MR PUTIN: OPERATIVE IN THE KREMLIN by Fiona Hill and Clifford G. Gaddy

Vladimir Putin news:
(Vladimir Putin through the ages!)

As of today, Ukrainian forces have launched a successful counter-offensive against Russia in the northeastern part of the country and have liberated the key city of Izyum and have had success throughout the Kharkiv region.  For the first time there may be rumblings in Moscow concerning how the war is evolving – the question is how Vladimir Putin will respond.  An excellent source to consult is Fiona Hill and Clifford G. Gaddy’s thorough study MR. PUTIN: OPERATIVE IN THE KREMLIN.  The book was originally published in 2013 and updated shortly after the Russian seizure and annexation of Crimea in 2014.  The authors dispel certain misconceptions about Putin and offer an analysis of where Putin’s ideas originate, how he perceives the outside world, and how far he is willing to go.  Though the book is seven years old its conclusions are very prescient and offers a psychological, political, diplomatic, and economic approach to try and understand Putin and in many cases their observations have been quite accurate.

Hill and Gaddy have written a perceptive account of what Putin really wants for Russia and how it could possibly be undone.  As David Hearst writes in The Guardian, May 2013;  “The many sources of the system he has created are amply and brilliantly clarified in this book. Mr Putin, Operative in the Kremlin (note the mister, not comrade) is a readable and informed portrait painted by two students of Russian history who had, at various times in their careers, a front-row view. Fiona Hill, a Brookings Institution academic, spent 2006-9 as national intelligence officer for Russia and Eurasia at the US National Intelligence Council. The economist Clifford Gaddy once advised the Russian finance ministry on regional tax and has investigated how Putin’s financial dealings relate to his KGB past.” 

Vladimir Putin news:
(Vladimir Putin, age 8)

From the outset the authors argue there is very little information regarding Putin that is “definitive, confirmable, or reliable.”  However, there are observations that seem appropriate.  First, Putin has shaped his overall fate.  Second, there is little documentary evidence to support the idea of Putin’s extensive wealth.  Even if Putin did enrich himself, the authors argue they do not believe that “a quest for personal wealth is primarily what drives him.”  Third, Putin likes to employ misinformation and contradictory information to create an image that is unknowable and unpredictable, and therefore dangerous – keep people guessing and fear what he might do.  Fourth, Putin likes to stage a number of outfits and scenarios to portray himself as the ultimate Russian action man, capable of dealing with every eventuality.  Each outfit and scenario are designed to pay a degree of respect for certain goals and validates their place in Russian society and history.  The authors present numerous examples to support these observations.

r/ANormalDayInRussia - Putin with his daughters and wife, early 90's
(Putin with his wife and daughters in the early 1990s)

The key to the analysis presented rests on the authors breaking down Putin’s six identities which explain his actions from his rise to power, reinvigorating the Russian economy in the 2000-2012 period, controlling the oligarchs, returning to the presidency in 2013, to an aggressive foreign policy in dealing with Georgia, Ukraine and the west in general designed to restore Russia’s rightful place in the world balance of power.  These identities are; Statist, History Man, Survivalist, Outsider, Free Marketeer, and Case Officer.  After explaining the context of each in a succinct and thoughtful manner the authors have provided important perceptions and insights into what Putin thinks and why he does what he does. 

The 1990s, a period of chaos, corruption, and economic decline form the basis of the Statist, History Man, and Survivalist identities, and Putin’s personal narrative.  The next three identities the Outsider, Free Marketeer, and Case Officer are more personal.  The authors center on Putin growing up in a working class neighborhood of Leningrad, a city which survived the Nazi siege, starvation, and 750,000 deaths, a situation which greatly impacted Putin’s psychological and emotional development.  Further, the authors point to Putin’s years in the KGB at home and abroad, particularly his 1985-1989 years in Dresden where he missed Gorbachev’s policies of glasnost and  perestroika and the dissolution of the Soviet Union.  Importantly, the authors develop Putin’s post-Soviet St. Petersburg activities as a participant in local government and in a series of below-the-radar positions in the Kremlin in the late 1990s allowing him to develop  a unique combination of skills and experiences that propelled him to the presidency in 1999-2000.  But, overall, Putin’s persona was as an Outsider as he was outside of Russia or ensconced in St. Petersburg away from policy makers in Moscow.

Putin old and young

An excellent example of how the authors analysis works is to point to Putin’s world view through his speeches.  The first, March 18, 2014, and the speech he made yesterday on September 21, 2022.  Remarkably, both speeches support the conclusion that Putin’s perception of the outside world has not changed in eight years and probably from previous decades.  The March 2014 speech came on the heels of the Russian annexation of Crimea a belief that he was restoring  Russia’s position as a great power and world civilization.  This was part of the Statist role for Putin in addition to that of the History Man internationally as he staked out a place for the Russian people in the great sweep of global history and has rewritten the narrative of Russia’s interactions with the outside world.  He has acted as a Survivalist who sets out to ensure that Russia can protect itself against all external threats, by preparing and deploying “every reserve or resource-even history itself-in the state’s defense.  The author’s insights are on the mark as they argue, “the operative in the Kremlin has projected himself abroad by drawing on his firsthand experiences and insights as an Outsider and the Free Marketeer, and by applying the professional tools of the Case Officer.”

(Judo training)

Putin’s rationale for his invasion of Georgia in 2008, the annexation of Crimea, and the current invasion of Ukraine are all similar.  The European Union is a stalking horse for the West, the expansion of NATO, and western opposition to Russian actions are all designed to destroy Russia from within and without.  Putin believes that containing Russia has been a western priority since the 1700s and continues in the case of Ukraine.  Putin’s speech yesterday is a rerun arguing that Russia only pursues defensive actions to counteract western support for Ukraine.  Threats of nuclear war, calling up 300,000 reservists to complete his “special operation” emanate from the same place in Putin’s psyche.

