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Product details

  • Paperback: 308 pages
  • Publisher: Columbia University Press; New Ed edition (8 Nov. 2000)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0231115156
  • ISBN-13: 978-0231115155
  • Product Dimensions: 22.9 x 15.2 x 1.7 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 3.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (2 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 373,765 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
  • See Complete Table of Contents

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We find passages of perceptive analysis that we should not ignore. Foreign Affairs Gorbachev's authorship alone makes this book an important text... [His] take on history and his analysis of global issues are unique and provocative no matter where one stands in the political spectrum. Booklist (starred review)

About the Author

Mikhail Gorbachev, General Secretary of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union, 1985-1991, and President of the Soviet Union, 1988-1991, currently heads the Gorbachev Foundation in Moscow and lectures widely. He is also the author of Perestroika and Soviet-American Relations, The Search for a New Beginning: Developing a New Civilization, and The August Coup: The Truth and the Lessons.George Shriver has translated and edited many books, including Nikolai Bukharin's How It All Began: The Prison Novel and Roy Medvedev's On Soviet Dissent, The October Revolution, Let History Judge, and Post-Soviet Russia (all published by Columbia).

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THIS CHAPTER'S TITLE states three of the various explanations for the October 1917 revolution and its place in history. Read the first page
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful By laurens van den muyzenberg on 2 Dec. 2008
Format: Paperback
Gorbachev is probably the only leader of a country that developed a philosophy of government from scratch and then applied it leading to spectacular positive changes in the world. After many years of study and debate including many different types of people, politicians, scientists, writers, from Russia and from the West, the conclusion was that traditional political thinking was based on the nation state and its relationships with other states. Globalisation with its quantum leap in increasing interdependence and interconnectedness requires another starting point. Gorbachev concluded that the starting point has to be the world as whole and national states within that whole. Like most other thinkers the group also concluded that freedom of choice of the individual and non-violence were essential too. They also recognised that the combination of increasing interdependence and of freedom leads to an increase in the number of nation states in the world. At first sight that appears to be contradictory. It is however a logical consequence of people forming a part of a cultural group wanting to protect their cultural identity. The challenge is how to reconcile these many nation states within the world as a whole.

The application of these principles led to the end of the Cold War including a vast reduction of nuclear arms. Another equally important consequence was the dismantlement of the Eastern block, restoring freedom to Poland, East Germany, Hungary and many other countries. Also the Soviet Union fell apart. The goal and hope of Gorbachev was that the Soviet Union could have been transformed in a federation. This turned out to be impossible because of the strength of the suppressed nationalist feelings and the harsh history of centralised communist direction.
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Its a hard read, a bit dry, there are easier books for the person like me who is trying to find out about modern Russia.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)

