Russia's Revolution: Essays, 1989-2006, Leon Aron. Washington, DC: American Enterprise Institute Press, 2007. 374 pp. $25.00.
Although a number of books revisiting the late Soviet period and the first decade of the post-Communist era have been published in the last two years, Leon Aron's Russia's Revolution: Essays, 1989-2006 is by far the most intimate and compelling of these. In Aron's amply cited and well-researched book, the author considers the customary topics of post-Communist political, economic, and institutional reform, while also offering the reader enthralling excursions into less-traveled locales--for example, the newly restored and reinvigorated Russian literary and culinary landscapes. Throughout, Aron reveals the enormity of change that has occurred in post-Communist Russia and, while recognizing fully the setbacks wrought by an expanding authoritarianism under Putin, urges the reader to look past the pockmarked trajectory of late and witness the unquestionable advances that separate today's Russia from the recent Soviet past.
Of the twenty-one essays included in the volume, among the best are those depicting the revolutionary, failed reforms of Gorbachev, the closing days of the Soviet Union, and the enormity of the challenge facing Russia's first elected leader. The chapter on glasnost eloquently demonstrates how truly groundbreaking and far-reaching Gorbachev's opening policy salvo was. Additional essays covering the Gorbachev era introduce the reader to many of the icons of this brief revolutionary period, while also highlighting the role of certain serendipitous events that may have altered appreciably the course of reform during this era. In Russia's Revolution Aron also reveals how exceptionally out of touch Gorbachev was with political realities in the waning weeks and months of the Soviet Union. The essays on Boris Yeltsin and his eight-year reign, while calling attention to some of the president's more harmful personality traits and second-term lapses, also illustrate how singularly bold, determined, and essential he was at this point in Russia's history.
Moreover, those looking for an in-depth discussion of post-Communist institutional, political, and economic reforms will not be disappointed. Aron devotes more than half of the book to these concerns, documenting along the way both how the post-Soviet transformation diverged from the Western experience and the truly momentous nature of the hoped-for transition to a capitalist democracy. The author also treats the Western reader to an often-unobserved side of the "new Russia" by including essays on Russia's scintillating literary renaissance, the material and moral yearnings of the growing middle class, and a delectable discourse on Russia's traditional and nouveau cuisines. …