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Soviet Fates and Lost Alternatives: From Stalinism to the New Cold War Paperback – July 5, 2011

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Editorial Reviews


Cohen offers us a lesson, and a solution that is at once simple and of priceless value.

(David A. Andelman World Policy Blog)

[George] Kennan's understanding of the Russian state... has proved to have enormous currency over time. Cohen's views should be given similar credence.

(William W. Finan Jr. Current History)

Provocative and insightful.

(Amy Knight New York Review of Books)

Well written and vigorously argued.

(Archie Brown Russian Review 1900-01-00)

Cohen... brings his study of Soviet and Russian political developments to the doorstep of the White House, to powerful effect.

(The Nation)

An extraordinarily rich book... an absolutely vital beginning point for anyone interested in a serious study of political and foreign policy developments involving Russia.

(Slavic Review)

Soviet Fates and Lost Alternatives finds its stride in Cohen's ability to challenge conventional wisdom on the causes and consequences of major turning points in Soviet and post-Soviet history.

(Rehanna Jones-Boutaleb Foreign Policy in Focus)

this is one of the first books I would put into the hands of someone who wanted to get a good sense of what the Soviet Union was all about.

(Lars T. Lih Montreal Review 1900-01-00)

Cohen's book is a superbly informed, astute and thought-provoking analysis of late Soviet politics and history.

(Denis Kozlov Slavonic and East European Review 1900-01-00)

Among the many strengths of Soviet Fates is not just Stephen Cohen's longtimedepth of expertise but his unrivalled storytelling ability and, perhaps above all, hisrazor-sharp insider observations based on personal exchanges, interviews, and experienceswith key actors...

(Nanci Adler Journal of Modern History 1900-01-00)


Stephen F. Cohen is far and away the most original, creative, informed, and insightful observer writing on Russian affairs today. A pioneering historian and a fine political scientist and journalist with a tireless commitment to ferreting out elusive evidence, Cohen has had extensive, first-hand experience in both Soviet and post-Soviet Russia, close contacts among contemporary Russian leaders, and a unique following among Russian intellectuals. Known for his bold, independent, passionately held, and often provocative ideas, he is respected even by many who strongly disagree with him. Cohen writes with clarity, elegance, and power.

(Alexander Rabinowitch, author of The Bolsheviks Come to Power: The Revolution of 1917 in Petrograd)|

Stephen F. Cohen is one of our most astute historians of both the Soviet Union and Russia. Soviet Fates and Lost Alternatives once again demonstrates his encyclopedic grasp of his subject, his knack for original archival research, his deep wisdom, and an unerring ability to make difficult concepts intelligible. This book is a brilliant and probing analysis of U.S. relations with the Kremlin from Stalin to Putin. Read it!

(Douglas Brinkley, author of The Great Deluge: Hurricane Katrina, New Orleans, and the Mississippi Gulf Coast)|

Stephen F. Cohen is one of those writers who keeps real history visible while making striking and controversial policy arguments. This masterly investigation of 'lost opportunities' is necessary background for understanding Russia and the world today, giving us an opportunity for essential historical and political debate. Critics will challenge him, but Cohen is likely to emerge triumphant.

(Robert Conquest, author of The Harvest of Sorrow: Soviet Collectivization and the Terror-Famine)|

A brilliant and important book. Stephen Cohen is one of the world's foremost thinkers about Russia—its past, present, and future.

(Dan Rather, global correspondent and managing editor, Dan Rather Reports, HDNet)

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 328 pages
  • Publisher: Columbia University Press (July 5, 2011)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0231148976
  • ISBN-13: 978-0231148979
  • Product Dimensions: 8.9 x 6 x 0.9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.1 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (31 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #310,168 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

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92 of 97 people found the following review helpful By T. Kunikov VINE VOICE on June 21, 2009
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Stephen F. Cohen's latest publication, "Soviet Fates and Lost Alternatives: From Stalinism To The New Cold War," deals with a variety of events within Soviet and post-Soviet Russian history while outlining missed opportunities/roads not taken within each specific event. He does not so much deal in 'what-if' or 'counterfactual' scenarios as set up and explain existing alternatives that could have been pursued. Simply showing that alternatives within Soviet society existed inevitably puts into question much of the reasoning behind the idea that the Soviet Union was unreformable, especially when put into context with the sustainability of the Soviet Union through, for example, Khrushchev's reforms.

