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Moscow, December 25, 1991: The Last Day of the Soviet Union Hardcover – August 23, 2011

4.8 out of 5 stars 24 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews


Publishers Weekly, June 15, 2011
“Shrewd political history…. O’Clery presents a colorful human-scale saga, full of pathos and pettiness. (As Gorbachev was preparing his farewell address, Yeltsin sent minions to evict his family from their dacha.) But he also illuminates larger historical forces: the revival of nationalist politics in the breakaway Soviet republics; the desperate food shortages as the command economy lost its authority; the social enervation that left no one willing to defend the Soviet system by force. The result is a revealing portrait of one of history's greatest upheavals.”

Library Journal, June 15, 2011
“With a journalist’s flair for detail, O’Clery offers a well-researched look at the last day of the Soviet Union and provides a balanced portrait of the characters involved…. Academics and lay readers alike will find this book a revealing addition to the history of modern Russia, as well as an engrossing journalistic study of two of Russia’s most intriguing political leaders.”
Minneapolis Star-Tribune, August 20, 2011
“[A] gripping account of the Soviet Union's final day…. Here are the personalities, the drama, the betrayals, the bickering and maneuvering, the threats and entreaties behind an event that virtually no one in the West saw coming. Told with authority and narrative grace, O'Clery's book provides a keen understanding and unique perspective on what was one of the most important events in world history.”
Sunday Times (UK), August 21, 2011
“[A] superb account.”
Daily Mail (UK), August 21, 2011
"A clear and exciting account of these momentous times…. Crammed with fascinating and telling detail, it describes Mikhail Gorbachev’s final evening as President of the USSR, with a series of flashbacks to the events that led to the hauling down of the Red Flag from the Kremlin. It also explores and illuminates the bristling personal rivalry and loathing that crackled between Gorbachev and Boris Yeltsin. It is a marvelous read and would make an unmissable TV docu-drama.”
Independent (Ireland), August 27, 2011
Moscow, December 25, 1991 grips you from first to last. Hour by hour, minute by minute, we follow the movements of the two protagonists of this book, Mikhail Gorbachev and Boris Yeltsin -- one knowing his time is up, the other hungry to assume control of the new Russia—as they play out their final duel on the last day of the Soviet Union. Combining the analytical skills of the historian sifting through masses of data, and the doggedness of a reporter after a big story, O’Clery’s minutely researched and riveting history is likely to become the standard account of what happened on that momentous day.”
Current History, October 2011
“[Moscow, December 25, 1991] is up close and personal, a tightly focused narrative that captures vividly the personalities of the two men and the processes through which they came to their respective views…. A compelling narrative.”
The New Republic
"O'Clery shows how history can sometimes have a Tolstoyan quality of individual drama played out with consequence for millions."

History News Network
"In this lively, stimulating account of the unexpected collapse of the Soviet Union, Conor O'Clery offers a mini-John le Carre treatment of constant warfare inside the once-secret walls of the Kremlin."

“Vividly written…. O’Clery excels in the art of sketching one- or two-sentence portraits of his various actors and the role they played in the collapse of communism.”

About the Author

Conor O'Clery lived and worked in Russia during the final years of the Soviet Union as Moscow correspondent for the Irish Times. He won journalist of the year in Ireland for his reporting from the Soviet Union, and again in 2002 for his first-hand accounts of the 9/11 attack on the World Trade Center. In 30 years with the Irish Times he also served as correspondent in London, Beijing, New York, and Washington. He is GlobalPost's Ireland correspondent and is the author of several books, including The Billionaire Who Wasn't, a biography of the American philanthropist Chuck Feeney, named a 2007 best book of the year by the Economist and BusinessWeek.

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 352 pages
  • Publisher: PublicAffairs; First Edition edition (August 23, 2011)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1586487965
  • ISBN-13: 978-1586487966
  • Product Dimensions: 9.4 x 6 x 1.3 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.3 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (24 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,186,819 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By silvia elias on October 3, 2011
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Perceptive review of the last day of the Soviet Union, with insight about the personalities and behaviors of Gorbachev and Yeltsin, the principal actors in this drama.

