A masterly and revelatory biography of the First Man in Moscow. Drawing on over a year's research in the USSR--during which she gained access to Gorbachev's childhood friends, classmates, Communist Party colleagues, and other sources--Sheehy (Character, Passages, Pathfinders, etc.) offers a wondrously illuminating portrait of the man who climbed the Kremlin's slippery pole. A descendant of Ukrainian cossacks, Mikhail Sergeyevitch (who turns 60 in March) grew up in a remote area of the Caucasus within the Russian Republic. His industriousness as a farmhand earned him a place at Moscow Univ., where he prospered and married the formidable Raisa Maximovna Titorenko, an equally ambitious Siberian. Posted back to his boyhood turf, Gorbachev eventually became CP boss of Stavropol, a billet that allowed the paradigmatic apparatchik to cultivate the bolshie shishki (big shots) who repaired to local spas. Having won the sponsorship of Yuri Andropov (then head of the KGB), Gorbachev was summoned to Moscow as agricultural minister in 1978. Although still what Sheehy terms "a disciple of doublethink," he understood the need for restructuring the USSR's crumbling socioeconomic system and restrictive political institutions. When Gorbachev reached the top in 1985, he took his show on the road, launching a series of bold diplomatic initiatives in arms control and allied fields that have won him global acclaim. Sheehy argues convincingly that the breaching of the Berlin Wall and consequent loss of satellite nations was the fruit of a deliberate decision based on financial considerations. But while Gorbachev's statesmanship earned him the Nobel Peace Prize, his calculated risks have proved less rewarding on the home front. By the author's persuasive account, her subject's reforms fall well short of democracy. Nor, she points out, is Gorbachev prepared to brook genuine dissent, debate, or other challenges to his leadership. In the meantime, Sheehy notes, a polyglot citizenry appears loath to abandon socialism's cradle-to-grave security in favor of free market-driven enterprise. At any rate, she concludes, the fate of the Gorbachev regime remains a very open question. Riveting and coherent perspectives on a man who, to borrow from Winston Churchill, has been "a fiddle wrapped in a mystery inside an enigma."