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Armageddon Averted: The Soviet Collapse, 1970-2000

3.8 out of 5 stars 20 customer reviews
ISBN-13: 978-0195168945
ISBN-10: 0195168941
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Editorial Reviews

From Library Journal

The director of Russian studies at Princeton and a published scholar in the field of Soviet studies, Kotkin has written a lively and provocative work on a subject that has already attracted much scholarly attention. His central question is, however, his own: why didn't Soviet elites defend their Union, using their vast military arsenal to bring about a cataclysmic super-Yugoslavia in the dying USSR? How could such a massive police state have died so quietly? He points in response to those same elites who, for over 30 years, constituted themselves as vast "loot chains," preferring to plunder their country of its wealth than risk losing everything in large-scale war. Through the medium of the Union republics, local elites led the charge for their own aggrandizement, thus "cashier[ing] the Union." As he delivers telling jabs, Kotkin spares no one neither Soviet politician-gangsters nor arrogant U.S. administrators and academics. This is a much more readable and lively monograph on the Soviet collapse than others, such as Michael McFaul's Russia's Unfinished Revolution (Cornell Univ., 2001), which has a more purely academic appeal. Kotkin's book should attract both the academic and the informed general reader. Robert Johnston, McMaster Univ., Hamilton, Ont. The director of Russian studies at Princeton and a published scholar in the field of Soviet studies, Kotkin has written a lively and provocative work on a subject that has already attracted much scholarly attention. His central question is, however, his own: why didn't Soviet elites defend their Union, using their vast military arsenal to bring about a cataclysmic super-Yugoslavia in the dying U.S.S.R.? How could such a massive police state have died so quietly? He points in response to those same elites who, for over 30 years, constituted themselves as vast "loot chains," preferring to plunder their country of its wealth than risk losing everything in large-scale war. Through the medium of the Union republics, local elites led the charge for their own aggrandizement, thus "cashier[ing] the Union." As he delivers telling jabs, Kotkin spares no one neither Soviet politician-gangsters nor arrogant U.S. administrators and academics. This is a much more readable and lively monograph on the Soviet collapse than others, such as Michael McFaul's Russia's Unfinished Revolution (Cornell Univ., 2001), which has a more purely academic appeal. Kotkin's book should attract both the academic and the informed general reader. Robert Johnston, McMaster Univ., Hamilton, Ont.
Copyright 2001 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From The New Yorker

In 1995, Kotkin, a professor of history at Princeton, published "Magnetic Mountain," a groundbreaking study of Stalinist socialism as it developed in the gargantuan steel town of Magnitogorsk, in central Russia. In his portrayal of that perverse utopia, the author displayed the skills of a dogged reporter and a meticulous archivist. The same strengths are evident in this brief, lucid study, which draws upon dozens of obscure Kremlin memoirs, provincial records, and interviews with top-level officials and oligarchs to provide us with the clearest picture we have to date of the post-Soviet landscape. Kotkin effectively describes how what was called "reform" was actually a continuing freefall collapse; he also expertly depicts the lingering networks and habits of the Soviet era, and how they have formed a post-imperial world in all its corrupt splendor.
Copyright © 2005 The New Yorker --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
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Product Details