Gorbachev brought Yeltsin from the provinces to clean the construction ministry in Moscow. Yeltsin had earned a reputation as an honest man who could get things done. Yeltsin tried to clean the ministry, and Moscow, of the rampant political corruption that he found in all government departments,but found himself sabotaged by members of the politburo who wanted to continue their lives of privilege.

Although Gorbachev started perestroika, it was Yeltsin who brought it to bear fruit by his actions. Yeltsin became a man of the people, and it was the people of Moscow who elected him, and who saw him dissolve the USSR. Gorbachev would have preferred to maintain the group of republics that made up the Soviet Union as a federation. Yeltsin managed to get the union dissolved, and for Russia, and each republic, to stand on its own.

On December 25, 1991, Yeltsin literally threw Gorbachev out of office. Once he took over as President of Russia, however, Yeltsin became as enamored with the trappings of power as the old politicos whom he harshly critized. A lesson for all of us.

Fascinating to read about the differences and similarites between the two men who truly changed the course of history.
Also interesting to read about how our leaders (H.W. Bush) reacted at the potential dissolution of the USSR.
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Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
This book gives a very easy and informative read on the last day of the Soviet Union. The story focuses on Yelstin and Gorbachev, it disscusses their relationship leading up to the last day. It is a little gossipy but that just makes it fun.
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Format: Hardcover
Could the recounting of a single day provide enough insight to fill a whole book and retain your interest? Absolutely!!!

Great beginning: opening pages list names, occupations, and dates (better than at the back of the book). The author explains how he got the details without interviewing either Gorbachev or Yeltsin. He explains his family connections and why he accepted/rejected verbal recollections by people present that day. I'm convinced he is close to the actual events which painted a movie in my mind that I couldn't stop watching. I have never read some of these details anywhere else.

P.10 Gorbachev repeated to foreign dignitaries an anecdote against himself "about a man in along line for vodka who leaves in frustration, telling everyone he is going to the Kremlin to shoot Gorbachev, only to return later complaining, 'There's a longer line there.'"
P.11 Yeltsin will "never again have to negotiate with Gorbachev, endure his windy lectures, put up with his criticisms, take lashings from his profane tongue. Gorbachev the charming and sophisticated world statesman can turn the air blue with his profanity. Yeltsin, the hard-drinking, backwoods Siberian, regarded as a buffoon by many in international circles, never uses swear words and intensely dislikes those who do."
P.18 "It was a society pervaded by cynicism. Many people joked that they pretended to work and the government pretended to pay them, and that the four most serious problems facing agriculture were spring, summer, autumn, and winter."

P.37 Yeltsin "joined lines at food stores to see for himself how people were treated. Unrecognized once in a meat shop, he ordered a cut of veal, knowing that a supply had just been delivered.
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Format: Hardcover
Clery tells the story of the demise of the Soviet Union by narrating the symbolic events of the day of Gorbachev's resignation and flashing back to the events of his turbulent 7 years in office.

The focus is on the complex relationship between Gorbachev and Yeltsin. Gorbachev's humiliation of Yeltsin in his public sacking in 1987 explains some of Yeltsin's bile toward Gorbachev. But Yeltsin comes off the worse in this narrative. Clery argues that Yeltsin is power hungry, and that if Yeltsin had been elevated to First Secretary in 1985 he would have been more like Chernenko -- holding onto power for dear life and thinking after-me-the-deluge. Clery also agrees with Gorbachev's criticism that Yeltsin and the other barons of the various socialist republics sacrificed the union for the short term gains of consolidating their own power.

While Yeltsin comes off as lacking in imagination, Gorbachev's flaws are also explored. He is far too fond of the perks of office and does not cultivate the affection and loyalty of those around him -- a serious deficit in a great leader. And while he has a vision of reforming an ossified bureaucratic state, it is Gorbachev, not Yeltsin, who failed to do the planning necessary to save some semblance of a federal union. Gorbachev seems remarkably clueless about how difficult it is to control the forces of reform once unleashed.

The story of the farcical coup of August 1991 is well told. These men lacked the will necessary to carry out such a venture. I'm not convinced that the demise of the Soviet Union was inevitable in 1991 -- it could have been saved by a strong leader able to marshal the resources of the military and oblivious to the costs in human life.
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