A methodical and painstaking--if highly opinionated--analysis of the figures, factions, and forces that contributed to the implosion of the Soviet Union. As the title suggests, Dunlop's focus is on the Gorbachev era's growing confrontation between the decentralizing, anti- imperial ``democrats,'' headed by Yeltsin, and the conservative, authoritarian, or proto-fascist ``statists'' aiming to preserve the USSR in its existing form at all costs--with Gorbachev himself shuttling uncertainly between the two camps. Publisher claims notwithstanding, this is anything but a ``sweeping narrative''--on the contrary, Dunlop's broad thesis--that glasnost unwittingly unleashed the twin tempests of democracy and nationalism that were to bring down the USSR--emerges from meticulous research, detailed almost too scrupulously. Dunlop stalls momentum by presenting each figure or tendency in turn and charting its trajectory from 1985 onward, rather than allowing it to emerge organically in a time- unified narrative. Only his account of the abortive coup of August 1991, whose unified action prohibits this fragmentary approach, swells into a compelling drama; here, Dunlop provides the most comprehensive and well-sourced version of those mysterious, tumultuous three days that most readers will have encountered. Elsewhere, he makes few concessions to the general audience, presuming a great deal of prior knowledge of the field. And many may bridle at his persistent and overt anti-Gorbachev, pro-Yeltsin bias: Time after time, Dunlop attributes the worst motives (dictatorial or at least Machiavellian) to Gorbachev, while awarding Yeltsin the benefit of any doubt. The author seems almost ready to attribute the Russian president's preservation during the 1991 putsch to divine intervention. Dunlop's contentiousness makes this a more likely spur to specialist debate than a generalist's definitive guide to the Soviet Union's demise.