Gorbachev
The definitive biography of the transformational world leader by the Pulitzer Prize–winning author of Khrushchev.When Mikhail Gorbachev became the leader of the Soviet Union in 1985, the USSR was one of the world’s two superpowers. By 1989 he had transformed Soviet Communism. By 1990 he, more than anyone else, had ended the Cold War, and in December 1991 he unintentionally presided over the collapse of the USSR. In this first comprehensive biography of Gorbachev, William Taubman shows how a peasant boy turned into the Soviet system’s grave digger, why the Communist regime allowed him to destroy it, how Gorbachev’s dream of democratizing Russia through perestroika and glasnost foundered, and why he permitted Eastern Europe to abandon Communism without conflict. Drawing on interviews with Gorbachev himself, Russian archives, interviews with Kremlin aides and adversaries as well as with foreign leaders, Taubman’s intensely personal portrait also extends to Gorbachev’s remarkable marriage to a woman he deeply loved. Nuanced and poignant yet unsparing and honest, this sweeping account has the amplitude of a Tolstoy novel.

Gorbachev Details

TitleGorbachev
Author
ReleaseSep 5th, 2017
PublisherW. W. Norton & Company
ISBN-139780393647013
Rating
GenreBiography, History, Cultural, Russia, Nonfiction, Politics, Biography Memoir