Putin’s disenchantment with the United states developed from 1999.  The importance of NATO bombing of Yugoslavia over Kosovo in 1999 deeply impacted Putin.  He saw it as a threat to Slavs and highlighted Russian weakness and distrust of the west.  Putin claims that he tried to improve relations with the United States by helping after 9/11 and the war against al-Qaeda.  But he was put off by the Bush administration who invaded Iraq, pulled out of nuclear arms treaties, allowed for Baltic states becoming NATO members, all reflecting America’s lack of respect for Russia.  Putin’s true feelings emerge publicly in his 2007 speech at the Munich Security Conference where he lambasted the United States where he stressed how NATO actions were an American provocation that reduced the level of trust Russia had toward the west.  Even when the Obama administration sought a reset with Russia, Congress passed the Sergei Magnitsky Act which imposed sanctions against Russian officials who were complicit in the death of the crusading lawyer, further Putin was angered by US actions in Libya and Syria.

The authors correctly argue that the invasion of Georgia was a dress rehearsal for events that would take place in Ukraine in December 2013.  With Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych fleeing to Moscow in February 2014 after refusing to move closer to the European Union and joining Putin’s Eurasian Union protestors took to the streets in Kyiv’s Maidan (Independence) Square – the Russian autocrat would have visions of Dresden in December 1989.  Putin’s assessment of developments was seen through the lens of his experiences in Dresden in 1989 when East Germany fell without a fight as did the Soviet Union upending Moscow’s position in Europe destroying the entire Soviet bloc.  In Putin’s mind if Ukrainian protests were allowed to continue then Kyiv would push toward the European Union and eventually NATO membership circumventing his economic plans for the east. 

Vladimir Putin pictures over the years.

Putin believed Western and European leaders encouraged protestors and the opposition and once again the United States and its EU allies had overthrown a regime without firing a shot.  Since Putin strongly believed that “Ukrainians and Russians were not just fraternal peoples: there were one single, united people” events were devastating to Moscow’s goals.  Putin reached into his Case Officer’s bag of tricks to punish Ukraine – cutting off $10 billion worth of trade, turning off the energy spigot, demanding Kyiv pay off its debts to Russia, the usual misinformation surrounding Ukraine’s role in World War II, and played on the fears of ethnic Russians in eastern Ukraine.   Based on events and Putin’s raison d’etre it is not surprising that Russia annexed Crimea in 2014, and subsequently invaded all of Ukraine eight years later.

The concise analysis and extensive research based on academic and government experience and delving into Putin’s speeches and writings serve the authors well in developing their narrative.  It is clear from their analysis that Putin believes his personal destiny is that of the Russian state and its past – for him it provides legitimacy.  This is Putin the Statist as he rejects autocracy and claims Russia is a “sovereign democracy.”  In addition, Putin wraps himself in the Orthodox church, and the collective people of Russia – nationalism.  Putin hates social upheaval and identifies himself as a Survivalist as he and his parents survived World War II in Leningrad.  The Survivalist moniker is very apt when one examines Putin’s life.  First, his childhood and the politics in St. Petersburg.  Second, his career as Deputy Mayor when he bungled the food crisis in St. Petersburg.  Third, the chronic food shortages throughout the 1990s.  Fourth, dealing with the economic crisis of 2008-2010. 

There are many more examples, but in all cases he emerged intact politically with a strengthened ego.  He learned new strategies particularly how to manipulate Russian natural resources to achieve his goals, something he continues to do today by cutting off energy supplies to Western Europe as a means of changing the course of the war in Ukraine.  Putin’s Survivalist actions comport with historian, Masha Gessen’s analysis in that he is proud of his “thuggish” reputation, and it is central to his public persona dating back to his childhood “courtyard culture,” and “outsider” status, i.e.., treatment of Chechnya in 1999,  today’s Ukraine, blackmailing oligarchs to submit to his will etc.

  • New Russian President Vladimir Putin takes the presidential oath on the Constitution of the Russian Federation in Moscow's Kremlin Palace on May 7, 2000. Former president Boris Yeltsin looks on during the inauguration ceremony after having resigned on December 31, 1999.(
  • New Russian President Vladimir Putin takes the presidential oath on the Constitution of the Russian Federation in Moscow’s Kremlin Palace on May 7, 2000. Former president Boris Yeltsin looks on during the inauguration ceremony after having resigned on December 31, 1999.AFP/AFP/Getty Images) (Below, Anatoli Sobchak and Putin)
  • Vladimir Putin, then St. Petersburg deputy mayor, standing with former mayor Anatoly Sobchak in 1994. Putin helped orchestrate Sobchak's escape to Paris when he was under criminal investigation in 1997.

If there is an area that the authors could have made clearer is when they get bogged down in the minutia of Putin’s approach to the Russian economy and industrial production.  Putin’s mantra is “strategic planning,” a concept he plagiarized from the works of David Cleland and William King’s book, STRATEGIC PLANNING AND POLICY which he lifted to write his supposed “dissertation.”  Either way the author’s final analysis is spot on – the strategic model Putin has put in place cannot work.  Putin runs Russia like a corporation, Russia, Inc., but it is a country.  Putin sees himself as a CEO, but he can never be fired.  The system he has created is built on mistrust and all decisions run through Putin as he does not accept anything but total loyalty.  People are bought off, but not in the traditional way.  First they are compromised, and loyalty is created through blackmail – Putin as Case officer! 

