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Publisher's Summary

When Mikhail Gorbachev became the leader of the Soviet Union in 1985, the USSR was one of the world's two superpowers. By 1989, his liberal policies of perestroika and glasnost had permanently transformed Soviet Communism and had made enemies of radicals on the right and left. By 1990 he, more than anyone else, had ended the Cold War, and in 1991, after barely escaping from a coup attempt, he unintentionally presided over the collapse of the Soviet Union he had tried to save.

In the first comprehensive biography of the final Soviet leader, William Taubman shows how a peasant boy became the Soviet system's gravedigger, how he clambered to the top of a system designed to keep people like him down, how he found common ground with America's arch-conservative president Ronald Reagan, and how he permitted the USSR and its East European empire to break apart without using force to preserve them. Throughout, Taubman portrays the many sides of Gorbachev's unique character that, by Gorbachev's own admission, make him "difficult to understand". Was he in fact a truly great leader, or was he brought low in the end by his own shortcomings as well as by the unyielding forces he faced?

Drawing on interviews with Gorbachev himself, transcripts and documents from the Russian archives, and interviews with Kremlin aides and adversaries as well as foreign leaders, Taubman's intensely personal portrait extends to Gorbachev's remarkable marriage to a woman he deeply loved and to the family that they raised together. Nuanced and poignant yet unsparing and honest, this sweeping account has all the amplitude of a great Russian novel.

©2017 William Taubman (P)2017 Recorded Books

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Must read/listen

The insights about the Gorby times are tremendous, cant recommend this book high enough for those that want to really understand more details of how Russia and the USSR republics got where they are today.

6 people found this helpful

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The Man Who Changed The Course Of History

William Taubman has written an excellent biography of Mikhail Gorbachev (1931- ). Taubman describes how MG went from the son of a peasant from a remote province to the leader of the Soviet Union.

The first third of the book is about MG’s early years. The next part of the book reveals his rise to power. Taubman reports that gradually MG saw that use of force had solved nothing. MG began to question the massive-over centralization of the Soviet system. In 1983 on a trip to Canada he discussed with the Soviet Ambassador to Canada Alexander Yakovlev (1923-2005), his concerns. Yakovlev would become an architect of MG’s new thinking. In 1985 when he became president he started making changes to the system. He allowed open debate and criticism and he pushed for nuclear disarmament. “The Soviet Union fell apart after MG weakened the State in an attempt to strengthen the individual” according to Taubman.

The book is well written and meticulously researched. I learned an enormous amount from the book. I lived through the events, but this book provided the inside information and a good review of the history. I highly recommend this book. Taubman won the Pulitzer Prize for his biography of Nikita Khrushchev (1894-1971). Taubman is a Professor Emeritus of Political Science at Amherst College.

The book is long at almost thirty-three hours. Henry Strozier does an excellent job narrating the book. Strozier is an actor and an award-winning audiobook narrator. He won the Emmy Award for Outstanding Narrator in 2014 and 2015.

12 people found this helpful

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I have a new hero

Riveting. Although I lived through these times and thought myself somewhat informed, I learned so much from this book. What a great man, what a great portrait of that man.

2 people found this helpful

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Interesting, but a bit dry.

A fascinating slice of Russian history that forever changed the world. I also loved the slices of Russian thought and culture that would rise to the surface here and there. At times however the sheer volume of facts poured in could get a bit dry.

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MoscCO

No one connected with this book bothered to see the pronunciation corrected. The capitol city is mentioned over and over and over, till it finally took me down. If I had adequate vision, I would read it, I do not recommend audible;s production

3 people found this helpful

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Everything you need to know

Great book. The narrator, though, kept stumbling over pronunciation of Russian words. It should have been someone familiar with the language. Also familiar words used in English were mispronounced. For example, “forte” is not pronounced “fort “. I’d definitely get another book by this author, but hopefully with a different narrator.

2 people found this helpful

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GORBACHEV I

Steven Kotkin’s analysis suggests Stalin was a pragmatic autocrat who systematically eliminated potential adversaries who might challenge his leadership. In contrast, William Taubman’s Gorbachev is characterized as a democratic rather than autocratic leader. This is not to say Gorbachev is less strong willed than an autocrat, but Taubman suggests he chooses to listen to both equals and subordinates before deciding and acting. Kotkin shows Stalin keeps his own counsel before deciding and acts as his paranoid behavior demands. Gorbachev is a politician, not a dictator.

Taubman shows Gorbachev understood Stalinism from personal life experience. Taubman explains how Gorbachev comes from humble surroundings in a farming village in Russia. Gorbachev sees firsthand how the idea of collective farming decreases, rather than increases productivity. The bureaucratization of collective farming has the same impact in communist Russia as it did in communist China. Leaders in charge of collective farms distort production quotas to make themselves look good to superiors. The result is either lower productivity, or worse, the famines of 1920s and 30s in Russia and the 1950s in China. (This is not to say famines do not occur in democracies, but the cause of famine is not bureaucratic lying but nature, or something beyond human control.)

Gorbachev loved his father and adored his grandfather. Both parents were great influences on Gorbachev’s belief in hard work and education. Gorbachev’s mother is the disciplinarian in the family. She rules the young Gorbachev with a belt until he is old enough to say, “no more”. “Tough love” from Gorbachev’s mother, in Taubman’s telling, instills respect for women. Taubman suggests Gorbachev’s choice of a wife is based on belief in equal partnership to help him achieve life’s evolving goals.

A reader/listener is only halfway through the book at this point. The last half of this 32-hour narration deals with Gorbachev’s failure as the eighth and final leader of the Soviet Union.

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Fascinating what happened not so long ago

One of the better biographies I’ve read recently. Broadened my understanding of the cold war. Engaging throughout.

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  • J
  • 09-26-20

Very in-depth biography of a great statesman

This book is much too detailed for those with a casual interest in Russian cold war politics to follow closely. Name after name of Russian leaders and politicians are listed without much explanation as if the reader recognizes these people. References to USSR political bodies and organisations are similarly used as if they were common knowledge.
The narrator's voice is nice, but his pronunciation of Russian names and places is terrible and inconsistent. For example Byelorus is an transliteration from the Slavic of the country Belorussia, and it is most certainly not pronounced "Bai-el-o-rus". Thank goodness they didn't use the alternate spelling "Bjelorus" or we would hear the narrator pronounce it "Buh-jel-o-rus".
But if you can make it through forty hours of unfamiliar names and events, you will come away with an appreciation, if not a clear understanding, of the pressures and problems that influenced politics in Russia in the eighties and nineties and of Gorbachev's personal and political life.

Worth a listen for sure.

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Excellent read about Gorbie

This book was enlightening about Gorbachev, who was a genius , but also shows how ,despite his best efforts , the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics was doomed to fail.
Highly recommended!
Also the narrator was excellent.