Death of a Dissident: The Poisoning of Alexander Litvinenko and the Return of the KGB

Front Cover
Free Press, Jun 12, 2007 - History - 384 pages
The assassination of former Russian intelligence officer Alexander "Sasha" Litvinenko in November 2006 -- poisoned by the rare radioactive element polonium -- caused an international sensation. Within a few short weeks, the fit forty-three-year-old lay gaunt, bald, and dying in a hospital, the victim of a "tiny nuclear bomb." Suspicions swirled around Russia's FSB, the successor to the KGB, and the Putin regime. Traces of polonium radiation were found in Germany and on certain airplanes, suggesting a travel route from Russia for the carriers of the fatal poison. But what really happened? What did Litvinenko know? And why was he killed?

The full story of Sasha Litvinenko's life and death is one that the Kremlin does not want told. His closest friend, Alex Goldfarb, and his widow, Marina, are the only two people who can tell it all, from firsthand knowledge, with dramatic scenes from Moscow to London to Washington. Death of a Dissident reads like a political thriller, yet its story is more fantastic and frightening than any novel.

Ever since 1998, when Litvinenko denounced the FSB for ordering him to assassinate tycoon Boris Berezovsky, he had devoted his life to exposing the FSB's darkest secrets. After a dramatic escape to London with Goldfarb's assistance, he spent six years, often working with Goldfarb, investigating a widening series of scandals. Oligarchs and journalists have been assassinated. Ukrainian presidential candidate Viktor Yuschenko was poisoned on the campaign trail. The war in Chechnya became unspeakably harsh on both sides. Sasha Litvinenko investigated all of it, and he denounced his former employers in no uncertain terms for their dirty deeds.

Death of a Dissident opens a window into the dark heart of the Putin Kremlin. With its strong-arm tactics, tight control over the media, and penetration of all levels of government, the old KGB is back with a vengeance. Sasha Litvinenko dedicated his life to exposing this truth. It took his diabolical murder for the world to listen.

From inside the book

What people are saying - Write a review

User Review - Flag as inappropriate

Q. How did you like this book? A. Boy, what a mess. I mean, after Gorbachev resigned, Russia became an outrageous place, according to Alex and Marina. Everybody seemed to be on the take and there were bureacracies on top of bureacracies. The subject of the book, Sasha, is one of the few good guys, apparently because he knew little about politics. I am not familiar with Russian names, though I studied Russian for two years in college. The names were confusing and hard to pronounce. This may be a problem for some readers not familiar with Russian. Q. So the story is confusing? A. I will say this. Alex and Marina were able to explain, through their narrative, what transpired from the time after Gorbachev to the time of Yeltsin and then to Putin. I learned a new perspective on the Chechen war, not like reading from the news reports. The Russian names may be hard to pronounce, for Americans, but the people bearing those names, their characteristics, their traits, their politics, are coherently stated by Alex and Marina. Q. So the book may be difficult for English speakers, because of all the Russian names? A. Maybe. But on the other hand, there is a definite plot to the book, and it is all true. Things really heat up as the book progresses. It becomes truly a story of good versus evil. But to his credit, Alex admits in the introduction that not everyone sees his side as the good side. It becomes a cloak and dagger thriller, as Alex notes. It is unfortunate that many people died, but this can, presumably be blamed on evil. Or on human nature, in my opinion. Q. So general readers can read the book and learn? A. Yes. Readers will learn more about post-communist Russia than they have from newspapers or television, I think. I did, anyway. 

Review: Death of a Dissident: Alexander Litvinenko and the Return of the KGB

User Review  - G-- - Goodreads

Conspiracy theory at its finest--ie it is conceivable, even believable that Putin did order this murder. Read full review


The Strange Major
The Robber Baron

13 other sections not shown

Other editions - View all

Common terms and phrases

About the author (2007)

Alex Goldfarb, Ph.D., was a dissident scientist who left Russia in the 1970s, joining the faculty of Columbia University. After the Soviet Union collapsed in 1991, he went to work for George Soros directing charitable initiatives in Russia. He befriended Alexander Litvinenko in the 1990s. Goldfarb later helped Litvinenko work on his memoirs and supported his efforts to expose the abuses of the newly ascendant FSB. Goldfarb is currently the executive director of the International Foundation for Civil Liberties, set up by Boris Berezovsky as an umbrella group for human-rights activists.

Marina Litvinenko first met Alexander at her thirty-first birthday party, in 1993, when he was a young officer in the FSB. They married and she gave birth to a son thereafter. In 2000, the three of them sought asylum in the United Kingdom, and she continues to live in London with her twelve-year-old son.

Bibliographic information