Suddenly and Peacefully, Review of Michael Dobbs' Down With Big Brother: The Fall of the Soviet Empire

Gone is Churchill's "enigma wrapped in a mystery." Russia's media and many of its archives, along with its borders, have opened.

Issue: Spring 1997

Michael Dobbs' Down With Big Brother: The Fall of the Soviet Empire (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1997).

Five years have passed since the end of the Soviet Union, and an amazing amount of new information has surfaced. Gone is Churchill's "enigma wrapped in a mystery." Russia's media and many of its archives, along with its borders, have opened. It seems that virtually every Soviet leader involved in the collapse of the USSR has published memoirs--from Mikhail Gorbachev and Boris Yeltsin to hardliners Yegor Ligachev and Valentin Pavlov. Among them, Gorbachev aides Anatoly Chernyayev, Valery Boldin, and Andrei Grachev have written the most substantial and informative accounts. As this generation of politicians was retired simultaneously, they have had a lot of time to think and write. Their versions can thus be compared to a large volume of published official materials.

In a masterly book about the collapse of Soviet communism, Michael Dobbs has made good and judicious use of all these Russian sources, as well as others in Polish, German, French, and English. In addition, he has had substantial access to unpublished Politburo minutes, and has interviewed most of the key actors of the regime's last years.

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