cover image Yeltsin: A Revolutionary Life

Yeltsin: A Revolutionary Life

Leon Aron. Thomas Dunne Books, $35 (896pp) ISBN 978-0-312-25185-7

Arriving just months after Boris Yeltsin's surprise resignation, Aron's biography is a timely reminder of the events that first made Yeltsin a hero to his people and then eroded his promising reputation, leaving him a political disappointment to much of the world. Even more remarkable than the timeliness of this excellent book is its prescience. The final chapter discusses the financial collapse of August 1998 and uses that crisis as a springboard for the author's weighty conclusions about Yeltsin's legacy. And yet, even though it leaves off six months before Yeltsin's actual political end, Aron's biography perfectly captures the pathos of the televised New Year's address in which a tired and beaten warrior handed over his regalia with apologies and self-criticisms: in an eerily prophetic line, Aron describes Yeltsin as ""fatally wounded by his own errors by his inability to deliver miracles to make freedom, heal the sick, punish the corrupt and feed the poor--the man at the rope became too weak and too sick to manage the revolution and to justify his people's trust."" Strongly sympathetic to his subject, Aron tends to play down Yeltsin's well-known faults (among them, irascibility, egoism, political inconsistency) and to praise his admirable qualities (initiative, courage, a determination to dismantle the old Communist system). He treats Yeltsin's loudest opponents, both on the Left and the Right, with liberal scorn. But the sheer weight of the author's extensive research and academic analysis (Aron is director of Russian studies at the American Enterprise Institute) gives the lively history an objective and scholarly tone. Intelligently argued and often moving, this book is recommended for anyone interested in contemporary Russia. (Apr.)