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Gorbachev: His Life and Times

4.24  ·  Rating details ·  597 ratings  ·  129 reviews
The definitive biography of the transformational world leader by the Pulitzer Prize–winning author of Khrushchev.
When Mikhail Gorbachev became the leader of the Soviet Union in 1985, the USSR was one of the world’s two superpowers. By 1989 he had transformed Soviet Communism. By 1990 he, more than anyone else, had ended the Cold War, and in December 1991 he unintentionally
Hardcover, 880 pages
Published September 5th 2017 by W. W. Norton & Company
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Mikey B.
This is an authoritative biography of a man who changed the course of history towards the end of the 20th century.

It gave me a much greater understanding of who Gorbachev is and how he managed to change the contours of his country. For anyone who does not believe that people can alter the course of world events this biography surely disproves that.

He was born in 1931 in the Stalinist Soviet Union, came of age during the Khrushchev era, and became a bureaucratic apparatchik during the reign of Br
Carol Douglas
Nov 20, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Mikhail Gorbachev is an extraordinary man, and this is an extraordinary book.

Gorbachev is in a sense too good for his times and his country. A man who grew up on a farm during the starving time of the German invasion of Russia, he became an excellent student and a leader when the war ended and he was able to go to school. He believed in Communism, but he loved to sing and act. He was able to attend Moscow State University, Russia's Harvard, where he met his adored wife and life companion, Raisa
Dec 26, 2017 rated it it was amazing
William Taubman has written an excellent biography of Mikhail Gorbachev (1931- ). Taubman describes how MG went from the son of a peasant from a remote province to the leader of the Soviet Union.

