Smith (The Power Game, 1988, etc.), whose best-seller The Russians (1976) described Brezhnevite stagnation, revisits perestroika-era Russia in this thoughtful, informative, and engrossing work. Using both scholarly sources and his myriad personal contacts with Russian workers, politicians, and intellectuals, Smith examines the causes of the reform movement. The Soviet Union, he reveals, yearned for economic liberalization and democratization even during the Brezhnev era. Smith traces Gorbachev's evolution from a law student (the seminal event in whose life was Khrushchev's 1956 denunciation of Stalin) to an inwardly reformist, but outwardly conformist, party leader in Stavropol and member of the Politburo. Achieving supreme power in 1985, Gorbachev tried to marshal public opinion against the apparat, whose jealous protection of its privileges was the principal obstacle to reform. Smith describes how Gorbachev's celebrated glasnost--as well as his attempts to encourage private enterprise and break the power of the centralized state economic authorities--has resulted in radical changes and an open pluralism that the reformist Gorbachev never envisioned. Smith also provides an overview of the nationalist movements in the ""captive nations"" of the Soviet Union, which, while incomplete (he discusses only Uzbekistan, Armenia, Azerbaijan, and Lithuania, and the conservative backlash in Russia itself), gives an excellent sense of the vast ethnic tensions tearing at the fabric of the Soviet empire. Finally, he discusses the Communist Party's astounding disintegration, and the growth of a multipolar political system. A magnificently detailed and comprehensive account of Russia in the throes of radical change: prime reading for anyone who hopes to understand the bewildering changes in the Soviet Union.