29 November 2011

Book Review: Mafia State by Luke Harding

Title: Mafia State
Subtitle: How one reporter became an enemy of the brutal new Russia
Author: Luke Harding
Publisher: Guardian Books
ISBN: 978-0852-65248-0
Format: Paperback
310 pages
Genre: Non-fiction
Source: Random House

Mafia State is a gripping account of a corrupt government and how those in power will resort to unbelievable devious methods to deter anyone - including foreign journalists - from trying to expose the truth about life in modern Russia.

Luke Harding is an award-winning foreign correspondent with The Guardian. In 2007, the British journalist arrived in Russia to start work as the Guardian's new Moscow bureau chief.Three months after his arrival, he discovered someone had broken into his flat - which is on the 10th floor - and opened a window in the children's bedroom. Several hours later he is awakened by a mysterious alarm clock going off somewhere in the flat.

This disturbing incident was the start of an ongoing psychological campaign waged against Luke Harding and his family.

However, Luke Harding chooses to carry on with his work, despite the unsettling harassment -  bugging his flat, disconnecting his phone calls, deleting his emails, a number of mysterious break-ins and even being stalked by thugs wearing leather jackets. Indeed, the author's detailed exposé about Russia reads like a spy thriller.

Luke Harding soon realizes that he and his family are under constant surveillance by the Federal Security Service of Russia. The FSB (formerly known as the KGB) is Russia's main domestic spy agency and state security organisation. Apparently, this sinister agency has Luke Harding in its sights because of his persistence in uncovering the truth about Vladimir Putin's regime in Russia, and writing about it. Hence the book's subtitle: How one reporter became an enemy of the brutal new Russia. Indeed, Luke Harding became the first western reporter to be deported from Russia since the Cold War days.

Mafia State is a comprehensive treatise that includes eight pages of photographs plus an extensive index. The book is informative as well as genuinely alarming. The author writes about the long list of human rights activists who have been murdered since Putin took power - and the mystery of who killed Alexander Litvinenko is addressed too. Luke Harding also provides front-line reports from the 2008 war between Russia and Georgia.

There are numerous jaw-dropping revelations in the book - including unpublished material from confidential US diplomatic cables, released last year by WikiLeaks. Luke Harding discovers he isn't the only victim of the FSB's domestic break-ins, when he reads about the daily difficulties faced by American diplomats in Moscow.

The author's determination to persevere with his work even when he knew the FSB had him under surveillance, is very impressive. Luke Harding is an incredibly brave and dedicated journalist. Mafia State is a real eye-opener and I'm grateful to Random House for sending me a copy.

Mafia State is a must-read for those who follow current events and is sure to appeal to those who are interested in politics and particularly to those who want to learn about the new Russia. I found it to be a fascinating and illuminating read.

Watch a video of Luke Harding reading an excerpt from his book, Mafia State, and talk about the FSB's psychological campaign that was used against him and his family:


  1. A book I will read wiith great interest. Flighty xx

  2. Hi Flighty. I'm pleased to hear you intend to read Mafia State. I'm sure you will be just as enthralled by the book as I was.