Now that Mikhail Gorbachev has had one year to settle into his role as leader of the Soviet Union, he is a hot property for biographical analysis. Joining a list of books about him is this political biography by the Moscow correspondent for West Germany's Die Zeit. Thus authored, this book comes wrapped in a generalistic journalism that renders the mysterious inner workings of Soviet politics easily comprehensible to the Western mind. Schmidt-Hauer gives a historical overview that goes as far back as Peter the Great, demonstrating the continuity of Russia's agricultural problems over the past several centuries, along with the rampant, endemic inefficiency and corruption rooted there. As in other current biographies of Gorbachev, much attention is paid to the reign of the three old men--Brezhnev, Andropov, and Chernenko--and how the coming generation of Gorbachev's age was able to gradually wrest control and establish their own reign. Schmidt-Hauer diverges from other interpretations (notably, that of Zhores Medvedev, p. 619), however, in his explanation of Gorbachev's treatment of Andrei Gromyko. Schmidt-Hauer sees Gromyko's assumption to the position of Chairman of the Presidium of the Supreme Soviet as being ""kicked upstairs,"" so that Gorbachev could assert his own foreign policy over the weaker Shevarnadze. While Gorbachev, to be sure, wants to be his own man, Medvedev more accurately pictures the move as a sop to Gromyko's age (76), which made it difficult for him to attend to all the travelling required of a Foreign Minister. This will probably be a more useful book to American readers than both Medvedev's and Solovyov's (p. 459) current offerings, thanks to its easier format and the fact that Schmidt-Hauer does not bog down in analyses of the arcane underpinnings of the Soviet system.