The first is Masha Gessen's illuminating account of the origins of Vladimir Vladimirovich Putin - The Man Without a Face: The Unlikely Rise of Vladimir Putin. The author does a good job summarizing his origins, and a less good job summarizing how he initially made his money (by defrauding the city of St. Petersburg in contracted food purchases totaling more than $100 million). I am much more interested in the latter than the former, so I could have used a lot more detail there but overall it is quite good. Gessen does a better job detailing the many, many ways in which the state (Putin, and his surrogates) manages to coerce, manipulate, intimidate, steal, and kill the competition. Russia is a very fucked up place, and Putin is a brutal dictator. It is more than a little disturbing that our current president admires Putin very much, and seems to endorse his extractive, exploitative economic policies as well as his control of the media. (Putin regularly kills people that he considers his enemies, and was also instrumental in a domestic terror bombing campaign in Russian apartment blocks that consolidated his power.) I rate this book 4 out of 5 Putin Centaurs.
The second book is short enough to read in a single sitting, although it is very a book I plan to revisit periodically. On Tyranny by Timothy Snyder is superb, and it summarizes very well why 'leaders' like Trump are dangerous for democracy. (Inciting violence against a free press, lying constantly and aggressively, subverting democratic principles such as voting rights for all, etc.) Buy two copies, and give one to a friend. (Trigger warning: if you want to bask in the ignorance and willful stupidity characterized by the Republic of Trumpistan then browse the one star reviews. Remember that when you gaze long into the abyss, the abyss