The breakup of the Soviet Union, the country that for decades was one of the key players in the world arena, today continues to fascinate, puzzle and provoke sharp debates among scholars, politicians and readers, interested in world history.
The tumultuous events of July – December of 1991 that lead up to the disintegration of the USSR, and their lasting impact on the world, we live in now, became the subject of The Last Empire. The Final Days of the Soviet Union by Serhii Plokhy, Mykhailo Hrushevsky Professor of Ukrainian History and Director of Ukrainian Research Institute of Harvard University (Basic Books; May 13, 2014; ISBN: 987-0-465-05696-5; $32.00).
"Plokhy's exhaustive reassessment of the dramatic incidents draws on recently declassified American documents, archives in the U.S. and Moscow, and personal interviews with many individuals in both the former Soviet states and the U.S who were directly involved in the historic events. Forging a more complex and potentially controversial interpretation of those events, he suggests that, despite what American policy makers or Gorbachev's advisers might have believed at the time, the end of the USSR occurred as much by chance as by design. Crucial to Plokhy's narrative is his argument that the Soviet Union was the world's last major empire. Hence, while the lost arm race, economic decline, democratic resurgence, and the bankruptcy of the communist ideals all contributed to the Soviet implosion, Plokhy reveals that the Union's imperial foundations, multiethnic composition, and pseudo-feudal structure were the root causes of its ultimate disintegration.
As for the role the Bush administration played in the unraveling events, Plokhy asserts that the U.S. policies contributed to the fall of the Soviet Union, but more often than not contrary to the intentions of the White House."
The Last Empire has already been praised as "a dour, authoritative look at the last bitter months of 1991" that preceded "the Soviet Union's collapse" (Kirkus Review). "This account is one of a rare breed: a well-balanced, unbiased book written on the fall of the Soviet Union that emphasizes expert research and analysis." (Publisher Weekly).
Timothy Colton, Professor of Government at Harvard University, calls the book " a masterful account of the end of the Soviet Union". According to Edward Lucas, senior editor of the Economist, it is a "gripping, vivid and incisive - [in other words,] essential reading for anyone wanting to counter modern Russian Myth-making about the Soviet collapse."
"In this highly original reanalysis, drawing on rarely used sources scattered from Texas to Ukraine, - writes Ian Morris, Professor of History at Stanford University, - Serhii Plokhy gives us a whole new perspective on the Fall of the Soviet Union."
And Anne Applebaum, Pulitzer Prize-winning author of Gulag: A History, calls S. Plokhy's latest book "indispensable": "At last, a definitive account of the breakup of the USSR: for the first time, Serhii Plokhy tells the story not just from the point of view of Moscow, and not from Washington, but also from Ukraine and the other republics where many of the most important decisions were actually made. If you don't understand what really happened in 1991, then you'll find it impossible to understand the politics of the region today."