In This Review

By Jo Grimond
Heinemann/Holmes & Meier, 1980, 315 pp.

These are memoirs worthy of the man. In contrast to his sometimes quite empty earlier writings, here Gorbachev makes a major contribution. Already there is an immense memoir literature on the Gorbachev years, but the hole in the doughnut has been Gorbachev himself. He covers a vast terrain, addressing most of the critical turning points in the odyssey of perestroika and the evolution of the so-called "new thinking" in foreign policy, including its impact on relations with the United States, Western Europe, the socialist countries, and the Middle East. While not among that rare category of historic figures who can get outside themselves and judge their role dispassionately, Gorbachev is to a surprising degree self-critical. True, there is plenty of the "We didn't have the information," "I wasn't in town," "the Politburo did it" variety of self-exculpation, but still he admits how ideologically blinkered his vision was, how constrained his insight into likely consequences, and at key points how dangerously timid his solutions. His rancor toward Yeltsin shows up often, siphoning off blame that one would have expected him to level at other antagonists.

Memoirs of the once mighty normally do not convey what history is all about, and Gorbachev does not settle the issue of whether his reform was genetically doomed to fail or was undone by a failure of leadership, but he does afford a much richer sense of the story itself and how he calculated his crucial part in it. Beyond that, the book has many bonuses, including a stunning account of what life was like in the middle and upper levels of the party bureaucracy in the Brezhnev years.