Dec 5, 2015

Non Fiction Saturday: Red Notice by Bill Browder

As regular readers of SGR blog know, I don't spend a lot of time reading Non Fiction. My long-time, RL friend, Emerson Clauss, has been a guest review several times and I've decided to make him a permanent contributor so he can share what he discovers in that genre with my readers.  He keeps me tuned in to so many great non-fiction books and his enthusiasm is contagious. I'll be sharing his book on what I will be calling Non-Fiction Saturday! The book he is spot-lighting today is one I have every intention of reading.

RED NOTICE by Bill Browder is a fantastic tale of intrigue, high finance, spies, big investments with surprises at every turn.  What makes this book an amazing read, is that it is not only a true story, it will pull every heart-string you have, will leave you hoping for the best in our modern world and how the "world" in Russia works; today with Putin at the helm.
Browder starts his story of financial wizardry with his struggle to make a name for himself in the world of high finance and big deals; the dreams of Wall Street.  He makes early inroads into the business the old fashioned way; with a good education, good instinct and plenty of hard work and gutsy moves.  
Bill finds himself looking for a way to differentiate himself in a pool full of sharks, and finds a niche in Russia.  Along the way, he gives us mere mortals a view into the world of high finance and big investing.  He weaves a great story of relationships, educated gambles and how the investment world works.
Russia creates a challenge for Bill and his new company, his associates and most importantly, his well healed investors.  It is a challenge with huge rewards, for what he has stumbled into and uncovered.  As Russia is trying to enter the new era of open borders and inviting outsiders into their economy, Browder finds some market and valuation anomalies that make the risk worth pursuing.  And pursuing he does.
With his new company, Bill assembles a team to research and vet all sorts of obtuse information about particular Russian companies and the folks who run them.  At each turn he is more surprised and astounded; how could these fantastic deals not have been found by anyone else...
Browder and his company spend years developing their business and investments in Russia, through some monumental changing times for Russia and the "Federation".  Russia is undergoing a lot of ups and downs, economically, socially and in the business world.  However, the realities of doing business in Russia soon comes home to roost.
This true story starts sounding like an exciting Bond movie, except the players are real, have real lives and families.  It does keep you on the edge of your seat. After a while, I was unable to put the book down, and had to know what happened next.  And, when Bill's story started intersecting with current international news and the circumstances surrounding these events, it became that much more intriguing.
For all of the players in this real life drama, the stakes get higher at every turn, and they find that the old ways of Russia, with government being controlled by the infamous oligarchs; is alive and well.  Possibly, the old ways of Russia have never gone away, and have never gotten better, despite the face the Kremlin tries to put on.  
Bill and his comrades become more aware of this, when the attacks begin on them, their investments and people who represent and do business with them.  And as most American are aware, the government in Russia is scary at best, sinister at its worst.  
The clandestine meetings, phone calls and face to face visits will keep you riveted to every turn of this tale.  The courage of the people working for Bill and with him to salvage the best of a worsening situation is inspiring.  Unfortunately this courage taunts the Russian government to unleash its wrath, to the demise of one of Bills associates, Sergei Magnitsky, soon to be killed in prison after his arrest.

What is so heartening about this drama, playing out in real time for Bill and his associates, is how many people stayed courageous to help each other to safety under some extreme risk and stress, to extricate a few of them from Russia, and to eventually avenge Sergei's death in a most unique way.  Bill puts his business life on hold in the late stages of this dilemma and sets his site on safeguarding his associates and pursuing justice for Sergei.
He puts his intelligence, strenuous work ethic and earnest efforts (and I'm sure considerable money) to extracting some justice from the folks in Russia responsible for his friends death and for his own persecution.  This brings him squarely into the middle of some heavy world politics, where the stakes are high; but his personal risks are still bigger.  After all, he has angered the Russian Government, one where Vladimir Putin, former KGB officer is now President.  Putin does not like to lose or be shown up... we have all heard the stories, rumors of his detractors disappearing.
Browder lays much of the workings of Putin's Russia right on the table; and survives to tell this story.  And it is a riveting story, one that will bring a tear to your eyes more than once; after you are pulled successfully into this drama.  And there is much to learn about this story in the archives of recent history in news accounts.  I know I will be digging further into this; it's too intriguing not to.
To say this story is "told", would put it into the past.  Two things about that:  some of the story is still in the news and the players are still involved; one is a pissed off President Putin.  And yes, we have all heard  stories of assassinations traced back to Putin or his cronies...  
Bill closes his book with one thing I would like to quote him talking about countermeasures to safeguard himself and his family: "...this book.  If I'm killed, you {the reader} will know who did it.  When my enemies read this book, they will know that you know... That simple act will keep the spirit of Sergei Magnitsky alive and go further than any army of bodyguards in keeping me safe."   
This book is an exceptional read, hard to put down, even for Thanksgiving Dinner.  Bill Browder has the courage to share his story, the story of his friend, Sergei Magnitsky and that of enduring courage, the strength of the human spirit at its best.   If this book fails to pull you in and hold your attention and heart... you may want to check for a pulse.

Author: Bill Browder
Publisher: Simon & Schuster
Published: Reprint Edition October 2015
Length: 416 pp


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