Amazon.com: 15 reviews
23 of 26 people found the following review helpful
The Book Itself Is History 2 Feb. 2001
By taking a rest - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Paperback
It was not that long ago when a person would have been thought foolish if they believed a former, General Secretary of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union, would be writing books for anyone who was interested. It also is not very long ago that a person writing about any one of the dozens of issues in this book, would have spent many, if not their remaining years in a Siberian Camp. Since Mr. Gorbachev became General Secretary in 1985 until he resigned as President in 1991, history has been made that will fill countless books for many years to come.
If there is one aspect of this book that I were to state as particularly fascinating it would be the transcripts from Politburo Meetings. Here are the same men expressing their thoughts in reality, when the same members of this inner sanctum of The Kremlin have been the foundation for spy and Cold War Novels for decades. If you are looking for "the evil empire", plotting the destruction of the West, you will be disappointed. The arguments and the positioning that continually deteriorate into political and personal feuds as the former USSR became the target of varied interests, reads like much of what we listen to and watch here with our elected officials.
Mr. Gorbachev is not an apologist for the Former Soviet Union. As someone who grew up with the USSR portrayed as the ultimate evil, the book requires a major change in perspective for the reader. A willingness to listen to a man that is extremely well informed, a Statesman, and a thinker far and away the superior to those who now rule the remains of the USSR, and its kleptocratic economy. I found his words to be remarkably candid when criticizing his own mistakes, and those of the USSR, and his criticisms of US Policy were more often valid than not. The world was divided into two camps with each side portraying the other as the ultimate threat for most of the 20th Century. The truth of course is never that simple. The stories shared by Mr. Gorbachev have another facet; they are absolutely terrifying at times.
It is not possible to comment on even a portion of his ideas. His writing is very dense, and takes getting comfortable with to complete the book. This may in part be due to translation issues, and there are footnotes where ambiguity may have been critical.
His narration of the USSR coming apart is not only fascinating, it was infinitely more complex than many care to recall, and the complexities are by no measure solved. The USSR was never a monolithic beast. It was composed of 15 distinct republics that were made all the more complex by forced immigrations, ethnic complications, and the arbitrary creation of borders. Borders that became not only critical but also disputed to the point of war, when the Union was dissolved.
During his book he covers the history of his country and the larger union, the problems then, and the challenges now. He also takes the reader through the removal of The Wall In Berlin, the first border disputes in Azerbaijan and Armenia, and all the drama of the Baltic States and their pronouncements of independence.
I certainly would not presume to rank what is important in this book, or what was of the greatest importance to Mr. Gorbachev. A critical passage for me was when he made the issues he spoke of personal for him, and those of his Countrymen.
He spoke of the sense of loss felt by citizens during the turmoil and breakup. He acknowledged why people on the outside may have their views, but as a private citizen he and many others had and do have their own. Because there is one fact you cannot get away from; the homes, countries, borders, and lives that were lead were the only life most had ever known. The times of the Tsars are none too fondly remembered either. So on the human level, not the handful that is destroying the remains, the pardoned thieves like Yeltsin and his Family and others, many miss the life they had. For many it was not only the life they knew, it was far better than the one they now live.
A remarkable opportunity to view History from a different perspective, by one of the men at its center.
12 of 15 people found the following review helpful
Gorbachev: True Socialism 7 Dec. 1999
By Obren - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Hardcover
This book not only sheds light on many aspects of the October Revolution, but brings back the real meaning of socialism without the preconceived ideas that the West has created. Gorbachev's attempt to reform the USSR is described with astoning revelations on alleged conspiracy against Gorbachev himself. A must read in order to understand the collapse of the Soviet empire, through its number one insider.
6 of 8 people found the following review helpful
Socialism - from the inside 28 Sept. 2000
By J. Michael Cole - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Hardcover
Mr. Gorbachev's On My Country and The World is a refreshing account of what went on in the USSR as it sunk into the dark waters of Stalin's socialism. To Westerners like myself, it demonstrates that oftentimes our opinions about foreign philosophies are incomplete, let alone downright mistaken. Case in point: Gorbachev's defense of socialism and its virtues, which, I must concede, is rather convincing and does manage to make us look at our own system from a slightly different perspective.
The tenacity with which he attempted to preserve some form of "state entity" during and after perestroika is commendable, but I believe that such an endeavor was doomed to failure from the start. Anyhow, it shows us how deeply he felt about the USSR and how hard he tried to turn it into a workable socialist system that had learned from past mistakes and was ready to participate in the emerging market economy system.
Where I have to disagree with Mr. Gorbachev is on the topic of intervention, in places such as Iraq and, more recently, Bosnia and Kosovo. Mr. Gorbachev is an advocate of diplomacy, and I have nothing against this. But diplomacy, with "leaders" such as Saddam Hussein or the hopefully-departing Milosevic, is, I believe, a finite process, and procrastination, once everything has been attempted, can have terrible consequences (read, among others, Cambodia, Rwanda, Bosnia, Chechnya). He emphasizes the need to enforce diplomacy through the UN (as should we all) but does not give alternatives or bring new ideas in case such diplomatic measures fail to prevent humanitarian catastrophes or crimes against humanity. For an elucidating read on this, readers should refer to William Shawcross's Deliver Us From Evil.
A nice philosophical foray into history, politics and future challenges faced by civilization. Intelligent, succinct, it is worth the few hours you will need to read it.
12 of 17 people found the following review helpful
Anything by Gorbachev Should Not Be Ignored 10 Mar. 2002
By Paul J. Rask - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Paperback
To listen only to Ronald Reagan's avid supporters, one might conclude that his "Evil Empire" characterization of the Soviet Union and his massive military spending brought down communist rule, crumbled the Berlin Wall, ended the Cold War and saved the civilization from an inevitable conflict between the free world and its totalitarian enemies.
Not so, it becomes readily apparent in reading Mr. Gorbachev's book-length essay of his view of his country and of the world. His brief -- alas too brief -- history of that crucial time in the late 20th Century when he was General Secretary of the Communist Party, describes what happened while he was in the eye of the hurricane, when an upheaval in the Kremlin shook the world back to its senses. More important for serious students of history, Mr. Gorbachev tells why and how it happened.
When they came to power, he and his team knew that that the Soviet Union was feeble and that it needed a remedy; so they made a desperate grasp at "renewed thinking". They believed that by renouncing old beliefs and then by scraping away totalitarian decay they could bring about a cure. As history now knows, instead of a cure, they helped bring about its collapse.
"New thinking" gave birth to perestroika, a restructuring designed to save what Lenin had wrought. But then, the unexpected happened: a rebirth of nationalism stirred among the former Soviet Union's diverse ethnic populations. Finally, there was a simultaneous combination of rethinking, restructuring and nationalism which, like so many volatile chemical elements, resulted in the startling political implosion that brought the Communist empire to its knees.
It was not Mr. Reagan's threats, nor his Star Wars military program nor free-market competition from the outside world that changed history. Mr. Gorbachev makes a far better case that it was his administration's accurate diagnosis of the Soviet illness and their willingness to correct it from inside the Soviet Union which changed the history of the world, though in a way they did not intend.
After his too brief description of how he and his people tried to salvage the crumbing Soviet system, Mr. Gorbachev's writing bogs down. He ascends a pulpit and becomes a good-intentioned preacher, proposing non-controversial prescriptions for a better world. Disappointingly, in the latter part of his book he resorts to the obvious and falls back on over-used platitudes (such as:"we must advance through worldwide cooperation"). This section seems to have been written merely to puff out the work.
But, despite that minor short-coming, Mr. Gorbachev has earned and deserved his status as the dominant historical figure in the last quarter of the 20th Century. Anything written by him should not be ignored.
Honest, intriguing readable evaluation and prognosis 10 Jun. 2014
By Gderf - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Paperback
The book is an honest insightful and informative assessment of successes and failure of the Soviet Union from the October revolution to time of writing in 1999. There is a modicum of prognosis for the future. Socialist ideals failed because of reversion to totalitarianism. Gorbachev credits perestroika with ending the Cold War. Besides totalitarianism he thinks failure was in part due to failure to build capital prior to attempted redistribution. The book is very good with analysis of effects of social system on markets. A similarly honest insider appraisal of US policy is not likely to be forthcoming as the US moves in the opposite direction away from a market economy.

