WHY GORBACHEV HAPPENED

HIS TRIUMPHS AND HIS FAILURE

An illuminating, interpretive report on Mikhail Gorbachev's exercise of power, which concludes that his reforms may do more to expose than remedy the deficiencies of the Soviet Union's sociopolitical and economic institutions. Kaiser (co-author, Russia from the Inside, 1980, etc.) grapples with an intriguing paradox throughout his highly personal text. In brief, he seeks to explain how a lifelong Communist and upwardly mobile Party official could evolve from a modest progressive into a revolutionary chieftain who unleashed forces he seems unable to control. Unlike Gail Sheehy in The Man Who Changed the World (1990), Kaiser accords Gorbachev's provincial youth and early manhood comparatively short shrift, focusing mainly on his subject's dramatic career after he had climbed the Kremlin's slippery pole early in 1985. Among the more important reasons for Gorbachev's ascent, Kaiser believes, was the old guard's realization that the Soviet system had failed, making radical change from an apparatchik acceptable, even alluring. At the top, though, Gorbachev showed himself a leader with a sense of direction and a tactician's opportunism, albeit with no detailed plans for achieving his goals—a lack with far-reaching consequences. By Kaiser's account, for instance, the first summit with Reagan made Gorbachev a hostage to his own good behavior, i.e., by precluding any possibility of a crackdown inside the USSR's crumbling empire. As one result, Eastern European satellites gained their freedom, setting an example the Baltic republics are trying to follow. Their challenge to authority has precipitated an abrupt reversal of the Politburo's brief fling with democratic ideals—at no small cost to Gorbachev's global prestige. While his fate and that of the aspirations he encouraged remain very open questions, Kaiser notes that Gorbachev never eliminated the governance mechanisms that make dictatorship possible. A savvy, closely reasoned appraisal of an embattled kingpin who has been overtaken by events he initiated.

Pub Date: May 17, 1991

ISBN: 0-671-73692-2

Page Count: 488

Publisher: Simon & Schuster

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 15, 1991

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The author's youthfulness helps to assure the inevitable comparison with the Anne Frank diary although over and above the...

NIGHT

Elie Wiesel spent his early years in a small Transylvanian town as one of four children. 

He was the only one of the family to survive what Francois Maurois, in his introduction, calls the "human holocaust" of the persecution of the Jews, which began with the restrictions, the singularization of the yellow star, the enclosure within the ghetto, and went on to the mass deportations to the ovens of Auschwitz and Buchenwald. There are unforgettable and horrifying scenes here in this spare and sombre memoir of this experience of the hanging of a child, of his first farewell with his father who leaves him an inheritance of a knife and a spoon, and of his last goodbye at Buchenwald his father's corpse is already cold let alone the long months of survival under unconscionable conditions. 

The author's youthfulness helps to assure the inevitable comparison with the Anne Frank diary although over and above the sphere of suffering shared, and in this case extended to the death march itself, there is no spiritual or emotional legacy here to offset any reader reluctance.

Pub Date: Jan. 16, 2006

ISBN: 0374500010

Page Count: 120

Publisher: Hill & Wang

Review Posted Online: Oct. 7, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 2006

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A PEOPLE'S HISTORY OF THE UNITED STATES

For Howard Zinn, long-time civil rights and anti-war activist, history and ideology have a lot in common. Since he thinks that everything is in someone's interest, the historian—Zinn posits—has to figure out whose interests he or she is defining/defending/reconstructing (hence one of his previous books, The Politics of History). Zinn has no doubts about where he stands in this "people's history": "it is a history disrespectful of governments and respectful of people's movements of resistance." So what we get here, instead of the usual survey of wars, presidents, and institutions, is a survey of the usual rebellions, strikes, and protest movements. Zinn starts out by depicting the arrival of Columbus in North America from the standpoint of the Indians (which amounts to their standpoint as constructed from the observations of the Europeans); and, after easily establishing the cultural disharmony that ensued, he goes on to the importation of slaves into the colonies. Add the laborers and indentured servants that followed, plus women and later immigrants, and you have Zinn's amorphous constituency. To hear Zinn tell it, all anyone did in America at any time was to oppress or be oppressed; and so he obscures as much as his hated mainstream historical foes do—only in Zinn's case there is that absurd presumption that virtually everything that came to pass was the work of ruling-class planning: this amounts to one great indictment for conspiracy. Despite surface similarities, this is not a social history, since we get no sense of the fabric of life. Instead of negating the one-sided histories he detests, Zinn has merely reversed the image; the distortion remains.

Pub Date: Jan. 1, 1979

ISBN: 0061965588

Page Count: 772

Publisher: Harper & Row

Review Posted Online: May 26, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 1979

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