By chance when the failed putsch of August 1991 occurred, the Librarian of Congress and a distinguished historian of Russia, James Billington, was in Moscow. In an eloquent and highly engaging fashion he weaves together his own comings and goings during the three days and the larger unfolding events. Even for the specialist who may have a rather detailed picture of the essential sequence, Billington offers a great deal. But he has written the book to do more than add insight to the events themselves; he also wishes to provide the deeper meaning of this moment in Russian history. Here, however, the book becomes less compelling, in part because anecdotes, personal encounters and revealing incidents bear less well the weight of that task.