cover image Steeltown, USSR: Soviet Society in the Gorbachev Era

Steeltown, USSR: Soviet Society in the Gorbachev Era

Stephen Kotkin. University of California Press, $40 (269pp) ISBN 978-0-520-07353-1

Founded in 1929 under Stalin, the city of Magnitogorsk, built from scratch as a showcase of socialism, boasts the world's largest steelworks. Yet today the plant is a wheezing dinosaur, and the city copes with a severe housing crisis, a municipal economy struggling to feed and clothe its people, a flourishing black market in consumer goods, massive pollution, a population overwhelmed by alcoholism and respiratory diseases. In 1987 Kotkin, now a history professor at Princeton, became the first American in nearly half a century to live in this working-class town in the Urals. A remarkably intimate, detailed look at Soviet society in the throes of change, his vivid report tells how entrenched local leaders have stymied restructuring or perestroika , while ordinary people still fear the KGB, even though glasnost led to political discussion groups and has brought ``a far-reaching, if not readily visible, moral healing.'' Photos. (Apr.)