Preserved Stories Blog

Storytellers can do wonderful things, even when a reliable biography, about a main character, is largely absent

In a previous post, I’ve discussed The Story of Mississauga, which I’ve been following since January 2017.

The project is driven by a focused approach toward heritage management.

Based on anecdotal evidence – on things that I have personally observed – with regard to efforts to preserve and repurpose heritage buildings and the like in Toronto and Mississauga, approaching heritage – including the heritage that is passed along through stories – from a management perspective makes good sense.

It’s helpful, that is, if people who deal with heritage issues understand the strategic options that are available to them.

Otherwise, they are up the creek.

Secondly, The Story of Mississauga project is concerned with community engagement. It’s my understanding that residents will play a key role in the planning of The Story of Mississauga.

Many thoughts come to mind: For example, what might be the best way to ensure that Mississauga residents really have a choice, with regard to which of their stories will be told?

Rhetoric and reality

Every community project, that promotes itself as a community-engagement initiative, involves a distinction between rhetoric and reality.

At one end of the continuum, with regard to such a distinction, you can see a close alignment between the rhetoric (what is promised) and the reality (what happens in the end).

At the other end of the continuum, there is no match between what’s promised, and what occurs.

In such a case, community engagement is an exercise in scams and scamming. In some cases, community engagement qualifies as a fake news story.

Thirdly, The Story of Mississauga offers a person, such as myself, the opportunity to sharpen her or his understanding of what storytelling entails, the forms it may take, and the qualities that stories must demonstrate, in order to attract an audience.

The theory behind the project is of special interest to me – in particular, because I do not live in Mississauga. We all have the opportunity to explore what storytelling entails, no matter where we happen to live.

Mr. Putin: Operative in the Kremlin (2015)

In this post, I will highlight a book that makes for A-1 storytelling. I have learned so many things, about effective storytelling, by reading this book.

I’ve chosen Mr. Putin: Operative in the Kremlin (2015) as the subject for my current post.

The Acknowledgements serve as the Introduction

As I’ve noted at a previous post, storytelling can take many forms. Non-fiction, book-length storytelling is one such form.

Mr. Putin (2015) is of much interest to me because it demonstrates storytelling at its finest.

In particular, it demonstrates that storytellers can do wonderful things, even when reliable information, about the key character in a story, is absent.

As the authors of the story, Fiona Hill and Clifford G. Gaddy, demonstrate, you don’t need to know every detail about a character, in order to tell a great story about the person.

Fiona Hill is director of the Center on the United States and Europe at the Brookings Institution and a senior fellow in Foreign Policy at Brookings.

Clifford G. Gaddy is a senior fellow in Foreign Policy at Brookings.

An interesting feature of Mr. Putin (2015) is that the Acknowledgements serve as a great introduction to the story.

Sometimes, it make sense to have the Acknowledgements at the back of a book, and to include a formal Introduction at the front of it.

In this case, the Acknowledgements underline that the book is not a journalistic exercise, however valuable (and it can be highly valuable) such an exercise can be.

The book is set up, instead, as a standard Brookings Institution document.

In such a document, thoughtful policy recommendations, and policy-related back stories, are emphasized. Books based upon the standard practice of journalism will take on a distinctly different format. Similarly, a book that is exclusively an academic text (again, such texts can be highly valuable) will take on a decidedly different format, than is evident in the case of the book at hand.

Behind the guises and performances of Mr. Putin

In the opening chapter, entitled “Who is Mr. Putin?”, the authors note that they make a point of looking “beyond the staged performances and deliberately assumed guises that constitute the Putin political brand” (p. 18).

For the purposes of the study, six separate identities, associated with Mr. Putin, are described:

  • The Statist
  • The History Man
  • The Survivalist
  • The Outsider
  • The Free Marketeer, and
  • The Case Officer

The six, above-noted identities of Mr. Putin are explored taking into account “their central elements and evolution, and their roots in Russian history, culture, and politics” (p. 18).

The authors add that their original manuscript (published in the first, 2013 edition of the book) was the outcome of their long-standing collaboration as colleagues at the Brookings Institution, dating to the start of Putin’s presidency in 2000.

