In This Review

Ten Years that Shook the World
Ten Years that Shook the World
By Valery Boldin
Basic Books, 1994, 310 pp

Fascinating as this book is, the reader would be mistaken to see in it more than a shadow of the truth. Boldin, once a Pravda journalist, then for more than a decade a key assistant to Mikhail Gorbachev, and finally his chief of staff, writes bitterly about his former boss, and even more so about Gorbachev's wife. Earlier he proved his bitterness by joining the plotters of the failed August 1991 coup d'etat, although here he feigns wide-eyed innocence.

One has trouble figuring out why Boldin worked so long for a man he disliked so early. Long before Gorbachev succeeded to the top post and began tampering with the system, Boldin had discovered in him a man of petty vanity, uncharitable, even cruel, toward underlings and unrelentingly demanding. Yet, for all the bile and accompanying distortion, his account carries more than a small degree of conviction. One sees another Gorbachev unlike the heroic, larger-than-life Time magazine "man of the decade." Not only was he (and Raisa), to judge from numerous specific incidents, charmed and preoccupied with his public image, particularly in the West, but he lacked important leadership qualities. Boldin supplies plenty of evidence that Gorbachev found it easier to let himself be carried along by events than to impose himself on them, that he was often confused and rattled by the forces he had unleashed, and that ultimately he was defeated by an absence of deep conviction save for a foggy and disorienting residual of socialist idealism.