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The Best of Books 2017


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Gorbachev: His Life and Times

In This Review

Gorbachev: His Life and Times
By William Taubman
Norton, 2017
880 pp.

In this combination of deeply penetrating history and engrossing psychological study, Taubman draws on a wide range of sources and interviews (including seven with his main subject) to render every major development of the former Soviet leader’s six-year tenure with depth and completeness. The biography spans Mikhail Gorbachev’s entire life, up to the present day, which finds him despairing over the direction that Russia has taken under President Vladimir Putin. The book grants the reader behind-the-scenes access to Politburo meetings, Gorbachev’s private conversations with aides, and his give-and-takes with foreign leaders. “His strengths made everything possible,” Taubman concludes, “but his weaknesses undermined his whole project.” The first half of this sweeping judgment refers to the nobility of Gorbachev’s hopes, his stalwart idealism, his moderation and aversion to the use of force, and his forbearance (except when it came to Boris Yeltsin, whom Gorbachev came to loathe). But in leading his country out of the Soviet era, Gorbachev was ultimately hobbled by his determination to plunge ahead without a clear sense of what came next and by the stubborn misapprehension that he could reconcile political forces that were irreconcilable.

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