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The Dream that Failed: Reflections on the Soviet Union Hardcover – December 8, 1994
From Publishers Weekly
In a devastating postmortem of Soviet history, Laqueur (Black Hundred) challenges much conventional thinking as he illuminates two central questions: why the U.S.S.R. lasted as long as it did, and why it collapsed. He notes that the Bolshevik takeover in 1917 resulted from fortuitous circumstances, including the chaos of WWI and the disunity of anti-Bolshevik factions in the ensuing civil war. Ignorance of the outside world, enforced through the early 1960s, contributed to Soviet citizens' passive acceptance of the regime, surmises this prolific historian. As for the Soviet Union's breakup, he opines that the dismal quality of life-repression of freedoms, rising crime, routine high-level corruption, poisoned air and water and substandard housing-was even more decisive than economic failure. The author scathingly criticizes fellow Western travelers who turned a blind eye to Soviet totalitarianism, and CIA economists and academics who greatly overestimated the Soviet gross national product while underestimating the crushing burden of Soviet military spending as factors in the demise of the U.S.S.R.
Copyright 1994 Reed Business Information, Inc.
From Library Journal
The title of this collection of nine essays recalls Arthur Koestler's notorious 1949 volume, The God That Failed. The earlier study, written at the zenith of Soviet power, described the loss of faith in communism; Laqueur's book offers an informal inquest on the collapse of communism and the Soviet Union. More provocatively, it is also an inquest on the quasiscience of Sovietology. Why did so many professional analysts not only utterly fail to see what was coming but continue to insist until the end that the system remained strong? Laqueur's assessments are severe, and he does not hesitate to name names. An important, polemical work that is probably more useful and interesting in its treatment of Sovietology's record than of the Soviet collapse, this should (but probably won't) provoke overdue self-examination among observers of the ex-USSR. For Soviet studies collections.
Robert H. Johnston, McMaster Univ., Hamilton, Ontario
Copyright 1994 Reed Business Information, Inc.
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Top customer reviews
This is a good book, but you must be prepared to go to the Notes pages constantly. By far the best part is the author's exposure of the so-called "experts" from the West who got it so wrong regarding the Soviet Union, not only about its implosion (they are not clairvoyants, after all), but in their total analysis of the system. Laqueur presents most of these experts as what they are: ideologically-motivated men and women of the Left that could not bring themselves to see the rotten system they were supposedly studying. When they saw the truth, they camouflaged it or ignored it because they were attracted to such a system.
I was disappointed in the exclusion of Dmitri Volkogonov and the very brief mention of Roy Medvedev from among the Soviet scholars who seriously attempted to bring light to a very dark subject. Of especial consideration is the case of Volkogonov, whose biographies of Lenin, Stalin, and Trotsky leave no doubt that the troika in whose hands rested the destiny of millions in Russia and beyond was a corrupt, power-hungry confluence of liars, murderers, and fanatics. Laqueur ignores Volkogonov. Almost equally ignored is Robert Conquest, barely mentioned in a rather vague form. Perhaps the author wanted to concentrate on the lousy ones, like Getty, Fitzpatrick, Lewin, Sanders, and others. Still, honorable mentions to those who courageously wrote the truth and were right about how bad Communism (in all its variants: Leninist, Stalinist, Trotskyist) really was would have been a valuable epilogue.
In spite of these minor problems, this is a highly recommended book, especially to use as a guide in order to detect the so-called fellow travellers (Lenin called them "Useful Idiots) like Carr and Deutscher, or the inexcusably bad ones for being apologists, like Brand, Schlesinger, Ward, Davies, etc. Also, for those interested in the subject, an article by Robert Conquest for the "Times Literary Supplement" of London and reproduced by the "National Review" of July 15, 1996, is very good additional material. In it, Mr. Conquest has one or two things to say about Robert W. Thurston's book on Stalin "Life and Terror in Stalin's Russia, 1934-1941." I would suggest reading Laqueur's book first, and then Conquest's article.