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The Return: Russia's Journey from Gorbachev to Medvedev

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Overview

In this critically acclaimed book, now available in paperback, noted scholar Daniel Treisman offers a refreshing and exhaustively reported look at the political, economic, and cultural changes in Russia, with an in-depth examination of the modern state and its role in global affairs.

Almost twenty-five years after Mikhail Gorbachev began radically reshaping his country, Russia has changed beyond recognition. In his third book on this subject, Professor Daniel Treisman takes stock of the country that has emerged from the debris of Soviet communism and addresses the questions that preoccupy scholars of its history and politics: Why did the Soviet Union disintegrate? Could its collapse have been avoided? Did Yeltsin destroy too much or too little of the Soviet political order? What explains Putin’s unprecedented popularity with the Russian public?

Based on two decades of research and his own experiences in the country, Treisman cuts through the scholarly and journalistic debates to provide a portrait of a country returning to the international community on its own terms. At a time when global politics are more important than ever, The Return illuminates the inner workings of a country that has increasingly come to influence, and which will continue to shape, American foreign policy and world events.

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
UCLA professor Treisman (Without a Map) explores the path of postcommunist Russia in this engrossing study. While Gorbachev transformed his country through nuclear disarmament, glasnost, and perestroika and allowed the Berlin Wall to come down, and Yeltsin introduced Russians to competitive elections, a democratic constitution, and (putative) freedom of the press, it is the autocratic Putin--a former KGB agent who rolled back some of his predecessors' reforms--who remains popular even in his current role as prime minister to President Dmitri Medvedev. Drawing on two decades of research, Treisman analyzes the paradoxes in Russian politics and society, illuminating why the disintegration of the U.S.S.R. wasn't more violent, the repercussions of the Chechen wars, the "sacred place" vodka holds in the Russian imagination (and its pernicious effect on Russia's demographics), and how, 20 years after the fall of communism, relations between Russia and the U.S. remain so frosty. Yet as Treisman convincingly argues, most of the world's international problems--nuclear proliferation, Islamic terrorism, global warming--will be difficult to solve without Russia's help. (Jan.)
Library Journal
Treisman (political science, Univ. of California, Los Angeles; After the Deluge: Regional Crises and Political Consolidation in Russia) looks back over the 25 years since Mikhail Gorbachev began his attempts to reform the Soviet Union's political system. Ironically, Gorbachev's goal was to preserve the existing order, not to subvert it, but in the end he turned the country away from its Communist path and returned it to a Western European economy. Treisman provides a carefully detailed account of the events, personal interactions, and crucial decisions that created such a monumental shift, but his main concern is the why of the change. He discusses such factors as the glaring lack of consumer goods, growth of public opinion polling, increasing resignations from Communist Party membership, ethnic nationalism in non-Slavic regions (especially the war in Chechnya), and wide swings in the price of oil, a chief export. The combination of these shifting forces was ultimately beyond the control of the principal actors. Treisman assigns no blame, merely discussing which factors were important when. VERDICT Readers wanting a well-researched, thoughtful study of this significant shift in world strategic leadership will find that this book suits their needs.—Marcia L. Sprules, Council on Foreign Relations Lib., New York
Kirkus Reviews

A crisp, unromantic overview of the rocky Russian journey to join the world markets.

From the first thaw in Communism in the late 1980s to the rebounded technocracy under the current president, Treisman (Political Science/UCLA; The Architecture of Government, 2007, etc.) walks us through the stages of turbulent recent history, keeping a keen eye to Russia as an emerging economy and avoiding the pitfalls of Russia's "darkness" or "mysticism." The author proceeds chronologically, dissecting each of the last four administrations and their failure or success in managing the economy and instilling democratic reforms. Treisman then dwells on the causes of the meltdown in 1991, the destabilizing ethnic splintering and the recent financial crisis and recovery. His analysis of the four leaders is particularly astute and enjoyable: Gorbachev, "the captain," who first proposed the notion of a nuclear-free world, galvanized the people wildly with his "new thinking," and even neutralized the military, but was ultimately thwarted by the crumbling faith in the Communist system and the ensuing economic crisis; Yeltsin, "the natural," who unleashed democratic forces yet no real reform or dismantling of the pernicious security system and who started a disastrous war in Chechnya and chose a successor (Putin) who would "roll back" the freedoms he tried to instigate; the "accidental president," Putin, a former KGB officer who whipped the economy into shape and imposed order with the misuse of centralized power and censorship; and the mild-mannered Medvedev, "the understudy," who has stuck to Putin's script and has yet to "rise to the occasion and grasp his moment in the limelight." In the chapter titled "The Logic of Politics," Treisman systematically sifts through the causes of Russia's fairly nonviolent transformation, considering its autocratic history, and "The Mountains" offers a detailed look at the independent ethnic regions of the Caucasus and Russia's devastating determination to quell their rebellious spirit.

A tight, modern and relevant study of the "Russia that has returned." For a more personal look at the upheaval of the '90s, see Susan Richards's Lost and Found in Russia (2010).

From the Publisher
"A crisp, unromantic overview of the rocky Russian journey to join the world markets....A tight, modern, and relevant study of the 'Russia that has returned.'"—Kirkus Reviews

“The comprehensiveness and clarity of The Return make it a valuable resource for anyone trying to make sense of the puzzle that is Russia.”—Dallas Morning News

"Treisman explores the path of postcommunist Russia in this engrossing study."—Publishers Weekly

“This excellent book provides both an elegant and comprehensive account of Russia’s turbulent history over the last quarter century and penetrating and sometimes surprising analyses of the main political and economic issues that that history raises.”

—Michael Mandelbaum, author, The Frugal Superpower: America’s Global Leadership in a Cash-Strapped Era

“Daniel Treisman treats us to an elegant and learned history that demystifies Russia’s transformation from a communist state to a normal country. This is the best and most readable account of Russia’s rebirth.”

—Anders Åslund, Senior Fellow, Peterson Institute for International Economics

“Daniel Treisman has written a book about Russia today that is calm, sane, judicious, very well informed, and written in the kind of prose that makes you want to read on. It is a welcome and necessary antidote to much fashionable Western writing that portrays Russia as a kleptocracy ruled by a secret policeman intent on victory in a new Cold War…. Russia has certainly returned. