Perhaps nobody outside the ranks of the Politburo could give a more authoritative account of the collapse of the Soviet Union than Matlock, US ambassador from 1987 to 1991, who left Moscow a week before the attempted coup that ended the Soviet Union. Matlock, a fluent Russian speaker who traveled widely throughout the Soviet empire, analyzes dispassionately the tensions within the system: Gorbachev's initial belief that there was no contradiction between party control and democratization; the growing realization that reform was impossible without an improvement in US-Soviet relations; the woeful misinformation of the Soviet leadership about opinion in Eastern Europe; and the often bitter rivalry between Gorbachev and Yeltsin. Matlock believes that the fundamental reason for the fall of the Soviet Union was the coincidence of a Western policy that combined strength and a willingness to negotiate fairly, with a Soviet leadership that realized it had to change. He gives candid accounts of the major participants: Gorbachev, who despite his intellectual arrogance, his inclination to surround himself with mediocre associates, and his fatal gullibility about the KGB, will be regarded, in Matlock's view, as the man who led Russia out of bondage, even if he was unable to reach the Promised Land; Yeltsin, who, though often boorish and childish, ""preserved the possibility of developing democracy in Russia when that cause was under mortal threat""; President Reagan, with his ""instinctive confidence"" that he could make a difference; and President Bush, ""uncomfortable with change. . . . He always seemed just a step behind."" Ultimately, he believes that the US and other democratic countries were major factors in bringing about the end of Soviet communism, as a result not so much of their policies but of their very existence. While the book is not always felicitously organized and lacks the vividness of David Remnick's Lenin's Tomb, it is hard to believe that any major participant will provide a more important or objective contemporaneous account.