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Autopsy on an Empire: The American Ambassador's Account of the Collapse of the Soviet Union Hardcover

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 836 pages
  • Publisher: Random House; 1st edition (October 24, 1995)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0679413766
  • ISBN-13: 978-0679413769
  • Product Dimensions: 2.5 x 6.8 x 9.8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 2.7 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (3 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #354,221 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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27 of 28 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on December 7, 1997
Format: Hardcover
This "Account on the Collapse of the Soviet Union" may be the best book I have read about the demise of the Soviet Union - I personally prefer it over David Remnick's "Lenin's Tomb," which won the Pulitzer Price. For one thing I think Mr. Matlock is among the men best suited to write about the Soviet Union, since he has experienced it first-hand for over 30 years. Moreover, although he never denies that the book constitutes his personal account, he still manages to seperate the issues discussed from his own person, something that I found Remnick to have trouble with at times. His theories, although not necessarily earth-shattering, are backed up by oodles of evidence, be it data or just anecdotes. The summary and the description of the CIS states and the future of the Commonwealth also provide a glimpse into the future. All you ever wanted to know about the epochal events and influences shaping the former Soviet block today.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful By Leonard J. Wilson on January 8, 2014
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Autopsy on an Empire by Jack Matlock, US Ambassador to Moscow from 1987 to 1991, was published in 1995, and is my personal "book of the year" for 2013, the year I belatedly discovered it.

Ambassador Matlock covers the collapse of Soviet Union starting from Mikhail Gorbachev's appointment as General Secretary of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union (CPSU) in 1985 through the early travails of the Russian Republic under Boris Yeltsin in 1992-92. He provides a detailed chronology of the events in this story and vivid descriptions of the multitude of personalities who played significant roles in them. Rather than attempt to describe or summarize these events and personalities, I hope in this review to provide a high level overview of the situation, conflicts, and strategies underlying the collapse of the Soviet Union.

1. Background

The Soviet Union was not a normal country. It was founded on the Marxist theory of the class struggle. The existence of non-Marxist states abroad or non-Marxist parties domestically were considered direct threats to the USSR and the CPSU. To counter the threats abroad, the early foreign policy of the USSR was based on supporting world-wide revolution by local communist movements. Following World War II, this policy evolved into support of wars of national liberation by communist forces in the developing countries and the Cold War with the US and its allies. To counter domestic threats, Article VI of the Soviet Constitution gave the CPSU a "Leading Role" in setting and executing the policies of the Soviet government.
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2 of 6 people found the following review helpful By Nissa on July 23, 2013
Format: Hardcover
I've read better books about the Soviet Union. The trouble with this book is that it's written by a politician, and it's the nature of the politician to try and convince others of their ideas. He makes an odd statement about how Russians didn't have it as bad as other ethnicities in the Soviet Union, yet other material makes it pretty clear that Stalin didn't favor any race. He displaced all races within his grasp, and favored only himself. Though he did appear to have something bad in mind for the Jews at one point, this was anti-Jewish in nature, not pro-Russian. Also, the author makes frequent references to "right wingers" when referring to the Communists, which is odd because much Communist propaganda specifically is anti-right wing, even using that specific phrase.

Besides having odd biases, the writer's tone is generally unclear. His narrative is something of a blend between biography and history, and he hops around a lot from talking about Russians, Americans, and his own personal activities. Someone as politically influential as he was at the time definitely has a good perspective on things, but it would have been better if he simply stuck to his own story. It frequently feels like he's talking about things he doesn't understand, or else talking about his own perceptions. It also seems pretty odd that an American would have such insight into the activities of Gorbachev and other Russian politicians. An author with more of a historical and less of a political background would be preferable.

While there are things to learn from this book, particularly about Soviet politics, the author does not feel reliable. Better books on Communism are Life and Death in Shanghai, The Gulag Archipelago, and Mao: the Unknown Story. The Red Flag is also good for the history of Communism and its origins.
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