A Failed Empire: The Soviet Union in the Cold War from Stalin to Gorbachev / Edition 2

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In this widely praised book, Vladislav Zubok argues that Western interpretations of the Cold War have erred by exaggerating either the Kremlin's pragmatism or its aggressiveness. 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 twentieth century. Using recently declassified Politburo records, ciphered telegrams, diaries, and taped conversations, among other sources, Zubok offers the first work in English to cover the entire Cold War from the Soviet side. A Failed Empire provides a history quite different from those written by the Western victors. In a new preface for this edition, the author adds to our understanding of today's events in Russia, including who the new players are and how their policies will affect the state of the world in the twenty-first century.

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
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

[A Failed Empire] draw[s] on abundant new primary sources to refine our understanding of the Cold War, turning it from a melodrama into a nuanced tragedy. . . . Rich in new information and fresh interpretation. Zubok reveals the full extent of Stalin's brutal post-World War II suppression of the Soviet People.—Washington Post Book World

A fascinating and truly insightful study of the rise and fall of the Soviet Union. . . . A valuable resource in understanding not only the history of the Soviet Union but the 20th century as a whole.—WHRW News

An excellent survey of Soviet foreign policy during the Cold War, one which draws on a wide range of memoirs, secondary literature, and the still-patchy archival record.—Russian Review

Impressive. . . . A standard work.—Osteuropa

From the Publisher
"This book is the best history we have of the Soviet side of the cold war. Far more than a survey, Zubok's analysis is based on cutting-edge historical scholarship. He makes use of the most recently available sources and brings to their interpretation an unusually sharp mind."
— William Taubman, Amherst College

"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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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780807859582
  • Publisher: The University of North Carolina Press
  • Publication date: 2/1/2009
  • Series: New Cold War History Series
  • Edition description: Paperback Edition
  • Edition number: 2
  • Pages: 504
  • Sales rank: 328,372
  • Product dimensions: 6.00 (w) x 9.20 (h) x 1.30 (d)

Meet the Author

Vladislav M. Zubok is associate professor of history at Temple University. He is coauthor of Anti-Americanism in Russia: From Stalin to Putin and Inside the Kremlin's Cold War: From Stalin to Khrushchev.

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Table of Contents


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Sort by: Showing all of 2 Customer Reviews
  • Posted November 1, 2012

    I Also Recommend:

    Well-researched study of the USSR from 1945-1991

    This well-researched and insightful work is a major study of the Soviet Union in the Cold War from 1945 to 1991. It is far better than Jonathan Haslam’s recent Russia’s cold war. Zubok presents Stalin’s brilliant analysis in September 1945 of the purposes behind the US proposal for a treaty to demilitarise Germany: “First, to divert our attention from the Far East, where Americans assume a role of tomorrow’s friend of Japan, and to create thereby a perception that everything is fine there; second, to receive from the USSR a formal sanction for the US playing the same role in European affairs as the USSR, so that the US may hereafter, in league with England, take the future of Europe into their hands; third, to devalue the treaties of alliance that the USSR have already reached with European states; fourth, to pull out the rug from any future treaties of alliance between the USSR and Rumania, Finland, etc.” Zubok assigns the blame for the start of the Cold War to Britain and the USA, noting that the British consul in Mashhad wrote that it was “above all, the efforts of Standard and Shell to secure oil-prospecting rights that changed the Russians in Persia from hot-war allies to cold-war rivals.” As Zubok points out, “Stalin left to the West the role of breaking the agreements of Yalta and Potsdam and starting a confrontation.” He observes, “every Soviet step towards creating units of military and secret police inside the zone was taken after the Western powers took their own decisive steps toward the separation of West Germany: Bizonia, the Marshall Plan, and the formation of West Germany.” He comments, “Land reforms in East Germany as well as elsewhere in Central Europe were a definite political success for the Soviets and their Communist appointees.” Zubok shows how Gorbachev’s policies destroyed Soviet finances and ran up huge foreign debts. Gorbachev’s failed anti-alcohol campaign cut state revenues by 15 billion rubles, contributing towards an 80 billion ruble gap between income and spending. He disorganised industrial production by a partial decentralisation. He wrecked Russia’s social services. Zubok comments, “The extensive social services of Soviet times, from free kindergartens to free health care and paid vacations, disappeared overnight.” He sums up, “the grave economic, financial, and state crisis began only between 1986 and 1988, and it kept growing worse because of Gorbachev’s choices and policies.” Zubok cites Michael Ellman and Vladimir Kontorovich: “the USSR was killed, against the wishes of its ruler, by politics, not economics.” As the Russians say nowadays, Stalin found a ruin and left it a superpower; Gorbachev found a superpower and left it a ruin.

    0 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted December 25, 2010

    Very interesting- the Soviet perspective on the Cold War

    Very comprehensive and methodical history of the USSR's Cold War history, from Stalin's conquest of Eastern Europe to the revolutions on 1989. The book is written by a Russian academic, based on Soviet records, and gives an "insider" account of Soviet events.

    I thought that the descriptions of Kruschev and Gorbachev and how their personalities drove their leadership styles and led to clashes and harmony, respectively, with the West were very interesting.

    The book, but from my perspective, having grown up during the Cold War, in reading it, it's all too easy to forget what drove the US during the Cold War: the USSR's denial of human rights and oppression of millions of Eastern Europeans. Just explaining "why" the USSR acted how it did does not make its behavior OK. Thank goodness for Ronald Reagan, who gets short shrift in the book.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
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