It might seem oxymoronic to speak of shining moments during the waning years of the Soviet Union, but Aron more than justifies the description with a stunning portrait of the intellectual and moral revolution that burst forth between 1987 and 1991. In those years, the country experienced an unbinding of conscience, a gimlet-eyed confrontation with the lies told and lived, a quest to define a fairer and more virtuous relationship between the individual and the state -- ferment swept across all of political, cultural, and intellectual life. Drawing material from a rich archive of newspapers, novels, memoirs, and magazines, Aron skillfully captures the vastness and intensity of this transfiguration of ideas, which he argues played a larger role in the Soviet system’s undoing than the material and structural factors that others see as the primary explanations. But Aron’s account is less convincing when it comes to explaining why the soul-searching of those heady days later mutated into something more diffuse and less compelling.
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