In This Review

Brezhnev: The Making of a Statesman
Brezhnev: The Making of a Statesman
By Susanne Schattenberg
I. B. Tauris, 2021, 512 pp

Schattenberg suspects that her biography of Leonid Brezhnev, the Soviet Union’s leader from 1964 to 1982, may be read as an apologia. Indeed, on too many occasions, she tends to give Brezhnev the benefit of the doubt. Her forgiving view is not always convincing. As a young functionary under Joseph Stalin, Brezhnev may have participated in the deportations of peasants and the brutal program of collectivization—as well as in the purges of his colleagues—but the author insists that “he simply fulfilled the tasks he was given” and did not show excessive zeal, as if that caveat would make him less complicit in these acts. Brezhnev discontinued the de-Stalinization policies pursued by his predecessor, Nikita Khrushchev, but Schattenberg claims that Brezhnev was only trying to appease hard-liners and that his reputation as an enabler of a creeping re-Stalinization of the Soviet Union is not deserved. The author admits that Brezhnev bears responsibility for the persecution of dissidents but emphasizes that he delegated this “dirty work” to the kgb and was not personally invested in repressing them. She repeatedly expresses sympathy for Brezhnev’s ill health (caused apparently by working too much) and brushes aside as a myth the notion that Brezhnev turned the Soviet Union into a bristling superpower. Brezhnev’s Soviet Union held half the world under its sway, but Schattenberg sees his true legacy as the pursuit of peaceful coexistence and disarmament.