Corruption is the glue that keeps Putin’s informal system afloat.  With no strategic reserve of qualified people, Putin just moves people around to keep them guessing and under his control.  This hyper personalized system is a failure, and the Russian people are paying the price.  Russia has come full circle.  With his misinformation onslaught in 2013-14 (the rhetoric is similar to today) Putin managed to move Russia psychologically back to the 1980s and the Cold War with perceptions, threat, and fears of an American attack.  By engaging in this type of former KGB head and Soviet president Yuri Andropov thinking, Putin has moved Russia closer to the world view of the 1980s more than outside observers realized.  Putin’s Russia is a very different country from the 1990s and the west in general.

The book should be read by anyone seeking to understand Putin’s modus operandi, what he hopes to achieve, and the threat he presents to those who favor the rule of some type of “international accommodation,” (notice I did not say law!)  Interestingly, the section where the authors allude to future Putin actions and rationales as of today seem quite accurate.

July caused global shortages

Vladimir Putin at the plenary session of the 2022 Eastern Economic Forum in Vladivostok


Mikhail Gorbachev
(Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev)

If you are looking for a reasonably compact review of Russian history encompassing the last three decades of the twentieth century, Princeton University historian and fellow at Stanford University’s Hoover Institution, Stephen Kotkin’s book ARMAGEDDON AVERTED, THE SOVIET COLLAPSE 1970-2000 should be considered.  Published in 2008 it foresaw some of the problems we are experiencing today with Russia and looking back fourteen years later Kotkin would not be shocked by Vladimir Putin’s invasion of Ukraine.  Kotkin has written two volumes of his biographical trilogy of Joseph Stalin; STALIN: PARADOXES OF POWER, 1878-1928 and STALIN: WAITING FOR HITLER, 1929-1941, one of which was a Pulitzer Prize finalist.  Kotkin is an exceptional historian blessed with a pleasing writing style and the ability to synthesize vast amounts of historical information and documentation that the general reader along with professional colleagues can admire and enjoy.  With the war raging in Ukraine, Kotkin provides insights into Putin’s thought process and the impact of the 1970-2000 period on the Russian autocrat that explains a great deal of his actions.

ussr map 1961

A key theme in Kotkin’s monograph is his stated purpose in authoring the book; try and explain why the Soviet elite destroyed its own system with an absence of an all-consuming conflagration.  Pursuing historical hindsight Kotkin points to the importance of the 1973 Arab oil embargo as a watershed event that helped nudge the Soviet system toward economic failure.  According to Kotkin the 1973-4 embargo led to the economic collapse of Soviet industry in the late 1970s.  For Moscow, the discovery of oil in western Siberia in the 1960s coincided in the 1973 rise in oil prices brought about by the embargo which saved the Soviet economy from disaster.  From 1973-1985 oil was responsible for 80% of Soviet hard currency, much of which went for weapons procurement to equalize its relationship to the United States.  Further, Russia needed the excess wealth to pay for the war in Afghanistan; assist Eastern European satellites by offsetting energy costs; and importing the necessary technology, pay elites among other expenses.  It appeared that Russia was in a period of prosperity, but Kotkin is correct in that it postponed the inevitable collapse of the Soviet system as its industrial infrastructure continued to deteriorate.

ussr map 1939

Kotkin’s concise and analytical narrative raises many interesting points among them that the Soviet Union tried to clone satellite regimes after World War II.  The problem was that Moscow presented itself as a role model at a time of the post-war capitalist boom in the west.  The discrepancies between the two systems were clear and Eastern Europe became a thorn in the side of the Soviets as 1953, 1956, 1968, and 1980 invasions and pressure can attest to.  Eastern Europe went from a supposed Soviet strength to a vulnerability as more and more western consumer goods and loans were used to mollify populations.  Further aggravating Moscow was the rise of the Chinese Communist Party and Chinese economic expansion and the cost in playing a leading role in the Third World.

It is obvious that Soviet infrastructure was on the decline throughout the 1970s and it could not compete with western capitalism, but what pushed the Soviet system over the edge was the generational leadership shift of the 1980s as the gerontocracy of Brezhnev, Andropov, and Chernenko passed on to be replaced by Mikhail Gorbachev and his ill-fated perestroika.  The rot within the Soviet leadership is undeniable and the new Soviet leader sought to save the system from itself as Kotkin argues, “what proved to be the [Communist] Party’s final mobilization, perestroika, was driven not by cold calculation about achieving an orderly retrenchment, but by the pursuit of a romantic dream,” which Gorbachev referred to as “humane socialism.”

Kotkin raises an important question.  Why did Gorbachev’s reform agenda fail so miserably?   The author points to a number of reasons that make a great deal of sense.  First, Gorbachev’s economic agenda went halfway toward achieving a market transformation, something that was doomed from the start.  Second, oil prices declined drastically in 1986 which devastated hard currency earnings curtailing the import of consumer goods and reducing the standard of living for Soviet citizens.  Third, by pursuing a halfway approach toward a market economy it fell even further behind the west.  Fourth, the disaster at Chernobyl showed the west that Gorbachev was no different than his predecessors, being ensconced in secrecy.  Fifth, with Glasnost the public was now aware of secrets buried for decades; murder, the gulag, elite corruption etc.  Sixth, 25% of the population was under 25 years of age and were not interested in reforming socialism – Glasnost afforded unprecedented access to “commercial culture and values of capitalism.”  Seventh, party officials had no idea how to address a public reconfigured as voters or how to deal with shortages of goods, pollution, deteriorating assembly lines etc.  Somehow the Communist Party was supposed to be both the instrument and the object of perestroika.  Eighth, later Gorbachev admitted he failed to create a program for the transformation of a unitary state into a federal state and crippled the centralized party machine.  Lastly, Russia’s 15 Union republics had clearly defined state borders and their own state institutions and they began to act as independent states which they eventually became.

