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Armageddon Averted: The Soviet Collapse,…
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Armageddon Averted: The Soviet Collapse, 1970-2000

by Stephen Kotkin

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This is a quick and easy read focussing more on the collapse of the Soviet Union in the late 80s/early 90s and the progress of Russia thereafter. It doesn't do that much detail and is best viewed as an overview/introduction for someone wanting a to know the basics. ( )
  BrianHostad | Aug 8, 2013 |
Kotkin has written a lively monograph about the (in his opinion) continuing-to-collapse Soviet Union. It fills a somewhat weird niche as an accessible academic book; those who know much about Russian history will find the broad thesis unsurprising, and those who don't know much about Russian history may find themselves at sea - Kotkin doesn't condescend to his readers. Personally, his concentrated prose and despairing yet obviously affectionate take on Russia resonated perfectly with me.

The book is really two parts: the factors leading to collapse and apres le deluge, so to speak - but these are just broad thrusts. Kotkin skips through time like Dr Who, pursuing and illustrating his points with a bravura ferocity regardless of decade,location or person. You will find yourself leaping from the Kremlin in the eighties, to Stavropol in the sixties, to Georgia in the nineties, all in the space of a paragraph or two.

This whirlwind could be confusing, but Kotkin's prose is lucid, and he does it all in the service of his argument, so it's not too difficult to follow (withstanding the god awful preface, which is just appalling; littered with seemingly infinite commas and begging for some periods).

Broadly, his thesis is that the cause of Soviet collapse was Gorbachev's strange cocktail of idealism and political nous; it really was a miracle it hasn't gone worse, and the collapse is still very much in play as of 2000.

I do wish that we had seen more of Kotkin's perspective of Putin - assuming the presidency just as Kotkin finishes the book - but it's hard to criticise the guy for something that happened after he published.

Additionally, those seeking an insight into life in the Soviet Union may come away disappointed. Kotkin's view is of the general public is a macro-orientated, and he only zooms in on the key actors. Characterisation of everyday Russians is rendered in perspicacious, but broad brush strokes.

But these are quibbles. It's a slim book and Kotkin delivers exactly what he promises to the reader, and he does it with a bitey insight and flair. His voice was one of the strongest aspects of the book. Rich as caviar and just as unique, Armageddon Averted will leave you feeling stuffed, spoiled, and perhaps a little surprised. ( )
1 vote patrickgarson | Aug 24, 2011 |
http://www.amazon.com/gp/cdp/member-reviews/A37GRFP6VMUXKT/002-6066171-8248848?i...

Kotkin attempts to answer how the Soviet Union and its empire could quickly and quietly implode - a bewildering topic indeed. He posits that Soviet leadership fossilized beginning with the drooling Brezhnev followed by other barely breathing leaders. He does an excellent job explaining how the disunion got started in Gorbachev's reforms, but fails to answer why no Soviet elites stopped him, or later, stopped Yeltsin.

When Gorbachev took over a moribund system, he had a real and abiding commitment to 'socialism with a human face'. He believed the Soviet system could be reformed and set about seriously pursuing reform through perestroika (restructuring) and glasnost (openness). As it turned out, Gorbachev was wrong, the system could not be reformed.

The interesting point here is why didn't Gorbachev or, if not him, a reactionary coup leader use the might of the Soviet army and the KGB to put down by force what could not be stopped by reason. It is understandable why Gorbachev let Eastern Europe go; the Russians could not afford the empire any longer, but why let the system fall apart at home without a fight?

Would state violence have worked? Maybe, maybe not, but why wasn't it tried? Kotkin explains why Gorbachev started the process much better than he explains the lack of forceful response by the elites before it was too late. The August 1991 coup led to Yeltsin's ascension and sealed Gorbachev's demise, but again, why did the generals order the troops to return to the barracks without shooting down the forces that were destroying the Soviet empire?

Kotkin does a great job in the first part of the book describing the ossification of the Soviet empire, the late Cold War, and Gorbachev's rise. Kotkin also originally disputes standard Western views of what the economic 'reform' really was and was not. He also does a decent job explaining why 'reform' didn't really work (the same elite who ran the socialist system was also in charge of dismantling it.) His description of the later period leading up to and under Putin is disjointed. All in all, a good book, but Kotkin never really explains why the Empire faded meekly away rather going out in a firestorm of violence. ( )
  dougwood57 | Jan 29, 2007 |
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0195168941, Paperback)

In the Cold War era that dominated the second half of the twentieth century, nobody envisaged that the collapse of the Soviet Union would come from within, still less that it would happen meekly, without global conflagration.
In this brilliantly compact, original, engaging book, Stephen Kotkin shows that the Soviet collapse resulted not from military competition but, ironically, from the dynamism of Communist ideology, the long-held dream for "socialism with a human face." The neo-liberal reforms in post-Soviet Russia never took place, nor could they have, given the Soviet-era inheritance in the social, political, and economic landscape. Kotkin takes us deep into post-Stalin Soviet society and institutions, into the everyday hopes and secret political intrigues that affected 285 million people, before and after 1991. He conveys the high drama of a superpower falling apart while armed to the teeth with millions of loyal troops and tens of thousands of weapons of mass destruction. Armageddon Averted vividly demonstrates the overriding importance of history, individual ambition, geopolitics, and institutions, and deftly draws out contemporary Russia's contradictory predicament.

(retrieved from Amazon Mon, 30 Sep 2013 13:55:34 -0400)

(see all 3 descriptions)

"In the Cold War era that dominated the second half of the twentieth century, nobody envisaged that the collapse of the Soviet Union would come from within, still less that it would happen meekly, without global conflagration. In this compact book Stephen Kotkin shows that the Soviet collapse resulted not from military competition but, ironically, from the dynamism of Communist ideology, the long-held dream for 'socialism with a human face'. The neo-liberal reforms in post-Soviet Russia never took place, nor could they have, given the Soviet-era inheritance in the social, political, and economic landscape.""Kotkin takes us deep into post-Stalin Soviet society and institutions, into the everyday hopes and secret political intrigues that affected 285 million people. He conveys the multiple ironies and unintended consequences of perestroika, and the high drama of a superpower falling apart while still armed to the teeth with millions of loyal troops and tens of thousands of weapons of mass destruction."--BOOK JACKET.… (more)

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