The book notes, as well (p. vii), with regard to the second (2015) edition, that:

“Between the launch of the first edition in early 2013 and September 2014, Fiona Hill collected and analyzed new source material and embarked on a series of international research trips to conduct supplemental interviews with analysts, policymakers, government officials, and private sector representatives on the key themes of the book.

“Some of these trips were sponsored by external organizations, including the Embassy of the United States in Berlin and the U.S. consulates in Germany (through the U.S. Department of State’s Strategic Speaker Program); the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Japan (through its official visitors and speakers program); and the Department of National Defence of Canada (through the National Defence, Defence Engagement Program).

“Other trips and interviews were facilitated through meetings and conferences arranged by partner organizations, including the Aspen Institute, Chatham House, the Council on the United States and Italy, the Ditchley Foundation, the European Council on Foreign Relations, the EU Institute for Strategic Studies, the German Marshall Fund, the Heinrich Boll Foundation, the French Institute of International Relations (IFRI), the Korber Stiftung, the London School of Economics, and the Munich Security Conference.

“Participation in numerous Brookings Institution conferences, seminars, and private meetings in Washington, D.C., and Europe also provided opportunities to engage in one-on-one or small-group discussions with a range of U.S., European, and Russian officials, as well as U.S. and inter­national business figures active in Russia.”

There were other interviews as well; the ones that I’ve quoted will serve as a sampling of them.

Reform of the Russian military and the state of the Russian economy

The Acknowledgements also note that Clifford Gaddy contributed new conclusions, to the second edition of the book, regarding the reform of the Russian military and the state of the Russian economy. Some of the material, with a focus on the political economy of resource dependence, has been published separately by Clifford Gaddy and Barry Ickes.

The Acknowledgement end with a note (p. x) indicating that:

“The book’s findings are in keeping with Brookings’s mission: to conduct high-quality and independent research and, based on that research, to provide innovative, practical recommendations for policymakers and the public. The conclusions and recommendations of any Brookings research are solely those of its authors and do not reflect the views of the Institution, its management, or its other scholars.”

In a subsequent post, I will introduce Part One of the book, entitled “The Operative Emerges.”

This is a great book – both as an exercise in compelling research, and as a demonstration of high-quality storytelling about international affairs.


A March 15, 2017 YouTube video posted by the City of Mississauga is entitled: “The Tale of a Town: Stories from Dundas Street.”

A March 21, 2017 Wired article is entitled: “Inside the Hunt for Russia’s Most Notorious Hacker.”

A March 22, 2017 Guardian article is entitled: “Lawyer for family of Russian whistleblower ‘thrown from building’: Nikolai Gorokhov, who represents family of Sergei Magnitsky, is in intensive care after falling from fourth floor of apartment block.”

A March 22, 2017 Associated Press article is entitled: “AP Exclusive: Manafort had plan to benefit Putin government.”

A March 23, 2017 Guardian article is entitled: “Denis Voronenkov: ex-Russian MP who fled to Ukraine killed in Kiev: Kremlin critic left Russia last year and renounced citizenship after complaining he was persecuted by security agencies.”

A March 23, 2017 Foreign Policy article is entitled: “Further Revelations on Trump-Russia Ties Build Pressure For Independent Inquiry: New reports rattle the White House, as congressional and FBI investigations gain momentum — but can institutions survive the stress test?”

A March 23, 2017 Guardian article is entitled: “In the broken-down heart of Siberia, Putin is still Russia’s ‘good tsar’: Irkutsk struggles with poverty and the authorities do little to help. But I found a puzzling disconnect.”

A March 24, 2017 Guardian article is entitled: “In Putin’s Russia, the hollowed-out media mirrors the state: The Russian government has spent years consolidating its control of the media. Now it sees reporters as public servants first and journalists second – if at all.”

A March 24, 2017 Estonian World article is entitled: “The victims of Soviet deportations remembered in Estonia.”

A March 25, 2017 Guardian article is entitled: “Putin’s desire for a new Russian empire won’t stop with Ukraine: My country has suffered terribly from the Kremlin’s obsession with restoring Soviet hegemony. But the entire security of Europe and the west is at stake.”


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