There is very ambivalent evaluation of his predecessors. The Soviet leadership beat the Nazis while building a false model of totalitarian socialism. Not entirely consistent, he deplores use of force, but fails to explain staying in Afghanistan for 3 years after his accession to the presidency. Among slaps at the West he says that Liberalism denies socialistic values. He claims a new thinking in the new world order after demise of Soviet Union. He points out that G-7 economic ministers don't follow the US lead. That's even more true now in the case of the G-8.

Gorbachev attributes failure to the evolution of totalitarianism that corrupted socialist ideals. His historic interpretations are very intriguing. He credits Khrushev with laying the foundations for reform. In a fanciful diversion he thinks the winner of the Cold War was … everyone. I think Paul Tsongas got it better when he said “Japan won.” His prognosis for the future is largely wishful thinking though eminently enjoyable reading. The translation appears excellent.

He regards the Union breakup as a tragedy. The Union could have been preserved although many Russians blame Gorbachev and perestroika for the breakup. Discussion of the Soviet constitution is very interesting, especially where he admits the right of nationalities to secede although he recommended otherwise.
The discussions with Yeltsin involve well selected episodes and I don't agree with interpretations of Orwell and Fukujama.

For the future he suggests that the UN should strive for diversity in collective management and eschew use of force. It's largely wishful thinking. He suggest that NATO relies too much on force of arms. The breakup is more a beginning than, as Fukuyama suggests, the end of history. He sees signs of Russia slipping back towards autocratic rule as a popular trade for higher living standards.

Covering 1917 to 1999, the aftermath and prognosis is already out of date.
He observes that the years since 1991 have precluded Russia from becoming a worthy successor to the USSR. He doesn't predict the irredentism and quasi democracy / quasi dictatorship in Russia or the irony of the US now assuming leadership of socialistic ideals. That's except for the guarantee of employment.
I would love to see his take on the world situation ten years after publication of this book.

He wants collective management of world resources while foregoing threats of force. Among other mis perceptions, he suggests that the West rejects bureaucratic centralism. He says we are living at the expense of future generations, another warning not heeded in the US. He deplores the new materialism outlook as he quotes Walter Rostow in saying that the consumer society of the West is is the highest stage of progress.

Among the best sections are references to the works of Samuel Huntington, Francis Fukuyama and Sergio Romo. Ruminations on globalization, diversity, power politics, democracy, human values and the future of socialism are very interesting although probably minimally useful. Gorbachev's credibility on politics and modern history is much greater than on any other aspects. There is much more in this densely packed socio-political historical analysis. Agreement is not necessary to greatly enjoy this book.
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