Yeltsin Speaking at Press Conference
(Russian President Boris Yeltsin)

To Gorbachev’s credit he kept the Soviet military out of the loop when it came to events in Eastern Europe and let events evolve.  Since the Soviet Union could no longer compete with the west he let the satellite states move on as they and most republics declared their independence.

Kotkin provides an in-depth analysis of the August 1991 putsch and the role of conservative elements, the military, and of course Boris Yeltsin.  What he describes has been repeated by many scholars, but what stands out is his analogy of the putsch, its leadership, and its result to George Orwell’s ANIMAL FARM.  His presentation is priceless!  The result of the dissolution of the Soviet Union did not bring on the onset of American type affluence combined with European style social welfare but a chaotic system by which inflation wiped out the pensions and savings of the Russian people and the squalid appropriation of state functions, property, and wealth by Soviet era elites.   In addition to Yeltsin’s cronies and KGB types particularly from Vladimir Putin’s St. Petersburg colleagues and organized crime raping the wealth both monetary and physical from the Russian people.

The 1990s was a disaster and Kotkin fills in the gaps as to what occurred. He carefully explores the machinations of officials, bankers, factory management, political elites, and others who accumulated enormous wealth during the decade.  These groups developed numerous schemes from privatizations, auctions, loans for shares, bankruptcy procedures for cut rate hostile takeovers of profitable assets, money laundering, capital flight to offshore accounts leaving nothing for investment as they absconded with the wealth of their country.  The bottom line for Kotkin was “How was the incoherent Russian state going to solve the country’s problems when the state was the main problem?”

The main criticisms of Kotkin’s work comes from historian Orlando Figes who writes in the January 20, 2002 ,New York Times Book Review; “This relates to a broader criticism of Kotkin’s work. ”Averting Armageddon” plays down the importance of two vital factors in the Soviet collapse. One is the role of ideology — or more specifically the way in which it lost all meaning to the apparatchiks who deserted Gorbachev in 1989-91. Gorbachev was the last of the believers in the Communist ideal — but his party comrades, for the most part, had long ceased to believe. Their ideology had become little more than an empty slogan, a means of entry to the special shops reserved for the Soviet elite. This fact is essential if we are to understand why so few Communists were prepared to fight for the Soviet regime. The August putsch of 1991 was doomed from the start by the inertia of the middle and the upper ranks of the party. The plotters’ leader, poor old Gennadi I. Yanayev, was aware of this when, his hands in an alcoholic tremble, he read out to the world’s press a declaration of emergency.

Moscow  coup: Russian President Boris Yeltsin reads a statement during the coup, Moscow
(Boris Yeltsin during the 8/1991 failed putsch in Russia)

The other factor is human agency — or more specifically Gorbachev. He may have started out as a Communist reformer, but there must have been a moment (for he tells us there was one) when he realized the need to dismantle the regime without a violent backlash from the hard-liners. His political maneuverings were intended to avoid a civil war or a crackdown against Eastern Europe that might have led to a disastrous loss of life. He was a sort of political Columbus — setting out with high ideals to find one thing and achieving something better by discarding them. He is a hero of our times.”*

Despite these criticisms Kotkin has written a concise, readable and informative book striking a pleasing balance between tedious detail and sweeping generalizations.  He offers a practical, accessible, and informative account of the Soviet Union’s collapse and insights into the impact of Russian history and allows for greater understanding of ongoing events in the Ukraine.

*Orlando Figes. “Who Lost the Soviet Union?” New York Times, January 20, 2002.  Figes latest book THE STORY OF RUSSIA was published a few weeks ago.

(Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev)


Sigmund Freud (1856 –1939), medical doctor, neuropathologist and founder of psychoanalysis.  
(Sigmund Freud)

There are numerous biographies of Sigmund Freud, the best ones I have read include Peter Gay’s FREUD: A LIFE FOR OUR TIMES, Joel Whitebrook’s FREUD: AN INTELLECTUAL BIOGRAPHY, and an earlier work, Ronald W. Clark’s FREUD: THE MAN AND THE CAUSE.  The latest monograph SAVING FREUD: THE RESCUERS WHO BROUGHT HIM TO FREEDOM by Andrew Nagorski is not a complete biography but one that focuses on how Freud and fifteen of his followers managed to escape Austria in 1938 as Hitler and his Nazis achieved their Anschluss with Austria triggering a wave of anti-Semitic violence.  While Nagorski provides biographical details of Freud’s life, his main thrust is the years leading up to World War II.  Nagorski tells an engrossing tale of how there was little margin for error for Freud as he escaped Nazi persecution.

Nagorski a former Newsweek correspondent has written a number of excellent works dealing with 1930s and World II, including HITLERLAND: AMERICAN EYEWITNESSES TO THE NAZI RISE TO POWER, THE NAZI HUNTERS, 1941: THE YEAR GERMANY LOST THE WAR, and THE GREATEST BATTLE: STALIN, HITLER AND THE DESPARATE STRUGGLE FOR MOSCOW THAT CHANGED THE COURSE OF WORLD WAR II.  In all instances Nagorski’s works reflect superb command of his material based on extensive research of secondary and primary materials, including significant interviews with his subject’s contemporaries and descendants.  His latest effort is no exception.

(Sigmund Freud and his daughter Anna)

When the Nazis took over Austria Freud was eighty two years old having spent most of his life in Vienna.  The founder of psychoanalysis found himself in the middle of an unfolding nightmare.  Many have asked why Freud and his family did not leave Vienna earlier as the Nazi handwriting was on the wall and early on it was relatively easy to do so.  After his apartment and publishing house were attacked, his daughter Anna’s arrest and interrogation by the Gestapo, Freud still hoped to ride out the storm expecting “that a normal rhythm would be restored, and honest men permitted to go on their ways without fear.”  Struggling with cancer, Freud was in denial knowing that he had little time left and did not want to go through the upheaval of relocating.  It would take an ad hoc rescue squad to arrange his escape from Vienna that included sixteen people, made up of family members and his doctor and family.