The first third of the book is about MG’s early years. The next part of the book reveals his rise to power. Taubman reports that gradually MG saw that use of force had solved nothing. MG began to question the massive-over centralization of the Soviet system. In 1983 on a trip to Canada he discussed with
victor harris
Nov 03, 2017 rated it it was amazing
To understand the collapse of the Soviet Union, one must understand Gorbachev (at least to what extent he can be understood), and this magnificent biography makes great strides toward achieving that. To survive the political in-fighting so common in Soviet circles was an achievement itself for the rural-born future leader of the Soviet Union, to move the country in a new direction (Perestroika/Glasnost) despite resistance from the hard-liners and widespread skepticism was monumental. Tragically, ...more
Jonathan Brown
Nov 03, 2017 rated it really liked it
An excellent biography of Gorbachev. Especially clear and vivid in the earliest chapters; after his political career begins, it easily meanders into the morass of bureaucracy, which Taubman does not quite sufficiently untangle for the reader. Even so, with so much experience in interviewing Gorbachev and his associates, Taubman has produced a very high-quality book - sympathetic, but without glossing over Gorbachev's missteps; attentive to the logic and experiences that drove his decisions; and ...more
Sep 27, 2017 rated it really liked it
This is a fascinating story of an extremely interesting man. I remember Gorbachev's leadership of the USSR in the late 80's and early 90's, but this book provides lots of insights that I hadn't previously been aware of. Taubman quotes Gorbachev himself as saying that he's not easy to understand -- he led his country through confusing times and often behaved in contradictory ways. This book made me realize that the situation during the final years of the USSR was confusing and perhaps scary even ...more
What a fantastic biography! It doesn't seem likely that anyone will be able to top this, given that Taubman interviewed Gorbachev so many times, and the subject is now 86. A very good companion volume, also, to Odd Arne Westad's The Cold War that just came out. There are many touching moments describing Raisa that very much humanize him. Most interesting in the present is his relationship with Vladimir Putin.
Antonio Nunez
Dec 14, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Taubman’s biography of Mikhail Sergeievitch Gorbachev is up to the very high standards he set in his life of Kruschev, which won him a Pulitzer Prize. He has me convinced that the two most significant statesmen of the latter twentieth century were Deng Xiao Ping and Gorbachev. Both faced similar situations. Both had to lead a great or world power that struggled to overcome stagnation due to the poisoned inheritance of totalitarianism. Deng chose to liberalize the economy rather than the politics ...more
Aafke Romeijn
Sep 04, 2019 rated it really liked it
Very well researched biography that gives a nuanced insight into Russian politics and Gorbachevs character. It's very heavy on the political, so only read it when you're a politics nerd like me. Then it's very entertaining to read about private conversations between Gorbachev and other world leaders (Reagan, Thatcher, Bush sr.). The book tries to make sense of the very conflicted reputations Gorbachev had: the liberator of the totalitarian Soviet Union in the eyes of the West, and the destroyer ...more
Stefan Bjelosevic
A remarkable account of the life of one of the greatest statesmen of the 20th century. A truly mammoth work, but one that in incredible detail outlines the story of Gorbachev’s youth, rise up the Communist Party apparatus, and subsequent leadership of the Soviet Union. An extremely enjoyable read, and one of the best (if not THE best) biographies I have ever read.
Don Heiman
Sep 24, 2017 rated it it was amazing
In 2017, William Taubman, published his book "Gorbachev: His Life and Times" in 2017. He spent 11 years writing this exceptional book. Gorbachev was a renown visionary and remarkable architect of social democratic reform. He influenced the principles for modern world order and economic advancement. Taubman's research is comprehensive and his writing engaging. I consider this book a treasure in my collection of biographies. Taubman is a Pulitizer Prize winner for his biography about Khrushchev. ( ...more
Mar 16, 2018 rated it it was amazing
I’ve always been interested in Gorbachev. In the summer of 1990 a plane I was on circled San Francisco’s airport in order to allow Gorbachev's plane to land (maybe multiple planes since Taubman talked about the number of people and planes that often accompanied him). My flight had been from Seattle and before that from Copenhagen. I was tired and I think the occasion was another trade show, but the news that Gorbachev was in the same city inspired me if none of my colleagues. So I walked alone t ...more
Feb 03, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Gorbachev is an extraordinary man, and William Taubman bestowed total justice upon him in this biography and very clearly dedicated himself to doing this thoroughly, with detail, in a sweeping tale. Armed with my low to non-existent knowledge of the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe / North Asia in general, my aim was to learn more a prominent key figure in their history and branch out from there. Reflective of my usual process with non-fiction, I like to take something large and use colored flags ...more
Nov 24, 2018 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: taubman
finished this one the 24th of november 2018, good read, three stars i liked it. western powers, mainly the u.s.a.'s treatment of the u.s.s.r. as it was undergoing change reminds me a bit of the way germany was treated after the first world war...and we know how that worked out. i'd hazard that things, life, was more difficult in the soviet union than i knew. more than amazing what gorbachev was able to accomplish...too, his mistakes are evident...some things are left unexplainable. and it's funn ...more
Carolyn Harris
Jun 18, 2018 rated it it was amazing
The definitive biography of Gorbachev, informed by extensive research and interviews. The subject of the book warned the author at the beginning that "Gorbachev is complicated" and Taubman unravels this complexity by placing Gorbachev within the context of his times. The influence of his parents and grandparents and how their experiences countered the prevailing soviet cultural narrative is especially well presented. Taubman also provides an excellent account of Gorbachev's marriage. Raisa Gorba ...more
Richard Durrans
Oct 29, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Covers a amazing part of world history...the end of the USSR, the Communist party monopoly and the end of the cold war. At the centre of this was a remarkable individual Gorbachev. At the end of this bio you really believe you know him. Perhaps his most remarkable achievement is that all this happened without war and violence. This book is also a bit of a love story ...he adored his wife raisa and she adored him..they used to take long walks together every day. glasnost happened quicker than the ...more
Apr 30, 2020 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I think these words from the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle are fitting: "Then it happened that King Æthelred died before the ships arrived. He ended his days on St George’s Day, and he had held his kingdom with great toil and difficulties as long as his life lasted"

