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William Taubman

Författare till Khrushchev: The Man and His Era

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Om författaren

William Taubman is the Bertrand Snell Professor of Political Science at Amherst College

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«Сирия «начала диктовать нам... За наши же деньги. И получается, мы проводим не свою, а сирийскую политику». «Мы должны убираться оттуда», — заявил Горбачев на заседании Политбюро 2 июня 1986 года. «Как бы не потерять время! — заметил он 13 ноября. — Происходит привыкание. Ну что ж, мол, идет война» (про Афганистан). Кто мог подумать, что биографию политика невозможно будет отложить, но описания дуэли с Ельциным и «шахматных партий» саммитов с американскими президентами захватывают. Чернобыль, Афганистан, ГКЧП, восстания сепаратистов, конец СССР — семилетка власти для Михаила Сергеевича выдалась насыщенной. Таубману, получившему Пулитцеровскую премию за биографию другого противоречивого лидера, Хрущева, вновь удалась превосходная работа. Отдельный плюс — выдающийся перевод.… (mer)
Den85 | 3 andra recensioner | Jan 3, 2024 |
This is a splendidly detailed and expertly researched biography, while still being eminently readable. It brings out the enormous strengths and exuberant humanity of its subject, as well as his fatal weaknesses, hypocrisies and explosive tendency to alienate those who politically could have been his allies, e.g. the intelligentsia. I am always sorry for him when I read accounts of his ouster, though (one minor flaw) the material on that is all at the beginning of the book, not in its chronological place in the narrative, so that when I went back to skim through it again after the penultimate chapter ended 10 days before the ouster, I felt a little less sorry for him, being able to understand how impossible he must have been to work with. The final chapter details the sorry and shabby treatment he and his family received following his ouster, including being immediately expunged from the media. I have read editions of Pravda from the day of his ouster onwards and he really does literally vanish from the Soviet political world in print, no personal mentions at all, even negative ones. There is no entry for him in editions of the Great Soviet Encyclopaedia published afterwards. Perhaps the most apposite epitaph is Roy Medvedev's, though some qualification must be added: Khrushchev rehabilitated 20 million people sent to the Gulag under Stalin and this outweighs all his faults and mistakes, albeit that Khrushchev was himself complicit in many of these repressions. 5/5

Gorbachev: His Life and Times (1/9/22-13/9/22)

This is the second mammoth biography by this author of a Soviet leader I have read, after his even bigger tome on Khrushchev in 2007. Gorbachev of course has a massive claim to be one of the most significant statesmen of the second half of the 20th century, and is widely regarded as such certainly in western Europe and north America, though largely not in his own country. He was "the only politician in Russian history who, having full power in his hands, voluntarily opted to limit it and even risk losing it, in the name of principled moral values". This would in most countries endear him to many people, though not in Russia, which has never been able to develop a democratic tradition, where there is a many centuries long tradition of a preference for authoritarian rule by one man (or very occasionally woman, in the 18th century anyway).

This exhaustively well researched biography traces his early life in a peasant farming family in southern Russia and the formative influences of his father and maternal grandfather in particular, his going to Moscow University to study law, meeting his wife Raisa, and his early climbing up the party hierarchy, to reach the Politburo in 1979-80 before the age of 50, by some distance its younger member. Most of this long book understandably deals with the six years of his leadership from 1985-91, first as general secretary of the Communist Party and latterly also as President of the USSR, when the country started to break up under the influence of the numerous internal and external pressures, the economy declining further and further, even while his democratic reforms (glasnost) gave his fellow countrymen a freedom they had literally never experienced before and which many of them, to some extent, did not know how to use and did not thank him for.

Only the last of 19 chapters deals with the quarter century (and more) of his post Soviet life, his international efforts to promote his ideals, and the tragic relatively early death of his beloved Raisa from leukemia in 1999. The author concludes that "despite his flaws and his failure to achieve all his noble aims, he was a tragic hero who deserves our understanding and admiration", and I agree with this conclusion as, I suspect, would most readers. His recent death, which prompted my reading of this book, will, I feel, compel others to evaluate his life's work in a largely positive way.

