Autopsy of an Empire: The Seven Leaders Who Built the Soviet Regime
By Dmitri Volkogonov
Free Press, 1998, 528 pp.
Volkogonov, the military man who headed the Russian Archives Declassifying Commission, used this access to write biographies of Lenin, Stalin, and Trotsky. Here he compresses the first two accounts and adds chapter-length treatments of the remaining five leaders. A history of the Soviet Union this book is not. Instead the chapters, particularly for Khrushchev and his four successors, are a smattering of biographical impressions and a zeroing-in on a limited number of events. Volkogonov, who died shortly after finishing the manuscript, relies heavily on the parts of the archives, including the important collection containing minutes of Politburo meetings, that he had time to consult. As a result he introduces a fair amount of new material. Overall, however, the treatment leaves enormous gaps, and in several instances, such as the 1968 Soviet intervention in Czechoslovakia and the 1979 decision to go into Afghanistan, further archival work has significantly added to or called into question his interpretation.