In This Review

Down With Big Brother: The Fall of the Soviet Empire
Down With Big Brother: The Fall of the Soviet Empire
By Michael Dobbs
Alfred A. Knopf, 1997, 502 pp

Dobbs provides less a film of the Soviet empire's demise than a pictorial. That is, he conveys the story through a series of photos: from the revolt of Walesa and the Lenin Shipyard workers in Gdansk in 1980, where he reported for The Washington Post, to the foppish unraveling of the August 1991 putsch in Moscow. He chooses episodes -- Mathias Rust, the German teenager, landing his single- engine plane in Red Square, Yeltsin in a Houston supermarket, the violence in Vilnius in January 1991 -- and builds from them a running account rather than an analytical history. These are not simply the reports he filed at the time, but, after much careful subsequent research, rich, fascinating pieces of history. He does not recount only Rust's stunt and its impact on the career of the man serving as minister of defense, but the comedy among defense officials vainly chasing the little plane and Gorbachev's entirely unamused reactions at the relevant Politburo meeting. And so he does for each of the other episodes.