The implosion of the Soviet Union was the culmination of a gripping game played out between two men who intensely disliked each other and had different concepts for the future. Mikhail Gorbachev, a sophisticated and urbane reformer, sought to modernize and preserve the USSR; Boris Yeltsin, a coarse and a hard drinking “bulldozer,” wished to destroy the union and create a capitalist Russia. The defeat of the August 1991 coup attempt, carried out by hardline communists, shook Gorbachev’s authority and was a triumph for Yeltsin. But it took four months of intrigue and double-dealing before the Soviet Union collapsed and the day arrived when Yeltsin could hustle Gorbachev out of the Kremlin, and move in as ruler of Russia.
Conor O’Clery has written a unique and truly suspenseful thriller of the day the Soviet Union died. The internal power plays, the shifting alliances, the betrayals, the mysterious three colonels carrying the briefcase with the nuclear codes, and the jockeying to exploit the future are worthy of John Le Carré or Alan Furst. The Cold War’s last act was a magnificent dark drama played out in the shadows of the Kremlin.
©2011 Conor O'Clery (P)2011 Gildan Media Corp
“Shrewd political history…. O’Clery presents a colorful human-scale saga, full of pathos and pettiness. (As Gorbachev was preparing his farewell address, Yeltsin sent minions to evict his family from their dacha.) But he also illuminates larger historical forces: the revival of nationalist politics in the breakaway Soviet republics; the desperate food shortages as the command economy lost its authority; the social enervation that left no one willing to defend the Soviet system by force. The result is a revealing portrait of one of history's greatest upheavals.” (Publishers Weekly, June 15, 2011)
Engaging and absorbing. One of the best modern histories I have ever heard. Chapters alternate between general Soviet history between the death of Brezhnev and the end of the Soviet Union, and an hour by hour account of final three days of the Soviet Union and Gorbachev's career.
If you like biography with lots of personal (and gossipy) details, you will love this. The events, of course, were of monumental historical importance, not just for the Soviet Union but for the world.
In the perpetual debate between the importance of broad historical forces and personality in the determination of historical events, this book makes a strong case for personality. That is not surprising, because in a totalitarian regime the personality of the dictator cannot help but have an excessive effect on current events. On the other hand, the other lesson is that rule by personality that runs against irresistible historical forces cannot last long: seventy years is not the long run
"Takes a while to get going but worth the wait"
The detail in the retelling of the events of December 25th seem to drag somewhat. However, the account of the long and tempestous relationship between Gorbachev and Yelstin is fascinating and full of insight. It seems almost surreal that the fate of the Soviet Union was ultimately sealed by personal as well as social, economic and political issues.
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