A Failed Empire

  • by Vladimir Zubok
  • Narrated by Nick Sullivan
  • 20 hrs and 19 mins
  • Unabridged Audiobook

Publisher's Summary

Western interpretations of the Cold War - both realist and neoconservative - have erred by exaggerating either the Kremlin's pragmatism or its aggressiveness, argues Vladislav Zubok. Explaining the interests, aspirations, illusions, fears, and misperceptions of the Kremlin leaders and Soviet elites, Zubok offers a Soviet perspective on the greatest standoff of the 20th century.


What the Critics Say

"Ranks as the new standard work on the Soviet Union's Cold War - for scholars and students alike.... An excellent combination of old and new, offering both a synthetic interpretation of Soviet foreign policy in the latter half of the twentieth century and fresh new material to reconceptualize the factors behind that policy.... An important book [and] a standout." (Journal of American History)


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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful

Focus on the Top Leadership

This is a history of the Cold War, largely from the perspective of the Kremlin. The author unapologetically emphasizes the effect of personality on the course of the Cold War. In fact, he argues that the personalities in the Kremlin were decisive. Unlike many historians, he thinks highly of Brezhnev and even Andropov. His evaluations of Kruschev and Gorbachev are mixed.

Zubok's scholarship and grasp of detail are impressive, and he makes good use of the new historical materials which have become available since the late 1990's. Personally, I suspect his analysis is completely off base. However, one of the virtues of the book is that Zubok gives the reader enough solid information to make a personal judgment possible.

The narration is a bit mechanical, but clear and well-paced. This may be because Zubok's writing could be described in almost the same words. This is solid, well-crafted political biography -- not really history in the broader sense. However, if, like me, you lived through many of those events and always wondered, "why did they do that? What were they thinking?" then this book will go a long way towards answering those questions.

If this seems contradictory, consider an example: Zubok explains almost nothing about the internal economic problems of the USSR. However, he thoroughly explores the Soviet leadership's deep ignorance of these issues and how that ignorance affected their decisions. He doesn't really explain the deep stagnation of the Soviet apparat, but is brilliant in explaining how this dead weight isolated the top leadership and constrained their thinking.
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- Augustus T. White

The view from the other side

This book covers the period from the end of World War II through the end of the Soviet Union as seen through the eyes of the Soviet leadership and, as such, it adds a great deal to a balanced view of what happened and why. While it may not be surprising that the Soviets viewed the causes of the crises that arose between the Soviet Union and the West differently it is sometimes surprising to find out exactly how they viewed these causes and what they saw as the possible solutions. This book is written by Vladimir Zubok who appears to have been a member of the Soviet government during part of the time covered by the book and his views and statements are backed up by Soviet archives. The book seemed to me to be facts, as seen from the other side, not just opinion.

In looking at the period from 1945 through 1991, when the Soviet Union dissolved, the book looks at the actions of each of the Soviet leaders – Stalin, Khrushchev, Brezhnev, Gorbachev and the others – and I found it interesting to find out what was on their minds, how and why they proceeded as they did and what others in the leadership thought of their actions.

I found the book to be slow going at first and I was unsure if I could actually finish it. However either I got used to the somewhat wooden narration or the book became more interesting after the first 3 or 4 hours. All of the book is interesting enough and I found that it changed my view of the causes of some of the events covered. In particular it became clear that the Soviet Union was falling apart in it's last decade and that had someone other than Mikhail Gorbachev been head of the Soviet State things might have ended quite differently.

While this book stands on it's own I found it helpful to have also read “Revolution 1989: The Fall of the Soviet Empire” as the two give a very good view of the last 10 years or so of the Soviet Union's existence. The feeling that the whole system was coming apart is clear in both books. The end of the Soviet Union was an enormous political event and this book does it's part in explaining what led up to and transpired during that event as seen from the Soviet side. As such I think it is helpful in understanding the late 20th century.

As I mentioned I think that the narration of this book is a bit wooden and uninspiring. It is not bad, it is just not very good. Still, I believe this book is a help in understanding what happened and, as such, I feel I can recommend it in spite of the narration.
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- Mike From Mesa

Book Details

  • Release Date: 03-22-2010
  • Publisher: Audible Studios