cover image Gorbachev: His Life and Times

Gorbachev: His Life and Times

William Taubman. Norton, $39.95 (928p) ISBN 978-0-393-64701-3

Taubman (Khrushchev), emeritus professor of political science at Amherst College, retraces Mikhail Gorbachev’s strenuous climb up the Communist Party ladder to focus on his turmoil-ridden years as last general secretary from 1985 to 1991. A tragic hero who struggled to reject the “Bolsheviks’ bloody way of doing things” and nonviolently reconstruct his country’s political system and ideology, Gorbachev found himself head of a state over which he had no control. Relying on transcripts of Politburo meetings, Taubman writes energetically of Kremlin hard-liners’ attempts to derail the reformer as he coped with rising regional nationalism, economic collapse, and other disasters. Gorbachev was caught off guard by the fall of the Berlin Wall and bewildered by Boris Yeltsin’s rising popular appeal. Desperate for support he traveled to the West with his stylish and erudite wife, Raisa, whose charm helped take some chill off the Cold War. Meanwhile, political rifts deepened at home. In August 1991, a military junta tried to oust him. Under house arrest and fearing for his life, Gorbachev faced the bitter truth that though the West hailed him as statesman of the century, his own citizens despised him. Taubman suggests that Gorbachev might have Westernized Russia had the West given enough support at critical moments. Such conclusions require scrutiny, but do not detract from this definitive volume. (Sept.)