Having written the history of the Bolsheviks' rise to power, the history of Stalin's dramatic recasting of the Soviet order and the history of Tito's first major challenge to a monolithic Moscow-centered world, Ulam, appropriately, offers a history of the whole enterprise's demise. His thesis is that once the original force of the idea expired only physical and political expansionism could save the system and, in the end, expansionism could not be sustained. Yet that thesis is not as interesting as the well-told story that follows. Ulam has long been fascinated by the curious and sometimes dramatic twists that powerful personalities give to history, and he is back to recounting their role from Mao's first visit to Moscow two months after the October 1949 triumph of the Chinese revolution to Gorbachev's unwitting destruction of the system he meant to save.
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