Gorbachev Review

  • Hadrian
    January 1, 1970
    Who is Mikhail Gorbachev? Why did he set the Soviet Union on its ambitious and tragically doomed course of reform? Thirty years after his 'resignation' and the dissolution of the Soviet Union, he is still inscrutable. When the author asked him, he answered - in the third-person - that "Gorbachev is hard to understand." Taubman, an established historian and biographer (his Khruschev is excellent), takes a Tolstoyan approach to Gorbachev's life. He makes a reference to this in the first chapter, t Who is Mikhail Gorbachev? Why did he set the Soviet Union on its ambitious and tragically doomed course of reform? Thirty years after his 'resignation' and the dissolution of the Soviet Union, he is still inscrutable. When the author asked him, he answered - in the third-person - that "Gorbachev is hard to understand." Taubman, an established historian and biographer (his Khruschev is excellent), takes a Tolstoyan approach to Gorbachev's life. He makes a reference to this in the first chapter, titled "Childhood, Boyhood, and Youth". But he also kept in mind the passages in War and Peace on how kings are a slave to history. When he took the position of General Secretary in 1985, he was the head of state of the largest single nation on earth, with the largest nuclear arsenal, the largest army, and had the beck and call of a fearsome intelligence apparatus - one of two established superpowers in the world. Before the decade was out, it was all falling to pieces. The young Gorbachev was quick, ambitious, and had a strong sense of optimism - his father came back from the war, after he was thought killed in the Carpathian campaigns. He won a spot at Moscow State University on his good peasant background. He rose quickly through the ranks of the party, first a regional boss in Stavropol, and then to the center in Moscow. The higher-ups took interest in him because he was a true believer, not another cynical apparatchik. rejection of violence. He harbored doubts about the system and held vague dreams of reform, but was driven to action out of disgust after the mishandling of the Chernobyl disaster. After the rapid deaths of his three predecessors, he took the mantle of a state beset with systemic ills - economic stagnation, some ethnic chafing, and the Afghan quagmire. But there was, at the start of his tenure in 1985, little indication what would come after. At the start, he was at the peak of his domestic popularity due to his image as a youthful and diligent leader, to the outside, there was little sign of what would come after. By 1989, these positions were reversed - Western Europe and the United States considered him almost a savior, and the Soviet people a hapless incompetent or an unrestrained radical.Taubman's study draws much from interviews with Gorbachev himself, as well as documents published by his advisers. Of particular note is the diary of foreign-policy adviser Anatoly Chernyaev, and notes by Party Secretariat Alexander Yakovlev, one of the architects of glasnost and perestroika. Simply imitating the Chinese model of reforms was not in mind simply due to how centralized the Soviet economy was compared to the Chinese rural decentralized system. They record the details of this administration, and some of the more human foibles and frustrations of the party elite. He was hamstrung on domestic economics reforms, and instead bolted towards political reforms - which would in turn alienate those on both sites. Party 'conservatives' like Ligachev thought he was moving too fast, and reformers like Yeltsin thought he was stonewalling. After going over so many other histories, it is still a shock to see how blase Gorbachev was about foreign policy. This book asserts that he devoted <5% of his time to the little fiefdoms of Eastern Europe, and let them go when they rebelled. Likewise, his advocacy of such sweeping disarmament proposals was a shock to both American negotiators and his generals. He was willing to jettison the old doctrine of international class conflict, he was willing to dismantle the nuclear arsenal, he would accept political drifts in East Germany and Poland and Hungary, he was willing to do almost anything except send in the tanks like Khrushchev in 1956. That refusal to use violent means as a justification for whatever end is what separated him from the long line of Soviet leadership. This made him a hero to many outside the country, and a pitiful figure to many of his countrymen. The end came swiftly and bitterly I don't need to go over it again - the book devotes a single chapter to his life from 1992-2016. He managed a pitiful 0.5% in the 1996 elections. Putin called the fall of the Soviet Union the greatest tragedy of the 20th century and many of his countrymen still believe him - but how many else felt the allure of peace, however brief, between the two powers? Those moments of genuine cooperation, and that sincere progress at nuclear disarmament - the hope, however fleeing, that the state of the world would not be in mutual distrust or war.It is too early to take a fully retrospective view. After the economic shellacking of the 1990s, Russia then returned to strongman rule. What happens after that? Gorbachev himself now praises Putin - is that a move to curry favor with him, or is it a state of disillusionment with the country he once held? He is 86 now. Putin is 64, and he is mortal, as every dictator will die someday. Where will Russia go now? Will there be 40 more years in the desert before a genuine peace? How long will Russia have to wait? This volume gives us that perspective of both aspiration and tragedy.
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  • Annette
    January 1, 1970
    This is a fascinating story of an extremely interesting man. I remember Gorbachev's leadership of the USSR in the late 80's and early 90's, but this book provides lots of insights that I hadn't previously been aware of. Taubman quotes Gorbachev himself as saying that he's not easy to understand -- he led his country through confusing times and often behaved in contradictory ways. This book made me realize that the situation during the final years of the USSR was confusing and perhaps scary even This is a fascinating story of an extremely interesting man. I remember Gorbachev's leadership of the USSR in the late 80's and early 90's, but this book provides lots of insights that I hadn't previously been aware of. Taubman quotes Gorbachev himself as saying that he's not easy to understand -- he led his country through confusing times and often behaved in contradictory ways. This book made me realize that the situation during the final years of the USSR was confusing and perhaps scary even for its leaders. Taubman explains the chain of events very clearly. My only disappointment is that I had trouble keeping track of all the players, both individuals and organizations (the organizations were especially confusing -- the Party, the Politburo, the Duma, party conferences, congresses, plenums, etc.).Anyway, having read this book, I now want to read Taubman's biography of Khruschev.
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  • Don Heiman
    January 1, 1970
    In 2017, William Taubman, published his book "Gorbachev: His Life and Times" in 2017. He spent 11 years writing this exceptional book. Gorbachev was a renown visionary and remarkable architect of social democratic reform. He influenced the principles for modern world order and economic advancement. Taubman's research is comprehensive and his writing engaging. I consider this book a treasure in my collection of biographies. Taubman is a Pulitizer Prize winner for his biography about Khrushchev. ( In 2017, William Taubman, published his book "Gorbachev: His Life and Times" in 2017. He spent 11 years writing this exceptional book. Gorbachev was a renown visionary and remarkable architect of social democratic reform. He influenced the principles for modern world order and economic advancement. Taubman's research is comprehensive and his writing engaging. I consider this book a treasure in my collection of biographies. Taubman is a Pulitizer Prize winner for his biography about Khrushchev. (L)
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  • Oren
    January 1, 1970
    I wish the author would've focused a bit more on foreign policy and global events but it's understandable why he didn't given how momentous were the events within the USSR thanks to him.
  • Keith Herrell
    January 1, 1970
    Here's my review for BookPage.com. https://goo.gl/7MhRew
  • Lehtomaki
    January 1, 1970
    Biography
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