Brzezinski, Matthew 1965-
BRZEZINSKI, Matthew 1965-
PERSONAL: Born 1965; nephew of Zbigniew Brzezinski (former U.S. national security advisor), married; wife's name, Roberta (an investment banker); children: one daughter.
ADDRESSES: Home—Washington, DC. Agent—c/o Author Mail, Bantam Books, 1745 Broadway, New York, NY 10019.
CAREER: Writer and journalist. New York Times, office assistant in Warsaw, Poland, bureau, began 1991; Wall Street Journal, foreign correspondent in Kiev, Ukraine, then Moscow, Russia, 1996–98; New York Times Magazine, contributing writer.
Casino Moscow: A Tale of Greed and Adventure on Capitalism's Wildest Frontier (memoir), Free Press (New York, NY), 2001.
Fortress America: On the Front Lines of Homeland Security, an Inside Look at the Coming Surveillance State, Bantam Books (New York, NY), 2004.
SIDELIGHTS: Matthew Brzezinski—like his famous uncle, former U.S. national security advisor Zbigniew Brzezinski—is a writer with particular interests in Russia and Eastern Europe. For seven years in the 1990s, just after the fall of Communism in that region, Brzezinski helped cover the former Soviet Union for the New York Times and the Wall Street Journal. He began in his family's ancestral homeland of Poland, then went further east into Ukraine, and finally to Moscow. Along the way he witnessed both the up-and down-sides of economic liberalization: the millionaire biznezmeni driving their imported German luxury cars, and the unpaid teachers living without running water because there was no money to pay municipal workers to fix the broken water mains.
Brzezinski chronicles these experiences in his 2001 memoir, Casino Moscow: A Tale of Greed and Adventure on Capitalism's Wildest Frontier. Brzezinski was raised in a politically engaged Polish family that is intensely suspicious of all things Russian, an attitude that is evident in his book, "but the distrust is leavened by Brzezinski's sheer fascination at the bizarre goings-on," Ken Klee noted in Book. One of the more colorful characters within Brzezinski's pages is Umar Dzhabrailov, the Chechen businessman who owns the Radisson hotel in Moscow. "Umar," as he is near-universally known, has an office chillingly decorated with ceremonial Chechen daggers. "If they were meant to intimidate, they succeeded admirably," Brzezinski recalled in Casino Moscow. Umar also has a dead former business partner whom many believe he had assassinated, although the murder has never been officially solved. The man has attracted the attention of writers besides Brzezinski: Umar is proud to have been the model for a similarly threatening Mafia lord in the best-selling American thriller novel Icon, by Frederick Forsyth. Casino Moscow primarily consists of absurd, tragicomic anecdotes about life in Russia such as these, "but Brzezinski has done a remarkable job of collecting those anecdotes and creating a cohesive, enlightening collection of stories that adds individual, ephemeral, and entertaining detail" to the drier, scholarly histories of that period of Russian history, Markos T. Kounalakis wrote in a Washington Monthly review.
Although the infamous Russian oligarchs come in for plenty of criticism in Brzezinski's tale, the Westerners who came to "help" Russia rebuild its economy are not let off lightly either. These Westerners, who worked for such organizations as the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank, were frequently paid lavish salaries, and some lived almost as extravagantly as the oligarchs themselves. This critique of high-living Westerners is notable because Brzezinski's wife, Roberta, a World Bank staffer, was among them, and Brzezinski openly admits to appreciating the luxuries her impressive salary could bring the couple. However, this salary eventually wound up being a large part of the pair's decision to leave Russia. In 1998 Russia changed its tax laws in ways that increased taxes on resident foreigners, then declared that those foreigners would have to pay the taxes retroactively. Faced with the prospect of a potential 100,000 dollar-plus tax bill, the couple returned to Roberta's native United States.
Brzezinski's second book, Fortress America: On the Front Lines of Homeland Security, an Inside Look at the Coming Surveillance State, examines the political condition of his adopted country and a few other nations as well. Brzezinski goes to Israel to investigate how that country has dealt with its terrorism threat, and compares their methods to those used by the American Department of Homeland Security. He also talks to private companies that are developing such multi-use devices as face-recognition software and tracking implants that have both national-security and private business applications. He concludes that, if all such new technologies are put to use, the United States could easily wind up a "surveillance state," where everyone is always being watched. "This abundantly provocative book forces us to think about [the] implications" of reaching the point where productive security measures become paranoia, David Pitt noted in Booklist, even if it is not clear where that point lies. A Publishers Weekly critic termed the book a "breezy overview" of the topic, but added that it is "bolstered by good reporting and grounded extrapolation."
BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:
Brzezinski, Matthew, Casino Moscow: A Tale of Greed and Adventure on Capitalism's Wildest Frontier, Free Press (New York, NY), 2001.
Book, July, 2001, Ken Klee, "The Wild, Wild East," p. 26.
Booklist, August, 2004, David Pitt, review of Fortress America: On the Front Lines of Homeland Security, an Inside Look at the Coming Surveillance State, p. 1879.
Business Week, August 13, 2001, "Cold Capitalism," p. 16E2, July 1, 2002, Hardy Green, review of Casino Moscow: A Tale of Greed and Adventure on Capitalism's Wildest Frontier, p. 23.
Kirkus Reviews, July 15, 2004, review of Fortress America, p. 669.
Library Journal, September 1, 2004, Harry Charles, review of Fortress America, p. 170.
Newsweek International, July 30, 2001, Andrew Nagorski, "Potemkin Prosperity," p. 55.
Publishers Weekly, May 21, 2001, review of Casino Moscow, p. 88; July 12, 2004, review of Fortress America, p. 53.
Washington Monthly, October, 2001, Markos T. Kounalakis, review of Casino Moscow, p. 57.
Mother Jones Online, http://www.motherjones.com/ (August 26, 2004), Janelle Nanos, interview with Brzezinski.