New York Times correspondent Wren (Winners Got Scars Too: The Life and Legends of Johnny Cash, 1971) served in the Soviet Union from 1973-77 and in China from 1981-84. Here, drawing upon his experiences in the communist heartlands, he convincingly analyzes the failures of communism. Wren states: ""Absolute power has corrupted the Party absolutely, breeding contempt for the masses, lifestyles befitting degenerate imperial aristocracies, self-interest, venality, and official deception."" The author then goes on to treat his subject thematically rather than chronologically, detailing endemic corruption, for example, by mixing examples from China and the USSR no matter what the time frame. He finds bureaucratic self-preservation to be a particularly debilitating factor in communist regimes, where there are few rewards for doing things right but many penalties for doing them wrong. Bureaucratic inflexibility, he reports, has created a great number of economic horror stories, many of which he relates. Even more appalling, however, is the tragedy that befell eight Russian women mountain-climbers who froze to death in a snowstorm while an American climbing team, including Wren, was encamped little more than 1,000 feet away. For some reason, Soviet authorities failed to tell either group of the other's presence, thereby insuring that no rescue effort could be mounted. Corruption and incompetence abet each other, Wren finds. When communist systems do not produce, one must resort to connections or bribes, which over the years creates a disillusioned society. Examples abound. Wren believes that both Russia and China will continue to exist, but that their communist parties will have to disappear to make way for reform and progress--not a radical notion these days, but one well supported here.