If it were not a true story Freud’s escape to live out his last fifteen months in London would make a superb spy novel.  After presenting useful biographical chapters where Nagorski focused on the development of Freudian theories, he concentrated on his relationships with contemporaries like Carl Jung and Ernest Jones.  This was important to Freud because as he  developed a psychiatric following he worried they were dominated by Jews.  Freud was very concerned that his life’s work was becoming a target for anti-Semites who screamed it was a “Jew science.”  Freud would cultivate promising non-Jewish psychoanalysts as Nagorski points out his relationships with Carl Jung and Ernest Jones were partly fostered because they were  Christians.  Of the two, Jones would become a lifelong friend and colleague and would play a prominent role in Freud’s escape from Austria in 1938.

Ernest Jones Photo
(Sigmund Freud and Ernest Jones)

Nagorski delves deeply into the Freud-Jung relationship which at one point saw Freud anoint his friend the heir to his leadership in the psychoanalytic community.  As time progressed Freud’s opinion of Jung declined believing he had become a man of “mystical tendencies” that prevented a clear scientific approach to his work.  Further he believed Jung had developed a “confused mind,” and may have had anti-Semitic tendencies.  By 1914 their break was complete.

Nagorski provides an important window into what Vienna experienced before, during and after World War I in addition to the 1920s leading to the eventual Anschluss with Germany in 1938.  He delves into the intellectual and cultural life of the city and the important personalities involved.  An additional  key to Nagorski’s narrative is how the lives and beliefs of Freud’s “rescue squad” evolved.  The most important seems to be Ernest Jones, the Englishman who became Freud’s closest friend, biographer, and a psychoanalyst in his own right.  Others include William C. Bullit, an American journalist and ambassador to Russia and France who developed an important relationship with Freud.  Both men despised President Woodrow Wilson seeing him as an egotistical personality whose actions at the Versailles Conference they opposed.  In addition, they co-wrote a psychohistory of the former president which was not published until 1967 long after Freud’s death.  Marie Bonaparte, a former patient of Freud’s plays a significant role as Napoleon’s great grandniece who had many important contacts and funds to help finance Freud’s escape and like many of his patients went on to be a psychotherapist in her own right.  Dr. Max Schur, Freud’s doctor during the last decade of his life and a man who kept him on an even keel.  Anton Sauerwald, a Nazi trustee in charge of dealing with the Freud family after the Anschluss was a rather mysterious character.  Lastly, and most importantly Freud’s daughter Anna, who became his lifelong caretaker and developed her own career in psychiatry focusing on the mental health of children.  All pursued interesting lives and the mini biographies presented enhance Nagorski’s narrative.

Marie Bonaparte, © IMAGNO/Sigm.Freud Priv.Stiftung
(Marie Bonaparte)

Most people are unaware of Freud’s disdain for the United States.  He visited America in 1909 and was taken aback by American materialism and lack of intellect.  As noted previously he opposed the policies of Woodrow Wilson, and he would not consider the United States as a place to emigrate after the Anschluss.  Nagorski points out that Freud was a German nationalist whose predictions pertaining to World War I were off base.  He believed it would be devastating to both sides, but for him it became more bloody and destructive than anyone could have imagined.  Freud came to realize the consequences of the war and was rather prophetic in his comments based on events in the 1930s.

William C. Bullitt
(William C. Bullit)

Rachel Newcomb in her September 2, 2022 , Washington Post review of Nagorski’s work addresses why it took Freud so long to agree to leave Austria arguing, “Freud continued to believe that Austria would maintain its independence from Germany, right up until March 1938, when Hitler made his final push into Vienna, cheered on by a mob of rabid supporters. Gangs ransacked Jewish businesses, including the psychoanalytic publishing house managed by Freud’s son Martin, while brownshirts paid a visit to the Freud household and had to be bribed the equivalent of $840 to leave them alone. Yet Freud continued to refuse his colleagues’ entreaties to leave. Suffering from cancer of the jaw, acquired from a habit of smoking 20 cigars a day, he was already in his 80s and knew he did not have much time left. When asked later why he had delayed his departure so long, his daughter Anna Freud blamed his illness as well as his inability to “imagine any ‘new life’ elsewhere. What he knew was that there were only a few grains of sand left in the clock — and that would be that.” But once Anna was arrested and interrogated by the Gestapo, Freud realized that to ensure her future, he would have to leave Austria.” 

(Dr. Max Schur)

Newcomb is correct in her analysis and nicely sums up the overall impact of the book writing, “readers looking for an in-depth exploration of the tenets of psychoanalysis will not find that here, but SAVING FREUD contains just enough about the central themes of Freud’s professional life to give a sense of his impact on the discipline he is largely credited with inventing. Unlike other, more critical biographies, the Freud that emerges from these pages is warm, avuncular and excessively fond of Anna, who he knew would carry on his legacy. The narrative pace and Nagorski’s fluid writing give this book the character of an adventure story. It is an engrossing but sobering read that reminds us how many others without the resources of the Freud family had no similar options to make an exodus.”

Sigmund Freud
(Sigmund Freud)

COPPER RIVER by William Kent Krueger

Map of Marquette County, MI

I just completed William Kent Krueger’s MERCY FALLS which left a number of things up in the air as it concluded.  I found it unusual in that his first four books in his masterful Cork O’Conner series had solid endings on which to move forward toward the next installment.  Since I am hooked on the series and extremely curious to know where Krueger’s imagination would take me I started reading COPPER RIVER, the sixth book in the O’Conner chain and it proved to be almost as satisfying as the previous five.