My only minor criticism of this book would be the extensive quotes from so many observers, so that the descriptions of some meetings/summits feel almost as long in the reading as the events themselves.
… (mer)
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john257hopper | 3 andra recensioner | Sep 13, 2022 |
This excellent biography is an attempt to answer the question "How did Gorbachev become Communist party boss despite the most rigorous imaginable arrangement of checks and guarantees designed to guard against someone like him?" (From the Introduction.) "What made him think he could transform a dictatorship into a democracy, a command economy into a market economy, a super-centralized unitary state into a genuine Soviet federation, and a cold war into a new world order based on the renunciation of force—all at the same time, and by what he called 'evolutionary' means?"

Taubman draws on extensive interviews, not just with Gorbachev but with his inner political circle—some of whom have since become his bitter critics. The book is deeply researched, vivid, and yes, wonky—there is a lot of arcane detail here, particularly about the governmental workings of the USSR, and you're expected to have gained your own familiarity with it and to follow along, with the help of a long "Cast of Characters" list at the beginning and a very short glossary at the end. One thing that surprised me, and that may annoy American readers with a Reaganesque mindset, is how little editorializing Taubman does regarding the many defects of the Soviet system. He presents the system as Gorbachev experienced it—as sometimes capricious, occasionally corrupt, and all too often cruel, yes, but also as a working culture that could be navigated, as can our own, by a smart striver with a talent for networking and a great deal of luck. It's important for Americans to remember that to a Russian, the Soviet system wasn't an exception to the usual rules of government. It was the norm, and from the perspective of those living in it, the American system was the one that seemed exotically foreign, corrupt, and a potential threat. To me, this is one of the book's great strengths, essential to understanding its subject.

If Taubman doesn't completely answer the questions he poses in the book's introduction, he comes as close as anyone is likely to. In any case, the scenes inside the Politburo as Gorbachev balances the factions and holds off the hard-liners while securing the support of key allies are fascinating. And for those seeking more domestic drama, the days in the dacha during the coup, with Raisa approaching a complete breakdown wondering if and when the family will be killed, are gripping. All in all, this is a book to be read slowly, digested, and learned from.
… (mer)
john.cooper | 3 andra recensioner | May 25, 2020 |
Naast het biografische aspect, biedt dit boek ook een fraai beeld van de geschiedenis rondom het einde van de koude oorlog en de teloorgang van het oude Rusland. Ontwikkelingen die parallel lopen met de carrière van Gorbatsjov, van lokale partijleider tot hoogste baas van het land. Je zou met enig overdrijven kunnen zeggen dat het leven van deze politicus en partijbons regisserend is geweest bij de de totstandkoming van de Russische omwenteling waarin begrippen als “glasnost” en “perestrojka” de boventoon vormden.

De schrijver constateert al aan het begin van het boek dat het hoogst verwonderlijk is dat een politicus van het type Gorbatsjov in Rusland zoveel ruimte kon krijgen. Ook zonder deze constatering zal de lezer zich gaan verbazen over het aanpassingsvermogen van deze politicus. Twee grote verschillen met zijn omgeving vallen in ieder geval meteen op: het intellectuele overwicht op zijn omgeving en zijn weerzin tegen militaire oplossingen van conflicten.Twee eigenschappen die binnen het Russische partijkader niet “breed” gedeeld werden.
Gorbatsjov bleek echter goed in staat om zijn eigen mening te verzwijgen en toch langzaam aan invloed te winnen. Dat is -plaats en tijd in aanmerking nemend- een wel erg bijzondere eigenschap.
De rest is geschiedenis en die krijgt in dit boek ruim baan. Al lezend wordt de blijk op het ingewikkelde bestuursapparaat ruimer en valt -met westerse blik- op hoe gecompliceerd die samenleving daar was en hoe moeilijk het geweest moet zijn daarin liberale ideeën te zaaien, laat staan ze te oogsten. Zo beschouwd kun je Gorbatsjov een uiterst kundige politicus noemen.
In welke mate Gorbatsjov’s regeringsperiode uiteindelijk succesvol is geweest, is een vraag die ik na lezing van het boek voor mezelf vooralsnog niet kan beantwoorden. Zijn erfenis is niet bestand geweest tegen de krachten die nadien zijn opgekomen en waarvan de huidige leiding van Rusland een typische component vormt. Dezer dagen is de staat -weliswaar zonder machtige communistische partij- weer oppermachtig en is het individu weer min of meer monddood gemaakt.
Of de toenadering tot het westen echt duurzaam is, is overigens ook nog maar de vraag.

Een buitengewoon boeiend boek, dat wel.
… (mer)
deklerk | 3 andra recensioner | Nov 7, 2017 |



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