It’s just over three months into 2018, and Vladimir Vladimirovich Putin has claimed the year as his already. On 18 March 2018, Putin was elected as the President of Russia, occupying the seat for his fourth presidential term, which means he has been in charge of the country for 18 years and counting.

And yet, what the world has seen of Putin during these 18 years do not seem enough to explain the policies and actions of one of the most powerful people in the world. He remains something of an enigma, his words and actions often sending ripples of confusion across the world.

The desire to penetrate the strategic thinking of Vladimir Putin and how he has shaped Russia has resulted in a wide variety of literature. Right from his Acting Presidency in 1999, through his first and second Presidential term, his second Premiership, his third Presidential term, and now, his ongoing fourth official Presidential term, biographies and analytical works have only grown in number. Here is a select list:

First Person: An Astonishingly Frank Self-Portrait of Russia’s President Vladimir Putin, Vladimir Putin et al (2000)

Published during the beginning of Putin’s leadership in 2000, this book is written by Putin himself, along with Nataliya Gevorkyan, Natalya Timakova, and Andrey Vladimirovich Kolesnikov. This book contains in-depth interviews and photographs, delving into Putin’s KGB past and his meteoric rise to power. A good place to start for those who need an introduction to the man.

Putin: Russia’s Choice, Richard Sakwa (2004)

This comprehensive book is written by one of the UK’s leading scholars of Russian politics, Richard Sakwa. Since Putin was re-elected in 2004, this book was published at a turning point in history, and is conscious of its responsibility. Sakwa provides detailed research into the political and social atmosphere of Russia in order to contextualise the reasons behind Putin’s re-election, and his astonishing rise from anonymous KGB apparatchik to leader of one of the world’s most important and influential countries.

Judo: History, Theory, Practice, Vladimir Putin et al (2004)

Putin, Vasily Shestakov, and Alexy Levitsky demonstrate the historical evolution of the Japanese martial art and the Russian contributions to it. This book provides with insights into an aspect of Putin’s life that is not covered widely by the media. It is important for a reader who wants to get familiar with Putin to read what he has to say about a hobby he is passionate about, and juxtapose this with his autobiography, First Person. Perhaps a person is better understood when they write about an external passion, rather than presenting themselves in their official capacity alone.

Kremlin Rising: Vladimir Putin’s Russia, Peter Baker and Susan Glasser (2004)

Two Moscow bureau chiefs of The Washington Post, Peter Baker and Susan Glasser, offer a sobering reality of their idea of Russia and its leader. Beginning with Putin’s unlikely rise to power and going on to the significant moments of his first presidency, the authors sketch Putin’s Russia in light of “the first methodical campaign to reverse the post-Soviet revolution and transformation back into an authoritarian state”. Their writing stretches outward from the political sphere into the social one through examples of individual lives in the country – those prospering under the rule, and those struggling to survive. The narrative offered by American authors of Putin and his country heavily influences the West’s perception and understanding of Russia, and the relationship between the two.

Putin: His Ideology, Aleksei Chadaev (2006)

Aleksei Chadaev cracks the code on how to give people what they want to understand: how has Putin’s ideology ensured him success thus far? Chadaev, an intellectual and member of the Public Chamber, employs the tool of semantic analysis to read between the lines of Putin’s messages. A must read for insights into how the Russian public intellectual perceives Putin’s ideology, and how efficient it has been.

Putin: A Guide for Those Who Care, Vladimir Solovyov (2008)

Vladimir Solovyov, popular political journalist, broadcaster and political consultant in Russia, sheds light on the entire path of Putin’s political career. He expands on certain key moments that are not known about greatly, especially those that he believes to be significant as Putin’s personal incentives. He chalks out Putin’s inspirers and teachers, further mapping how the leader has evolved and changed over the years.

