good perspective on life in Putin’s Russia, it falls too much in love with the encompassing theory of ‘The Wily Man’, spending chapter after chapter telling stories about very different fates, but with the very apparent common denominator that the main characters are wily. Though the book is well written and certainly insightful, the one sided focus leaves the listener with a sense of an incomplete portrayal of Russian modernity.

The narrator did a good job.

2 people found this helpful

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Brilliant, sad, illuminating

For those in the West looking to learn more about life in Putin's Russia, Between Two Fires is fascinating and informative. One gets a very thorough education in what it is like to live under an authoritarian, kleptocratic regime like Putin's. To be able to practice medicine in a war zone, operate a non profit, and a dozen other passions & professions, Russians are forced to play ball with the regime. Yaffa does a masterful job getting these Russian citizens to open up to him and explaining, with compassion and intelligence, life for his subjects under the regime in the Kremlin. Loved it. Yaffa just won the Orwell prize for Between Two Fires for a very good reason.

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way too long

I would have liked the essence of the message to be clearer. Examples are good, but so so long. Does give a good feel for the plight of the people

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A good update on recent Russian history

I took a course on Russian history when I was in school in the seventies, unusual for the time but very informative and that helped shape my understanding. I found that this is a good update on the Russian political condition since mid 20th century and recommend it to anyone intrested in finding more about our, most often adversaries. A good read.

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Brilliant summation of the trade-offs in Russia

Fantastic book. Unfortunately, the performance suffers from a lot of poor pronunciation of Russian places and names.