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Writing with a journalist's flair for detail, O'Clery (The Billionaire Who Wasn't), Moscow correspondent for the Irish Times during the breakup of the Soviet Union, here offers a well-researched look at the last day of the Soviet Union and provides a balanced portrait of the characters involved. He is careful to consider the myriad factors that affected President Mikhail Gorbachev and his successor, Boris Yeltsin, in their struggle to bring their conflicting views of the future of their country into reality, including how international opinion and support reinforced their respective mindsets. O'Clery keeps his lens trained on the interaction and rivalry between these two personalities and discusses how their conflicts directed their decision making and how their tumultuous relationship drew others into action. Rather than stopping at that fateful Christmas day in 1991—the dissolution of the Soviet Union—O'Clery also provides a succinct history of the major events afterward, tracing Russia's rocky conversion to a market economy and the reemergence of communist ideology in the period following Yeltsin's election that year. VERDICT Academics and lay readers alike will find this book a revealing addition to the history of modern Russia, as well as an engrossing journalistic study of two of Russia's most intriguing political leaders.—Elizabeth Zeitz, Otterbein Univ. Lib., Westerville, OH
Former Irish Times Moscow correspondent O'Clery (May You Live In Interesting Times,2008,etc.) chronicles the last of day of the Soviet Union and pulls together the threads which lead to its dissolution.
The author gives microscopic attention to the telling details: whose pen was used to sign documents, how CNN got to broadcast Gorbachev's speech and much more. Shaping the day, writes O'Clery, were the successive effects of the bitterness, resentments and grudges of the five-year rivalry between Gorbachev and Yeltsin. Nothing went as agreed, not even the ceremony designed to transfer the Russian nuclear suitcase containing the weapons' launch codes. The nuclear suitcase remained a constant, before and after, but so too were the petty rivalries that prompted Yeltsin to refuse to meet Gorbachev ever again because his final speech was an unacceptable insult. O'Clery presents Gorbachev as a kind of communist's communist to the end—a safe in his office contained Stalin's own file about the Katyn massacre and the Hitler-Stalin pact, even though Gorbachev had insisted these documents no longer existed. It was Yeltsin who helped win independence for Russia, got himself elected president against Gorbachev's candidate, outlawed the Communist party, took over its property and organized the break-up of the Soviet Union. However, Gorbachev managed to keep the support of his Western admirers up to and even beyond the attempted coup in 1991.
A compelling story about how sometimes the little everyday things can shape the broad sweep of history more powerfully than ideologies or competitive economic systems.
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Nov 11, 2011, 19:46:26
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