Gorbachev lived then, as now, in a dual reality — admired and feted in Washington, London and Berlin, reviled and ostracized in Moscow, St. Petersburg and Vladivostok. William Taubman grapples with this dichotomy in his masterly new biography, Gorbachev: His Life and Times, which will surely stand as the definitive English-language chronicle of this most intriguing figure for many years to come. Taubman, whose brilliant 2003 biography of Nikita S. Khrushchev won the Pulitzer Prize, delivers another richly layered portrait of a Russian leader determined to reform a thoroughly corrupt and dysfunctional society, only to be swept away by forces he could not control ... What emerges is the portrait of a leader who is vain, impatient and at times petulant, but also wise and thoughtful, a complicated man for a complicated time.
...[an] extraordinary new biography ... His admiration and even affection for Mikhail Gorbachev, last leader of the Soviet Union, are clear. That might call into question the impartiality of a lesser biographer. But Taubman makes a convincing case that Gorbachev's profound 'decency' — the word appears throughout the book — is fundamental to understanding him ... It's a big book and the subject is Russia, enough to intimidate many readers. Taubman understands this. One of his gifts is an 11-page 'Cast of Characters,' listing all those inscrutable Russian names with a brief explanation of who is who. And though Taubman is an accomplished scholar, his book is anything but a solemn academic tome. It's gripping.
Taubman offers hard-won glimpses into the heart of a dreamer sharing a body with the mind of a cagey political operative. With insights comparable to those that won the Pulitzer Prize for his biography of Khrushchev, Taubman here limns the difficulties Gorbachev confronted as he pursued perestroika and glasnost against resistance from hard-liners ready to drive him from office (perhaps into prison), even as liberal activists censured him for stalling. Though Gorbachev reshaped the world, Taubman does not ignore the Soviet leader’s ultimate failure as the liberalization process slipped out of his control and finally broke down in ways since exploited by the reactionary Vladimir Putin. Despite Putin’s retrenchment, Taubman still recognizes in Gorbachev one of the modern era’s greatest benefactors. A masterful portrait, convincing and complete.