Aron offers a grand, meticulously detailed pilgrimage through the political biography of one of today's few larger-than-life figures. The back matter totals nearly 250 pages, testimony to the scope and quantity of the material used, particularly from Russian sources. Nearly half of the book focuses on Yeltsin's life and career before history thrust him into the forefront, a particularly essential perspective from which to judge his tenure as Russia's first president. Aron does not soft-pedal Yeltsin's defects, but he does elevate him beyond being merely a sympathetic, albeit flawed, leader. Yeltsin emerges as a hero in Hegel's sense: the embodiment and maker of history. Guessing at what future historians' one-sentence judgment will be, Aron writes, "He made irreversible the collapse of Soviet totalitarian communism, dissolved the Russian empire, ended state ownership of the economy -- and held together and rebuilt his country while it coped with new reality and losses."