Path-breaking study of the role played by nationalism in the disintegration of the Soviet Union; by d'ncausse (Confiscated Power, 1982), the third woman ever elected to the AcadÇmie Franáaise. D'ncausse notes that the breakup of the vast Soviet empire- -the world's last empire--astonished the world as well as the Soviet leaders themselves, who once again appeared to have been prisoners of their own propaganda. As incidents of dissatisfaction proliferated--in Kazakhstan in 1987; in the Baltic states in 1988; in Georgia, Moldavia, and the Ukraine in 1989--the Soviet government's response was one of ``an uncertain policy that constantly vacillated between mollifying words and inappropriate actions.'' While paying tribute to Gorbachev for his physical courage and his refusal, with few exceptions, to use force to stifle the new national energies, the author notes that leader's ``extraordinary persistence in underestimating the seriousness of the national breaking point.'' Nor was the Red Army helpful; far from being an integrating influence, it was ``rife with interethnic hatred and violence.'' As for the underlying causes for the upheaval, they were many: Islam, d'ncausse contends, played a role similar to that played by Catholicism in Poland; repressed languages surfaced; immigration and the socioeconomic situation were sources of constant irritation; and the astonishing cruelty of Communist rule meant that the central government had no moral stature or reserves of goodwill to draw upon. A remarkable job of untangling a web that was too complicated for the Soviet leadership itself to understand.