Obviously, Mikhail Gorbachev did not die in office. But he did preside over the end of the Cold War and even the entire USSR, for which he is reviled in Russia and lauded in the West. Certainly he wasn’t ready for the forces he unleashed with
Rod Zemke
Jan 20, 2018 rated it it was amazing
It is a long book--850 pages. However, if you want to know the history of Gorbachev in the USSR and later Russia, it needs to be a long book. If you take the time to read this book you will be rewarded as you will understand how Gorbachev rose to power (you should come away with the serendipity of the rise of any political figure to power). A real plus for the author was that he had the cooperation of Gorbachev is writing this definitive biography.
Ann Kostenko
Feb 18, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Very well written biography of the last USSR leader. I remember seeing him on TV, remember August Coup.I remember fear of my parents as they did not know what to expect.The book explained and reminded me a lot of what happened during 1985-1991. Highly recommended to those who interested in history of the last years of ussr.
Max Levin
Oct 27, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I learned a lot, and it focused on the parts of his life that I wanted to know more about.
Nov 30, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I learned a lot, and it focused on the parts of his life that I wanted to know more about.
Tommie Whitener
Oct 17, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Magisterial and comprehensive, maybe, for the generalist, too much so. A wonderful book, indeed, but I could have done without at least a few of the facts and names.
It's somehow encouraging to know that just last week Gorbachev published a piece in the NY Times. Although, he was decrying the present state of Russian-American relations, it felt good to learn that the 86-year old reformer's mind is still sound.
Jay Gabler
Jul 24, 2018 rated it it was amazing
An incredibly readable and insightful chronicle of a man the author describes as a "tragic hero." Surprisingly moving, and an essential read in the wake of recent U.S.-Russian developments.
Sue Pit
Feb 07, 2020 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
In an authoritarian regime, comes an idealistic and intelligent man who rises in power from humble origins and amazingly brings greater transparency and greater human freedom to a large and tightly ruled but ailing country, and the significant results thereof. This book details the humanity of Gorbachev, who effected his desire to better the USSR, seemingly against all odds, but with unexpected monumental effect, and how these changes unleashed strong forces that in effect turned against him. An ...more
Kevin Tole
Taubman wrote THE biography on Krushchev working from less material than was available here and he is the annointed champion of political biographers. Put that together with perhaps the major statesman of the 20th century and it should be a cracking book. And indeed it is. This is no hagiography or woeful bemoaning of the fate of the Soviet Union. In fact, Taubman manages to keep his personal politics, and to a great extent his own views, out of it. This is a careful delineation from background, ...more
Jan 21, 2018 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition

Dum spiro spero.

“Gorbachev was a visionary who changed his country and the world-though neither as much as he wished. Few, if any, political leaders have not only a vision but also the will and ability to bring it fully to life. To fall short of that, as Gorbachev did, is not to fail.”

So says Taubman, when opening up his concluding thoughts and feelings on the man. Born in the village of Privolnoe in 1931, under the tyrannical shadow of Stalin’s harsh dictatorship, Gorbachev certainly didn’t hav
Travis Wood
Jan 19, 2019 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
"he was a tragic hero who deserves our understanding and admiration".
Thomas Terence
Apr 27, 2020 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
William Taubman has written a great book about one of the most important people of the late 20th century. Gorbachev is a fascinating and yet puzzling person.
Timothy Dymond
Oct 20, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I commemorated the 100th anniversary of the 1917 Bolshevik revolution by reading the new biography of the man who wound it all up, and saved the world from the last Cold War: Mikhail Gorbachev. Biographer William Taubman makes a brief nod to my favourite Cold War theory, that it was actually ended by Nancy Reagan’s Astrologer. However he also recalls and successfully evokes a time when the world breathed a palpable sense of relief that the superpower leaders were both meeting, and getting along! ...more
Mirek Jasinski
Aug 14, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: russia, biography
It took me some 10 months to read this biography. Not because it was boring, or difficult - it wasn't. Very well researched and written. It was a good read.

It took me so long because it inspired me to rethink the recent political history of Eastern Europe. Just pause and think - how different the political situation would have been today if Western leaders had extended economic help to Russia in the nineties and if they had invited Russia to join NATO?
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30 likes · 21 comments
“They had to pay taxes on fruit trees whether or not they bore fruit, Gorbachev remembered, “so peasants cut down their orchards.” 2 likes
“Moscow State University.”4 MGU was to the USSR what Harvard is to the United States—except that in the Soviet Union there was almost nothing else, no Yale, Princeton, or Stanford, no Ivy League, no equally distinguished state universities, no elite liberal arts colleges. Moscow the city was itself unique:” 1 likes
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