The text is made up of seven chapters; the first is devoted to Nikolai Bukharin, someone Cohen has written about in the past. While I do not think Bukharin could have been a rival to Stalin, in the full sense of the word (perhaps as Trotsky was), I think Cohen's real point within the chapter is encompassed in his discussion of NEP (New Economic Policy) which lasted some eight years, until the five year plans began. This phase of the Soviet Union is viewed by many as a 'golden' time, a time of at least some opportunity when state owned enterprises existed along side privately run companies/trades. But Cohen stops short of guessing what the Soviet Union could have become had NEP policies been pursued rather his point here is solely to show that an alternative to Stalin's five year plans existed, had been implemented and accepted by both the government and its citizens, and could have continued and evolved for years to come.

The next chapter discusses the GULag returnees during Khrushchev's administration.
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19 of 22 people found the following review helpful By J. Gwinn on November 24, 2010
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Cohen argues Foreign Relations with the former USSR and Russia have been misguided with a Grand Chessboard Mentality. US academic hacks/mainstream foreign policy analysts fail to see the complexities of the Soviet & Russian experience. Cohen contends Putin should be viewed more as a moderate than an extremist within Russian politics. Putin supserseeding Yeltsin was in part a reaction to a power grab by the U.S expanding NATO'S border to traditional spheres of influence/former Soviet Republics. Putin's angst should be understood by the Golden Rule "do unto others"..So how would the US feel if Russia pursued military alliances with Canada and Mexico? ..Proposing to install missle defense shields across the border like the US has with Czech/Poland etc? Most of Putin's so called "extremist" responses are in reaction to US agressive postures. Yeltsin's wholesale give away of Russian natural resource/plant and equipment/Real Estate & creating ultra rich oligarchs was a an excercise in shameful dirt bag politics. Gorbachev's reform proposals of a mixed capitalist/social democratic polity were lost alternatives. The majority of Russian/former Soviet people associate market reforms with the incredible inhumane conditions crated by "shock therapy" which resulted in massive poverty/pain and suffering. Meanwhile the Western press is uncritical of many of the Oligarchs which swindled the average Russian during marketization

Far more to Cohen's work. Cohen focuses on Nicholi Bakharin & how his ghost lives on as a lost alternatives to Stalinism and his methods of terror to modernize the Soviet Union. Bukharin continues to surface throughout Soviet/Russian history as new movements for genuine reform gain credence only to be partially buried again.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful By M. Hyman VINE VOICE on November 24, 2012
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
This is a very interesting book that takes a look at various movements within the Soviet Union that could have led to different historical outcomes. Was the Stalinistic system an inevitable outcome, or were there viable alternatives throughout? The twists and turns of history are fascinating, and when it comes to Soviet history, both the US and Soviet narrative tend to be fairly conformist. This book looks at other options -- for example, could the warming Khrushchev ushered in post-Stalin have extended? What if Brezhnev wasn't as reactionary... were there other politicians and movements that could have had other results. I particularly enjoyed the chapter on Gorbachev, which looked at the critical reforms that he put in place, the supporters and challengers and how revolutionary his movements were, as well as the reaction to him and Yeltsin from the West. He takes this further to look at the Bush Jr and Obama interactions with Russia, and the incredible opportunity we have squandered for better world relations. In the epilogue the author comments that he has gotten much criticism for these views, but frankly, i felt he didn't go far enough.

A very interesting book, and worth reading for any one interested in Soviet and post-Soviet history.
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5 of 6 people found the following review helpful By Douglas Doepke on April 12, 2012
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
No need to repeat textual details outlined by fellow reviewers. I'm a general reader with no particular expertise concerning the Soviet Union or its successors. Nonetheless, I've long valued Cohen's observations, particularly as they appeared in the Nation magazine. His expertise there as elsewhere, I believe, is well established. More importantly, he's long been one of the few sovietologists without ideological preconceptions to grind. Coming out of the Cold War period, that's a particularly valuable asset.

Here, he's at pains to show that Soviet institutions were not the unreformable behemoth our side made them out to be. A lesson I take is that collectivized economies, even the more rigid `communist' kind, are more flexible than usually credited. That Gorbachev's reforms ultimately failed appears more the result of personalities than of the system itself. One of the book's main burdens is to show how this happened. At the same time, readers accustomed to Cold War stereotypes should be prepared for surprises. One possibly controversial area of research is the extent to which Cohen relies on testimonials from deposed party head Gorbachev. The book does in fact do much to restore his reputation as a reformer, and at the occasional expense of his frequently lauded successor Boris Yeltsin.

All in all, anyone interested in the history of the Soviet Union and its post-Soviet period should pick up the book for a clearer-eyed view than Americans are customarily presented with.
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