CRF Blog

How Mikhail Gorbachev ended the cold war

by David De La Torre

In How Mikhail Gorbachev ended the cold war, The Economist reviews Gorbachev: His Life and Times by William Taubman.

Ever since the end of the Soviet Union, the question of “why” has lingered in Western, Russian and Chinese minds. Why did a man at the head of a superpower undermine his own authority? Did he simply fail to understand the consequences of his actions, or did he act out of courage and vision? How did Mr Gorbachev, the peasant boy turned Communist Party boss in a fedora, become the statesman who liberated his people from 70 years of lies and fear, end the cold war and bury the Soviet Union? Was he a product of the Soviet system, as he claimed, or its “genetic error”, as Andrei Grachev, an earlier biographer described him? What made Gorbachev Gorbachev?

These are the questions William Taubman, an American political scientist, sets out to answer in his comprehensive and immensely readable account of Mr Gorbachev’s life. “Gorbachev is hard to understand,” the former Soviet leader told Mr Taubman, speaking of himself in the third person. The author applies a Tolstoyan lens to Russia’s recent history and displays particular sensitivity in his assessment of a life that would prove richer than politics. [more]

For a related free classroom lesson, see “The Cold War: How Did It Start? How Did It End?”  It is available from  CRF’s Bill of Rights in Action Archive. It is currently only in PDF and you will have to register (if you haven’t already), which is free.