This is one of the more interesting comparisons of the two communist giants since Klaus Mehnert first made the attempt many years ago. Short was the BBC correspondent in Moscow from 1974 to 1976 and its first Beijing correspondent, 1977-1982. His book's strengths lie in the shrewd cultural and historical comparisons, the detailed anecdotes, and the brief but incisive discussion of Sino-Soviet relations. Its weakness: the questionable premise that in both countries, "communism is skin deep, a new veneer . . . beneath which the essential forms of Russian and Chinese life have survived unchanged." This ignores the crucial systemic similarities, such as the state control of economic life, the domination of politics by a party bureaucracy, and the common ideological origins of the Russian and Chinese communist parties. We have yet to have a truly balanced approach to such a comparison, one that takes into account both the "national" approach of Short and Mehnert and the "ideological" approach of Solzhenitsyn and the theorists of "totalitarianism."