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Publisher's Summary

A major study of the collapse of the Soviet Union - showing how Gorbachev's misguided reforms led to its demise

In 1945, the Soviet Union controlled half of Europe and was a founding member of the United Nations. By 1991, it had an army four million strong, 5,000 nuclear-tipped missiles, and was the second biggest producer of oil in the world. But soon afterward, the union sank into an economic crisis and was torn apart by nationalist separatism. Its collapse was one of the seismic shifts of the 20th century.

Thirty years on, Vladislav Zubok offers a major reinterpretation of the final years of the USSR, refuting the notion that the breakup of the Soviet order was inevitable. Instead, Zubok reveals how Gorbachev's misguided reforms, intended to modernize and democratize the Soviet Union, deprived the government of resources and empowered separatism. Collapse sheds new light on Russian democratic populism, the Baltic struggle for independence, the crisis of Soviet finances - and the fragility of authoritarian state power.

©2021 Vladislav M. Zubok (P)2021 Tantor

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What listeners say about Collapse

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Throughly Fantastic History

This is, as far as I know, the first full length history from a respected historian on the collapse of the Soviet Union. The author is clear, concise, and very revealing on a critical but as of yet relatively understudied period of world historical importance. The narrator is also very good, much more so than I was expecting. Overall I highly recommend this book to anyone interested in Russian, Cold War, or Soviet history.

6 people found this helpful

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Hopefully Not Prescient

I liked this book. It’s what you think it is: a blow-by-blow narrative of the collapse. Perhaps dry at times, but well-narrated and worth the cost.

Being an American, high school didn’t teach me much about the USSR (or about anything, really). What I absorbed over the years was that the Cold War was won by an arms race and that Gorbachev was in a hopeless position. As both of these seem to be wrong, I’m grateful for this book for correcting me, and for giving me what I felt was a Russian perspective on events.

I’m inclined to see Gorbachev as a serenely detached ideologue, absorbing the wrong lessons from history, and indifferent to reality when it didn’t conform to his ideas of what was happening. Still, I found him sympathetic, a sad figure with good intentions. He was so taken with Lenin, there was something depressing when he changed his mind about the man and ranted to others about him.

The coup attempt almost turns the book into black comedy. Were I a novelist, I don’t think I’d have the courage to write a coup as stupid as the one that actually happened. I shouldn’t be surprised, writing this in 2022, but surprised I am.

I think of this book when I hear the news. As I see the reports of rising populism, reality-optional elites, systemic problems, inflation and so on, I wonder if America will follow a similar path. Not just a retreat from an over-extended position to a lesser sphere of influence, but a graveyard spiral down. Hopefully not, as the American standard of living has much farther to fall than the Soviets did, and my fellow citizens don’t strike me as being able to handle this with any grace.

5 people found this helpful

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A must read for those interested in Soviet history

An extraordinary book - detailed and yet a page turner! I couldn’t put it down or rather take of my headphones. Zubok refutes the simple explanations for the demise of the USSR – Reagan’s SDI , ethnic nationalism in the republics , economic stagnation in the Brezhnev era and so on. He makes a convincing case that Gorbachov’s Glasnost exposed every fault line in the USSR, making it ungovernable, and thus economic reform impossible. Economic reforms he argues, needed a forceful perhaps semi-authoritarian approach which Gorby was incapable of. As for separatism, the Soviet Union could have managed without the Baltics or the Caucasian republics, but it was the Yeltsin led virtual secession of the RSFSR, long before the August coup, which doomed it. The book gives one an insight into why Putin is admired in modern Russia. With Yeltsin there was just further economic chaos and lawlessness. Putin pulled back Russia from the abyss and Russians enjoyed a modicum of prosperity for the first time in history. But Putin’s inability or unwillingness to work towards a fully democratic Russia with agreed upon rules for transfer of political power makes one uncertain about the future.

