Mikhail Gorbachev left an imprint on the twentieth century that matches, in depth and durability, that of any other leader of the time. Once in power, he came to understand that the system he headed had to change. He also saw that fundamental change required an end to the Cold War -- and that the terms the West offered were consistent with his own country's real interests. Gorbachev may have failed to convert the Soviet Union to the democratic federation he sought in the last years of his rule, but this should not obscure his achievements. Only the general secretary of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union could have destroyed that party's totalitarian rule. And among the Communist leaders of his generation who might have occupied that post, only Gorbachev had the combination of insight, courage, and political skill to remove from power the self-perpetuating clique that held his country hostage for seven decades. Saving the Soviet Union in the process was probably an impossible task, although Gorbachev still imagines that, had it not been for Boris Yeltsin's intrigues, he would have succeeded in doing that too.
Those seeking scandal and sensation will find Gorbachev's latest book, On My Country and the World, dull. Those seeking a better understanding of how the Cold War ended and what motivated the last ruler of the Soviet Union to destroy the system that put him in power will find nuggets that enlighten. Those seeking to make sense of the world after the Cold War will find food for thought, although less insight into the present than into the past. But along with wisdom and passion, the reader will also encounter questionable judgments, evasions of the truth, and claims so patently mistaken that they make one wonder how their author ever managed to do what, in fact, he did. The thoughtful reader will, in turn, be fascinated and bored, inspired and enraged.
Gorbachev has divided On My Country and the World into
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