One of the many strengths of Krueger’s thrillers is character development and COPPER RIVER is no exception.  Krueger returns the entire O’Conner family that includes Cork, the Sheriff of Tamarack County, MN who at the outset of the novel finds himself on the run fleeing those who are trying to assassinate him; his wife Jo, a lawyer who does a great deal of work for the Iron Lake Indian Reservation; and their three children;  Henry Meloux’s philosophy of life returns, the old Ojibwe mid whose wisdom everyone seeks;  Dina Willner, a former FBI agent and Cook County DA in Chicago who became Cork’s protective angel; and members of the Tamarack County Police Department which Cork heads as Sheriff.

There are a series of new characters that appear, all with significant roles in the story.  Cork’s cousin Jewell Dubois a veterinarian in Bodine, MI. who cares for his wounds and provides a hiding place.  Her son Renoir (Ren) DuBois, a 14 year old whose father was murdered by police and is trying to grow up.  Ren’s close friend Charlene (Charlie) Miller who is saddled with a drunken and abusive father after her mother ran off.  Detective SGT Terry Olafsson of the Marquette County Sheriff’s office.  Ned Hodder, Bodine’s constable.  Gary Johnson, the publisher and editor of the Marquette County Courier, and a host of others.

autumn foliage color at Copper Harbor Michigan, overlooking Lake Superior autumn at Copper Harbor, overlooking Lake Superior Autumn Stock Photo
(Cooper River, MI Harbor)

Since Krueger’s previous novel is a prequel to COPPER RIVER the author does a workmanlike job explaining what Cork is dealing with apart from two murders that have turned up in Bodine.  For Cork he is the victim of trying to solve the murder of Eddie Jacoby back in Aurora.  The problem is his father, Lou Jacoby, a rich powerful man is distraught when his eldest son, Ben is also murdered.  It seems that Ben Jacoby and Jo O’Conner were lovers in law school, and to exacerbate the situation, Ben’s son Philip rapes Jo O’Conner.  Lou Jacoby refuses to accept the truth and blames Cork for the murder of his sons when the real murderers are Gabriella, Eddie’s wife and her brother Tony Salguero.  Lou refuses to listen to reason and puts out a mob style hit on Cork offering a $500,000 reward.

As usual, Krueger presents vivid descriptions of the natural beauty of the Huron Mountains, conveys a solid sense of place, along with the woodlands near the shore of Lake Superior, northwest out of Marquette,  the forests that make up the county of Marquette and the wildlife of the region.  Further, Krueger integrates Native-American life on the reservation, culture, and racism geared against “Indians,” by townspeople and certain high school bullies into his story line which is his usual modus operandi.

Eagle River Falls and Dam
(Cooper Harbor, MI)

Among the key characters are Max Miller and his daughter Charlie.  In an awful scene Max is murdered with his daughter’s baseball bat, and his daughter is seen as a suspect.  Once her father’s body is discovered Charlie flees, but to no avail.  Her flight sets in motion a chain of events that leads to the discovery of a grisly, monstrous conspiracy aimed at girls like Charlie.  A number of incidents have impacted Charlie, particularly the death of her friend Sara Long with whom she lived at Providence House, a home for wayward teens.  Naturally, the wounded Sheriff sheds his own problems and takes on Charlie’s. No one will be surprised when selflessness and virtue, not hit men, are rewarded.

There is a great deal of backstory in the novel, lots of marking time and, at the end, a flurry of overplotting.  In addition, the segway to the familiar children-in-peril theme feels like a cop-out, especially since the previous novel had primed readers for something more intense and harrowing.  This novel had a great deal of potential, but it will not stop me from moving on to the seventh book in the series, THUNDER BAY.

MERCY FALLS by William Kent Krueger

Aurora,Minnesota Map

After completing an immensely satisfying read of William Kent Krueger’s fourth installment of his Cork O’Conner series it “behooved” me to move on to the next installment, MERCY FALLS.  As is usually the case Krueger’s storyline drew me in and I immediately got comfortable for what I knew would be another excellent read.

Straightaway we learn that O’Conner has been reinstalled as Sheriff of Tamarack County replacing the disgraced former Sheriff, Arne Soderberg who quit in the middle of a scandal.  This would be his second go round in the Sheriff’s office having spent seven years on the job when he too was forced to resign.  The situation he was confronted with involved a phone call from the home of Lucy and Eli Tibodeau who lived on the Ojibwe reservation.  The couple had a history of domestic violence against each other but when O’Conner and Deputy Marsha Dross arrived they were immediately met by gunfire from a sniper.  Dross was shot and it soon became clear that O’Conner was the target.

O’Conner tried to figure out who may have had a motive and the only thing he could come with was a meth bust a few weeks before when one of the perps was killed in an explosion with his brother vowing revenge.  While developing an investigation into who was trying to kill him, O’Conner was presented with a murder scene at Mercy Falls where the victim had been stabbed to death and castrated.  The victim was Edward Jacoby who represented Starlight Enterprises and provided management for casinos across the Midwest and was trying to sign up the Ojibwe Casino as one of its clients.

Aurora District 1 Police station on ...

Starlight’s goal split the reservation community in half as to who might want their services.  Jacoby was also a client of O’Conner’s wife Jo who was a lawyer.  Events greatly upset Ms. O’Conner.  First her husband was almost killed by a sniper and now one of her clients was murdered.  They had left Chicago where O’Conner was a police officer because it was so dangerous and moved to a beautiful and supposedly peaceful town of Aurora, MN near Iron Lake to raise their children.

As in all of his novels Krueger highlights the natural beauty of northern Minnesota in addition to his deep respect for Native-American history and culture.  Krueger delves into the development of casinos on the reservation as means of overcoming the poverty that federal law had imposed on the reservation.  However, once the casino lifestyle was introduced it brought with it other socio-economic issues for locals to deal with.