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not casual listening

i love audible because it lets me listen to a good book while i'm doing something eles like working around the house. most books i am able to really enjoy and keep up with while doing that, but not this one. there is so much going on, so many details and so many names. all of wich are russian obviously. for me it was a bit difficult to keep track of all of those names. especially if listening casually . this is a book that you really need to devote your full attention to. i will have to sit and listen to it again at least one more time, and probably take notes. it's a great story about a very significant time in history. a lot of very interesting facts and behind the sceens info and events that made it all happen. david de vries gave a very good performance. his reading was evenly paced, well pronounced and easy to listen to. this is an interesting and educational book, but one you really have to devote your full attention to.

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Better be Russian

Only a Russian could fully follow this story. Chocked full of facts and told from a specific (Andropov) point of view, I doubt the need for naming every actor on the stage helps in understanding the history. And this “history” has a heavy dose of opinion.

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Radio War Nerd sent me, great book!

With the invasion of Ukraine, it’s an auspicious time indeed to read about the collapse of the USSR and its consequences. This book is comprehensive, engaging and thoroughly fair. The narrator did a fine job.

I hope the author considers tackling the Yeltsin era in a future book.

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  • davezol
  • 05-16-22

Detailed and forensic

A first rate re-telling of the reasons for, the machinations behind, and the fallout from, the collapse of the USSR. The characters of this drama come alive.

The author cannot hide his pro-soviet sympathies, to the detriment of national actors (be it Lithuanian, Ukrainian or other) , and as such ignores greater centrifugal forces at work , but this does not detract from the overall telling of the story.

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  • olympian
  • 04-28-22

I'm sure the book is great, but I hate the voice

Couldn't bear to listen to more than a few minutes of this book, so returned it. The narrator's voice and speaking style just really grated on me. Just don't think I could stand listening to it for 1 hour let alone 23 hours.

Shame, because it looks like an interesting book going by the other reviews.

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  • Robert S.
  • 04-25-22

Analysis of the paths not taken

A very thorough summary of the rapid collapse of the Soviet Union, with highlights of the choices made that had they been different, might have produced a very different outcome. Provides a good balance to Western sources as it has context missing from a lot of main stream discussion.

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  • ekly91
  • 04-11-22

Interesting for history fans

Struggled with the narrator the whole way through but a very interesting, detailed analysis, if a bit "textbooky" at times.

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  • Lutatius
  • 04-09-22

Superb history of hugely important period

Having read (or listened to) many history books, I have found that many of the more recent texts are not written very engagingly, although they may have a tremendous depth of scholarship. An example of this is the highly rated "The Pursuit of Power" by Richard J Evans. Evans is a retired professor of history at Cambridge, and is widely regarded as a brilliant scholar. Sadly, at least in my view, his written style is leaden and uninspired. To be fair, I do not mean to pick on Evans, since there are very many other leading historians I could mention whose style does not impress.

This book, by contrast, written by a man for whom English is a second language, sparkles.

It is very long, and yet it never palls. The events, of course, are fascinating, and the perspective provided is one entirely new to most Western readers. The insight into Gorbachev, a vastly significant figure in world history, is invaluable. The implications of this history for the scelerotic bureaucracies in the West are both ominous and interesting. In particular, it is instructive to compare George H W Bush and James Baker III with Joe Biden and Anthony Blinken.

I cannot recommend this book highly enough. In describing one of the most puzzling and yet significant changes in recent history, I have never read anything so clear, fair and comprehensive. In illuminating the background to the current terrible events in Ukraine, it is also very valuable.

I can only hope that the author writes more. In particular, a history of Yeltsin's time in office, with Putin's rise to power, would complete the picture of a country moving through a period of crisis.

Finally, the performance of the reader is also excellent. His voice is easy to listen to, and he handles the (numerous) difficult foreign names and words, in several languages, with aplomb. At least to my ears...

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  • JayD
  • 04-21-22

Excellent

A very well-searched history that maintains a lively pace despite the depth of information. Truly an engaging work. It maintains a remarkably neutral stance with respect to the events described, and free of the triumphalism found in other works.