Yeltsin: A Life

In This Review

Yeltsin: A Life

By Timothy J. Colton
Basic Books, 2008
640 pp. $35.00
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Larger than life, flawed, enigmatic, Boris Yeltsin is an irresistible subject, and he is lucky to have as his biographer a scholar as meticulous and judicious as Colton. There have been excellent biographies of Yeltsin before, but none so thorough. Colton shortchanges no portion of Yeltsin's life -- from ancestry to youth, provincial party leadership to the conflicted years with Mikhail Gorbachev, and, of course, the critical eight and a half years during which, for better or worse, Yeltsin bestrode Russia's passage from rotted empire to turbulent independent state. For the uninitiated, the book's value is as a comprehensive portrait of one of the main figures of contemporary times -- a portrait that is sympathetic but not uncritical. For the initiated, many of the most controversial but shrouded moments in Yeltsin's career are, at last, clearly revealed. The accomplishment of this dual feat is owed not merely to Colton's skilled use of a wealth of contemporary material but also to his access to previously unused archival sources and his multiple interviews with Yeltsin in retirement; Yeltsin's wife, Naina; other family members; and many of those who observed Yeltsin up close.