Krueger can always be relied upon for interesting twists and turns in his stories.  A case in point is the Jacoby family with the victims overly aggressive obnoxious father and his son Ben.  It seems that twenty years had passed since Ben and Jo O’Conner had seen each other.  They had been classmates at the University of Chicago Law School as well as lovers.  It made for a very uncomfortable situation for Jo as Ben seemed to want more than catch up on old times. O’Conner also found himself in an uncomfortable situation when Dina Willner, a former FBI agent and Cook County DA in Chicago took a liking to Cork.  She was part of the Jacoby family entourage and became part of the murder investigation.  She and Cork worked close together which made him nervous.  The Jacoby family also included an interesting Argentinian branch.  Gabriella, the widow of Eddie Jacoby and her brother Antonio Salguero have their own agenda which is difficult to discern.

William Kent Krueger
(William Kent Krueger, author)

Krueger ‘s plot line is split into two parts.  First, the attempted murder of O’Conner and the continuing threat that included his family.  Second, the murder of Edward Jacoby who was pressuring the Iron Lake Ojibwe Council to contract with Starlight’s managerial services for the casino.  The question that comes to mind, are these two scenarios related, and if so how?  To answer the questions the reader must follow the twists and turns in Krueger’s plot from the Great Boundary North in Minnesota to Chicago, along with unusual characters like Bryan St. Onge and Lizzie Fineday who play important roles as the plot moves quickly.  It is an interesting ride, and if you take it you should be drawn in and quietly entertained, but keep in mind that the ending is somewhat obscure, and it could be an introduction to the next novel in the series.

Welcome sign on south end of town, Aurora Minnesota, 2009

BLOOD HOLLOW by William Kent Krueger

William Kent Krueger is not your typical formulaic practitioner of suspense/thriller oriented fiction.  Despite this fact he has created the award winning Cork O’Conner series with story lines and characters that do not follow any systematic pattern.  Krueger focuses on many of the same characters from earlier books, but that is all that is predictable as he has the unique ability to introduce new characters and create plot lines that seem random but are engrossing and absorb the reader.  The fourth installment in the series, BLOOD HOLLOW is no exception.

Krueger begins by introducing the reader to the white expanse of the northern Minnesota winter as it is January, and a blizzard is approaching. Cork O’Conner is joined by his compatriot, Oliver Bledsoe, an attorney and true blood Iron Lakes Ojibwe who handles the legal affairs for the tribal council.  Both men are in a race to locate Charlotte Kane, a seventeen year old young lady who left her New Year’s party intoxicated on a snowmobile as the storm seems imminent.  The girl has been missing for two days and O’Conner is deeply disappointed as the search is called off by Sheriff Wally Schanno who is about to retire.

(Iron Lake, MN)

The sheriff’s office plays a significant role in Krueger’s plot.  O’Conner had been the sheriff but was replaced by Schanno after a nasty tribal incident.  Now reaching retirement Schanno is replaced by Arne Soderberg who knows nothing about law enforcement and whose background is the family trucking business.  Needless to say, Soderberg and O’Conner do not get along as the new sheriff is a political animal who wants to use his new position as a political steppingstone to enhance his career.

Once Charlotte Kane’s body is located the novel kicks into gear as Soderberg believes he has his ticket for a political future – Kane’s former boyfriend Solemn Winter Moon.  When O’Conner shows up at the murder seen Soderberg feels threatened as the former sheriff points out a number of discrepancies in the new sheriff’s investigation.  From this point on Krueger lays out the plot very meticulously as he introduces background information about his characters and the role they will play in the story.

Kruger’s novels can stand alone as he nicely fills in the context of each character from previous books and how they fit into the author’s current effort.  Krueger has the ability to create intimacy among his characters particularly the O’Conner family, the role of Henry Meloux an aging Midewiwin, a mide, and member of the Grand Medicine Society, and the relationship between Solemn Winter Moon and Cork O’Conner.

Solemn is a troubled young man with a dark side that has gotten into difficulties in the past.  O’Conner always looked after him as he was the great nephew of Sam Winter Moon, O’Conner’s surrogate father and mentor.  Once Kane disappears her father Dr. Fletcher Kane is convinced Solemn is the murderer.  Cork’s wife Jo, an attorney, represents Solemn and for the two of them proving his innocence becomes an obsession.

White Iron Lake Lots
(Iron Lake, MN)

After digging around much to Soderberg’s chagrin who is in the midst of railroading Solemn, O’Conner develops an interesting theory as to who the real murderer is, and his private investigation begins to split the town of Aurora in half.  Since Solemn is Native-American and Cork is one-quarter Native-American the segment of the local population that abhors the reservation and the people who live their rally around the District Attorney to prosecute Solemn for first degree murder.  For O’Conner, the evidence just does not add up.

Krueger adds an interesting wrinkle to the story focusing on Anti-Native prejudice which gives way to spiritual controversy when Winter Moon turns himself in after claiming to have seen Christ while seeking a vision from Kitchimanidoo, the Great Spirit.  The encounter changes Solemn’s view of life and brings tourists, the sick, and numerous others to Aurora to be healed by one of Jesus’ newest disciples.   Krueger also introduces a series of new characters that have not appeared in previous novels.  Arne Soderberg and Dr. Fletcher Kane play key roles as each has their own agenda, and Fletcher and O’Conner having their own convoluted history.  Solemn’s personal journey is crucial to the story as are Lyla Soderberg, the sheriff’s spouse, Deputy Randy Gooding, a former FBI agent from Milwaukee and friend of O’Conner, and Father Mal Thorne whose actions raise some interesting questions.

The quality of Krueger’s work measures up to the first three books of the series as O’Conner in his own bullish way skeptical of Winter Moon’s religious claims is determined to prove his innocence.  O’Connor will uncover a twisted family drama, frightening religious fervor, and suspicious betrayals. As per usual, Krueger skillfully crafts ample plot twists to keep the reader guessing through the bloody climax to the thrilling conclusion of the novel that this reader did not see coming.


