It's hard to imagine any book on the last years of Communism in the Soviet Union surpassing this one by Remnick, who covered the events for The Washington Post. Remnick's story is about far more than simply the economic failure of Communism. For 70 years, he emphasizes, history in the Soviet Union had been the instrument of the Communist Party--and ``history, when it returned, was unforgiving.'' From his own travels, and from conversations with former Soviets at every level of society, Remnick conveys unforgettably the impact of that history. There's the testimony of General Volkogonov, who as a historical researcher and loyal Party member found that on just one day, December 12, 1938, Stalin, after signing the death sentences of about five thousand people--including many the Soviet dictator knew personally--went to his personal theater and watched two movies, including Happy Guys. There's the story of the man Remnick met in Magadan, that ``gulag boomtown,'' who as a young boy lived in a house close to the port, from which long lines of prisoners marched toward the camps scattered for hundred of miles throughout Kolyma. The author spoke to people of every kind--from Politburo leaders to bums in the street; from Gorbachev's first girlfriend to simple people still passionately dedicated to the memory of Stalin- -and he has an almost poetic ability to convey character and scenes economically and vividly: One ideologist, he says, ``looked like a teacher who specialized in handwriting and never gave an A.'' Commenting on his findings, Remnick notes that, today, ``the fate of Russia hinges, once more, on the skills, inclinations, and heartbeat of one man. This time it is Boris Yeltsin...No one knows what would happen should Yeltsin fall from power...The institutions of this new society are embryonic, infinitely fragile.'' Brilliant, evocative, riveting.