Gorbachev: His Life and Times (W.W. Norton), by William Taubman
Aug. 22, 2017
After years of political playacting, Mikhail Gorbachev rose to the top of the Soviet Union only to dismantle it, albeit that was never his intention. In William Taubman’s thoroughly researched biography, Gorbachev emerges as a visionary committed to democratic socialism and itching to transform the ailing Communist colossus into a better nation. As Taubman writes, his mistake was that “his Communist training accustomed him to the idea that society could be drastically transformed almost overnight.” He tried to change a nation—a collection of peoples, really—with little practical experience of democracy; the West’s failure to embrace his concept of a “common European home” inclusive of Russia may also have spurred the problems that enabled Vladimir Putin’s rise. Alone among world leaders, he allowed his empire, in the form of the Warsaw Pact, to dissolve without violence. Tragically, Taubman concludes, his efforts remain little appreciated in Russia, whose citizens suffered under the catastrophe capitalism that followed Gorbachev’s fall.