Seven Years That Changed the World: Perestroika in Perspective
By Archie Brown
Oxford University Press, 2007, 350 pp.
Mikhail Gorbachev's most important biographer here passes judgment on the man and the process he unleashed. Brown deeply admires the Soviet leader and has little sympathy for his detractors, but he does not excuse Gorbachev's tactical and strategic errors. On the contrary, he spells these out in detail, along with the failures that resulted. The book's first part comprises four pieces written at the time of perestroika, which in retrospect were remarkably perceptive. In the years since, the mounting archival and memoir evidence -- and Brown brings much of it to bear -- has only strengthened his argument. Gorbachev, he believed from the beginning, was more serious about far-reaching change in the Soviet system than the vast majority of observers understood at the time, and, still more controversial, Gorbachev himself changed fundamentally in these years, from a believer in the system, albeit in an idealized Leninist version, to a Western European-style social democrat. Although one chapter and bits and pieces of others deal with the revolution Gorbachev worked in Soviet foreign policy, at the heart of Brown's book is the conviction that Gorbachev "changed the world" by changing the Soviet Union, a case he makes with great integrity.