  • Paperback: 245 pages
  • Publisher: Oxford University Press (November 16, 2003)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0195168941
  • ISBN-13: 978-0195168945
  • Product Dimensions: 7.5 x 0.8 x 5.3 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 8 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 3.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (20 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #341,805 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover
In a relatively short book, Stephen Kotkin brilliantly brings to light the economic and socio-political factors that led to the death of the Soviet Union, and how, unlike the violent demise of the former Yugoslavia, Gorbachev and other progressives in the Soviet government managed to turn the possible apocalyptic death of the Soviet experiment into a relatively peaceful half-transition to a market economy. Kotkin also explores how that transition crippled the pseudo-prosperity of the Soviet republics(though he focues primarily on the Russian SSR and the East European neo-states, with only moderate mentioning of the effects of the collapse to the Soviet Socialist Republics in Central Asia and the Caucasus).
Professor Kotkin also exposes in an eye-opening view the failures of Perestroika(Gorbachevian Soviet Reform) and Glasnost(openness), and how Gorbachev attempted to steer the USSR's reform policies to reflect the true ideas of enlightened socialism. In addition, his description of the extent of corruption in post-Soviet Russia also makes you see how ineffective Russia's economic system really is.
The book is a definitive description of the twilight time of the USSR, and is a must-read for those who wish to expand their knowledge of Soviet-era market reforms, and also for anyone who is outright curious about Soviet-era economic and political history.
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Format: Hardcover
In Armageddon Averted: The Soviet Collapse, historian Stephen Kotkin demonstrates a profound knowledge of the political and economic structures and institutions that have shaped Soviet and post-Soviet history over the past several decades. This excellent little book makes two provocative arguments that contradict the conventional wisdom concerning the demise of the Soviet regime and its aftermath.
Kotkin's first argument is that what has passed for "reform" since 1991 has been the ongoing structural and institutional decay of the old system. Obsolete, inefficient factories are no more productive now than they were during Soviet times; government officials, well-connected insiders, and factory managers continue to bilk the country of its treasure; and presidential perquisites rival those of former politiboro members. With no rule of law, no system of credit, a weak legal system, and a national bank that speculates on its own currency and hides funds in offshore accounts, the reforms of the post-Soviet era are a myth. Indeed, in a de facto sense, the old system is still in its death throes.
The second part of Kotkin's argument concerns the end of Soviet rule in 1991. Kotkin believes that the Soviet regime could have muddled along for several years after 1991 without imploding. It still had a large and powerful military with nuclear, chemical, and biological weapons at its disposal. It wasn't the brilliance of American foreign policy or economic decline that caused the regime to fall when it did. Instead, in a paradoxical sense, it was Gorbachev's belief in the humanistic nature of socialism that did in the system. Socialism was supposed to be fair and just, ensuring a decent quality of life for the Soviet people, a dream that Gorbachev tried to deliver.
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Format: Hardcover
"...What no one, from national-security experts to ordinary citizens such as my mother, dared to dream was that within ten years of Brezhnev's death, the Soviet Union would collapse and simply cease to exist. How and why did this momentous event occur? Princeton University historian Stephen Kotkin takes up these salient questions in his concise, readable, and informative book Armageddon Averted: The Soviet Collapse, 1970-2000.
"Kotkin dismisses the oft-cited explanations that emphasize increased U.S. military spending and the failure of central planning, arguing that as late as 1985 the Soviet Union was `lethargically stable' (p. 2). Instead, he blames attempts -- first initiated by Khrushchev's de-Stalinization effort and culminating in Gorbachev's policies of perestroika, glasnost, and democratization -- to reform a system that was inherently incapable of reform. To offer only an explanation of the Soviet Union's collapse, no matter how compellingly argued, however, is unsatisfactory because that explanation leaves too many questions unanswered. Why were the reforms undertaken? Why did the Soviet elites not resist them? What effect did the Soviet legacy have on the reforms? By considering these questions, Kotkin provides a deeper understanding of the Soviet Union's astonishing collapse....
"The man to undertake the reforms was Mikhail Gorbachev. Perhaps the most revealing comment on Gorbachev is a 1988 statement by Milovan Djilas that Kotkin quotes: `Gorbachev, unlike Brezhnev, strikes me as a true believer' (p. 31). Perhaps he was a true believer because, as Kotkin points out, he had witnessed many socialist and Soviet triumphs: for example, Sputnik, manned space flight, and communist takeovers in China and Cuba.
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Format: Paperback
I had just returned from a trip to Russia when I came across this little book purporting to explain the reasons for the collapse of the Soviet Union. I've read other works on russian and Soviet history, but have never come across such a clear presentation of the issues to consider. Other reviewers have suggested that there's too much political bias in the account and that it's boring. I did not find this at all (especially the boring part), and I've always had a sympathy for the Left. Indeed, when I was in Russia and witnessed first hand the impressive and awe-inspiring achievements of Soviet and Czarist Russia (as well as some of the more horrific ones) I asked people to explain to me what caused the collapse of the Soviet Union, an idealist experiment that went wrong disappointing so many who hoped for a better system. You cannot help but ask these questions as you see the unbelievable luxury and wealth in Moscow and parts of St. Petersburg with the obvious poverty that co-exists with it. Yet, as the notes of the soviet anthem so poignantly reflect, The Soviet Union was supposed to herald a new era in human relations. Of course, reality has a way of breaking dreams and I believe that Stephen Kotkin has captured the illusion and its collapse, outlining the reasons and the effcts with unprecedented clarity. perhaps, more than this, Kotkin offers a model for analyzing the problems faced by all regimes as they attempt a reform from within and is a very effective text to understand politics in much of the developing world and I found personally usful in studying such regimes as Egypt under Sadat and Mubarak, Qadhafi's in Libya, or Asad of Syria. It's definitely a short book that travels very far.
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