(Provincetown, MA, circa 1970)

In February 1969, the bodies of four women were discovered buried in a North Truro Cemetery on Cape Cod.  The bodies reflected gruesome attacks that involved dismemberment and other despicable acts.  The victims were in their late teens or early twenties and according to police sources the murderer, Antone “Tony” Costa was suspected of killing a total of eight women.  The details associated with the investigation and conviction of the serial killer are the subject of Casey Sherman’s latest book, HELLTOWN: THE UNTOLD STORY OF A SERIAL KILLER ON CAPE COD. Sherman, a bestselling author of fifteen books including such topics as the mobster Whitey Bulger, the Boston Strangler, and the assassination of John Lennon, grew up on Cape Cod, attending Barnstable High School and shares his extensive knowledge of the region in his narrative.

Sherman has created a book with aspects of fictional storytelling as he writes in the author’s note, that “a work of fiction can benefit from elements of fiction storytelling.”  The book is a mishmash of fact and fiction, filled with invented dialogue interspersed with actual events.  In part, HELLTOWN, the nickname given to the Cape Cod community of Provincetown in the 17th century because of its affinity with drinking, gambling, and other vices of the time – reads like a novel. 

Mary Anne Wysocki (near right) and Patricia Walsh went missing in 1969, their bodies later found in nearby woods.
(Mary Ann Wysocki and Patricia Walsh)

Sherman has exceptional command of the material relying on interviews, primary research, his personal knowledge of the case and area, including Costa’s own unpublished autobiography “Resurrection,” as he reconstructs each murder scene, provided knowledge of the victims, highlights a careful reconstruction of the investigation zeroing in on the detectives involved, the trial itself, and Costa’s incarceration at the Walpole State Prison until he committed suicide on May 12, 1974.  The book itself has a number of ancillary stories particularly the relationship between writers Kurt Vonnegut and Norman Mailer who both lived on the Cape for periods of time.  Their rivalry is explored as is their relationship to Costa, especially the role of Vonnegut when the killer was imprisoned.

For the people of the area the case and hunt for the serial killer reminded them of the Boston Strangler case of Albert De Salvo that had been solved two years earlier.  Sherman explores the reasons behind the killings focusing on Costa’s split personality; the good Tony, and his alter ego, Cory Devereaux.  The author recreates conversations between the two elements of Costa’s personality and offers a psychological profile dealing with his complex relationship with his mother.  Sherman adduces that Costa idealized his father and resented the fact that his mother remarried.  As a young man he craved the attention of his mother and had to fight for her affection with two unwelcome rivals; his stepfather and his brother Vincent.  According to Sherman’s analysis his mother had been taken away from him, therefore, somebody had to pay.  The murders were a result of Costa’s convoluted thought process and the dichotomy that existed in his brain.

Mugshot of serial killer Tony Costa
(Anthony “Tony” Costa)

A number of important characters emerge in the narrative; George Killen, the chief investigator for the Bristol County District Attorney, Detective Bernie Flynn whose belief in understanding the active personalities of the victim led to an acquaintance of Costa who would expose the location of the buried body parts; Massachusetts State trooper, Edgar “Tom” Gunnery who focused on Costa from the outset and dug up the bodies at the cemetery; Maurice Goldman, Costa’s lawyer; Edmund Dinis, the Bristol County District Attorney who saw the murder case as an opportunity to advance his political career resulting in his sensationalizing events and outright lies, i.e., referring to Costa as “the Cape Cod vampire,” to achieve the notoriety he craved; and lastly of course Tony Costa.

Costa was a native of Somerville, MA and grew up with a deep interest in taxidermy.  While growing up neighbors reported that he killed pigeons, squirrels, and household animals.  He purchased a copy of Maynard’s MANUAL OF TAXIDERMY, whose instructions on how to skin animals was transferred onto Costa’s mutilated victims. 

(Norman Mailer, author)

A further aspect of the story are the roles of Vonnegut and Mailer who are fascinated by the brutality of Costa’s actions.  Their rivalry seems like a literary footnote to the murder narrative and seems rather irrelevant to the overall story.  Sherman details Vonnegut’s jealousy and envy toward Mailer whose literary success won a Pulitzer and a National Book award for ARMIES OF THE NIGHT while Vonnegut struggled to complete what would become his masterpiece SLAUGHTERHOUSE FIVE.  While Mailer enjoyed his notoriety which led to, opposition to the Vietnam War, directing films, and a run for mayor of New York City; Vonnegut ran a failing Saab dealership and as an American GI in World War II he endured the psychological impact of living through the carpet bombing of Dresden, and was later captured and imprisoned by the Nazis.  Vonnegut would cover the trial of Costa as a journalist and wrote about it for Life magazine in an article entitled “there’s a Maniac Loose Out There,” giving the false impression that his daughter Edie knew and was perhaps in danger from Costa.  Mailer also followed the story and the trial and later used some of its details in an unsuccessful novel and film.

Kurt Vonnegut
(Kurt Vonnegut, author)

HELLTOWN successfully integrates Costa’s story with the major events and movements of the 1960s.  Sherman discusses the Vietnam War, the impact of the assassinations of Robert F. Kennedy and Martin Luther King, the Civil Rights Movement, the Chicago Democratic convention, the Apollo 11 moon landing, the death of Mary Jo Kopechne on Chappaquiddick Island, the Charles Manson killings along with other events and issues.  The result is an interesting study of the mind of a seral killer and the impact of the violent murders on the community involved.  The book is well written and at times mesmerizing, the result of which is a fascinating read. 

(Provincetown, MA, circa 1970)