The Man Without A Face: The Unlikely Rise of Vladimir Putin, Masha Gessen (2013)

Russian-American author, journalist, translator and activist Masha Gessen is well-known for her bold writing, especially on LGBT rights in Russia. This book is the chilling narrative of how Putin’s identity was a calculated formulation of the oligarchy, Boris Yeltsin and a means towards the end of political legitimacy. Gessen chronicles firsthand experiences of Putin’s seizing the freedom of Russian citizens, control of the media, and the electoral system.

Sex, Politics and Putin: Political Legitimacy in Russia, Valerie Sperling (2014)

Valerie Sperling expands on the symbol of the benevolent, heteronormative, masculine leader – which is synonymous with Vladimir Putin, during his third Presidential term. She investigates the relationship between gendered stereotypes and sexuality on the one hand and politics on the other. She explores the manner in which traditional notions of gender and sexuality were used as tools of political legitimacy and allowed for the perpetuation of the Putin regime.

The Putin Mystique: Inside Russia’s Power Cult, Anna Arutunyan (2014)

Anna Arutunyan’s book, which has been translated into 10 different languages, speaks of how Putin’s economic and political tactics affect the lives of his citizens. Arutunyan delves into the neo-feudal world of technology and WTO membership, of worship as well as aversion of the sovereign, by questioning the regular Russian layperson to discover how political power permeates through the masses. Her interviews with businessmen, impoverished workers, government officials, bishops, oligarchs, etc., reveal the love-hate relationship between Putin and the Russian people.

All the Kremlin’s Men: Inside the Court of Vladimir Putin, Mikhail Zygar (2016)

Mikhail Zygar knows by the time of Putin’s third Presidential term that everybody wants to step inside his palace to understand the inner workings of the ruler of Russia. Zygar takes the reader step-by-step through Putin’s past actions, and to the point where the leader is so firmly established in power that his authority dismissed the liberal protest movement, annexed Crimea, occupied eastern Ukraine, and expanded his foreign policy strategies. Yet, Zygar observes that Putin’s stairway to political legitimacy was built by other political leaders who sought benefits through his leadership.

The Future is History: How Totalitarianism Reclaimed Russia, Masha Gessen (2017)

In this multiple award winning semi-fictional book, Masha Gessen’s narrative revolves around the lives of four people born at the supposed dawn of Russian democracy. This generation, which was expected to aid in the restructuring of Russia, came as activists, entrepreneurs, thinkers, sexual and social beings. Gessen places their personal lives at the centre of the new regime – synonymous with the Putin era – depicting the voluntary move towards a new strain of autocracy.

The Long Hangover, Shaun Walker (2018)

Published a month before Putin was re-elected as Russia’s President for his fourth term, Shaun Walker’s book elucidates on the struggles of post-Soviet Russia to assert its identity and place in the world. Walker explains how Putin successfully revived Russia from its past, and how memorialising the Second World War to elevate the Soviet Union’s position aided in achieving the President’s goal of knitting the country back together.

Bonus: Putin in fiction

Ii is interesting to see Putin as an exaggerated caricature in fiction. A number of authors, mostly American, have written thrilling mystery novels which have that one character who shares an uncanny resemblance with the President of Russia. In Brandneburg by Henry Porter, a young KGB officer, inspired by Putin, makes a recurring appearance. British writer Charles Cumming’s novel, The Trinity Six, fictionalises Putin, substituting his Russia for Stalin’s, and makes for an exciting thriller.

Ex-CIA employee Jason Mathews, in his novel Red Sparrow, makes Putin a real presence, ubiquitous, and often bare-chested, constantly aware of his spies’ activities. Our Kind of Traitor by John le Carré focuses on tennis and corruption in the world of the Russian mob, in which Vladimir Putin is an absent presence. The G-Spot by Dmitry Bykov portrays Putin as a husband for Russia, who, after marriage, locates her G-spot – aka stolen freedom).

One of the most chilling works of fiction, which had a premonition of an ex-KGB spy officer who had been stationed in Germany becoming the President of Russia, is Moscow 2024, written by Vladimir Voinovich in 1986.