By the 1980s the Soviet Union had matched the United States in military might and far surpassed it in the production of steel, timber, concrete, and oil. But the electronic whirlwind that was transforming the global economy had been locked out by communist leaders. Heirs to an old Russian tradition of censorship, they had banned photocopiers, prohibited accurate maps, and controlled word-for-word even the scripts of stand-up comedians. In this compellingly readable firsthand account, filled with memorable characters, revealing vignettes, and striking statistics, Scott Shane tells the story of Mikhail Gorbachev's attempt to "renew socialism" by easing information controls. As newspapers, television, books, films, and videotapes flooded the country with information about the Stalinist past, the communist present, and life in the rest of the world, the Soviet system was driven to ruin. Shane's unique perspective also places one of the century's momentous events in larger context: the universal struggle of governments to keep information from the people, and the irresistible power of technology over history.
Shane's book is reportage at its bestóan insightful blend of anecdote, observation, biographical sketch, statistics, and history. This is a vivid, first-class eyewitness description and analysis of the sudden demise of Soviet communism.
A critical book to understanding the era...Scott Shane tells the story of the way the modern information age helped destroy the last pillars of communism, and he tells it with grace, sympathy, and intelligence.
Accessible and absorbing.
- Publisher's Weekly
What did the people know, and when did they know it? Probing these questions, Shane--who from 1988 spent 39 months as the Baltimore Sun 's Russian bureau chief--shows how information technology doomed the Bolshevik experiment. In a system that withheld even local street maps and phone books and distributed material to its apparatchiks only on a need-to-know basis, Gorbachev's loosening of information controls ultimately destroyed the government he set out to reform, stresses the author. Although the events he relates are familiar, Shane's perspective is fresh and instructive. In his discussion of economic reforms, for example, he relates the populace's anger over market-driven prices to the disinformation disseminated about subsidized costs in the former U.S.S.R. But it was the revelations of the extent of the Soviet terror, Shane argues, that returned historical memory to a people who had accepted lies as truth. The populace rejected Gorbachev's cost-benefit contention that collectivization, industrialization and military victory counterbalanced Stalinism. About the current chaos in Russia, Shane simply concludes that information told people of their predicament, but didn't solve it. (May)
The former Moscow correspondent of the Baltimore Sun looks at the role of information in bringing down the Soviet regime and finds that loosened restrictions on the press and the worldwide revolution in information technology probably had more to do with communism's downfall than the personalities of Gorbachev and Yeltsin. Rich in human interest details, his analysis shows how information control in the form of phony prices and statistics had so endangered the Soviet economy as to make even the KGB a proponent of glasnost--that is, until liberalization of the press led to an information explosion and fatally undermined the Communist myth. Shane covers the process in Soviet literature, film, music, TV, and even stand-up comedy, as well as journalism. Some key events, like Chernobyl, are missing, but otherwise this highly readable volume is exemplary for putting the story into a historical framework while skillfully conveying the drama of its unfolding. For Soviet studies and larger public international affairs collections.-- Robert Decker, Palo Alto, Cal.
Scott Shane was the Baltimore Sun’s Moscow correspondent from 1988 to 1991. A graduate of Williams College and Oxford University, he also studied at Leningrad State University. He is now a special project reporter for the Sun and lives in Baltimore.
Part 1 Introduction 3 Part 2 Before: Information Criminal 9 Part 3 Information Control and the Soviet Crisis 43 Part 4 What Price Socialism? An Economy Without Information 75 Part 5 The KGB, Father of Perestroika 99 Part 6 The Press and the Restoration of History 121 Part 7 Television and the Revival of Politics Part 8 A Normal Country: The Pop Culture Explosion 182 Part 9 Letting Go of the Leninist Faith 212 Part 10 After: The Coup-Proof Society 245 Part 11 Epilogue 276 Part 12 Acknowledgments 291 Part 13 Notes 293 Part 14 Index 305