Perhaps it's no surprise that a YA book entitled The Soviet Union Today should begin with a recap of history back to the Slav migrations. But Dornberg does use the material to support his contention that things haven't changed all that much since the time of the czars, and as a former Newsweek bureau chief in Moscow he backs this up with plenty of pointed stories about low living standards, elitism in education, stultified intellectuals and artists and industrial snafus (such as shoes going unsold because there are no shoeboxes). Dornberg doesn't ignore the strides that have been made (in fact, he calls Khrushchev the first Russian ruler really dedicated to the welfare of the masses). And while he zeroes in on obstacles to progress--the threat decentralization poses to the party bureaucracy, the continued backwardness and isolation of the villages, and the persistent shortage of tractors and transport which makes agriculture so inefficient--even contemporary scandals such as the ""Georgian Watergate,"" juvenile crime and the Solzhenitsyn expulsion are seen in the context of the popular mood that things are getting better. It all adds up to a lively and diversified panorama, and an eminently readable balance between trend-watching and personal anecdotes.