Choosing a few books from the thousands produced over seven and a half decades is not easy, with one exception: Merle Fainsod's preeminent study of Soviet politics. For three decades after its 1953 publication and as revised ten years later, this book defined the field of Soviet studies. Over the years a host of texts appeared attempting more or less comprehensive descriptions of the Soviet system, many of them challenging the totalitarian model that underpinned Fainsod's analysis, but none ever rose to the magisterial height of his study. The core of the book focused on the Leninist party as the essence of the system and then, in immense but accessible detail, traced the means by which it radiated its control over the state bureaucracy, the broader economic order, and society itself. Every agency of power -- from the Komsomol to the political organs within the military -- received meticulous attention. What gave the book its great weight, however, was the infusion of Russian and Soviet history. In the end it was as much a rich history of the Soviet political order and its roots in the past as it was a political scientist's explanation of how it all worked.
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