A detailed but uninspired portrait of the General Secretary and a summary of his achievements in power up to early 1990. Writing a book-length treatment of Soviet politics is an uneviable task these days. It's difficult to know which perceptions will stand up after a few months and which will be blown away in the next phase of upheaval. The typical result, and this volume is no exception, is a recounting of events laid end to end with little attempt at interpretation. Doder (Shadows and Whispers: Power Politics Inside the Kremlin from Brezhnev to Gorbachev, 1986) and Branson (former Moscow correspondent for the London Times) seem not only to revere Gorbachev, but claim access on several occasions to his ""thoughts"" and ""feelings."" While this may weaken credibility, it does heighten the drama of such episodes as the ""Andreyeva Letter"" and the 19th Party Conference as well as providing a greater punch throughout than could have been achieved with scholarly objectivity. The problem, however, is that the writers seem to have begun this book in a mood of giddy optimism, which fades palpably once they arrive at the fourth and fifth years of Gorbachev's failure to turn around the Soviet economy. Readers may be misled by earlier chapters into thinking that various reform measures have succeeded; and there is an unfortunate lack of the kind of foreshadowing that would help readers anticipate the transformations of people like Boris Yeltsin and Yegor Ligachev into their present incarnations. Despite these drawbacks, Doder and Branson's book, as lively as good news-magazine writing, is welcome as a thorough review of Soviet developments over the past five years.