Moscow, December 25, 1991: The Last Day of the Soviet Union

Conor O'Clery. PublicAffairs, $26.99 (384p) ISBN 978-1-58648-796-6
The Communist superpower ended in a whimper of personal rivalries, according to this shrewd political history. Former Irish Times correspondent O'Clery (The Billionaire Who Wasn't) alternates vignettes from the day Soviet president Mikhail Gorbachev's resignation brought the U.S.S.R. to a formal end with a chronicle of its collapse under his rule. He frames the story as a duel between Gorbachev, the principled but vain and haughty statesman who lost control of the reforms he initiated, and Boris Yeltsin, the president of the Russian Republic—a crude, drunken bully and something the Soviet Union had not seen before: a real politician, capable of translating popular sentiment into a democratic power base. 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. (Aug.)
Reviewed on: 06/06/2011
Release date: 08/01/2011
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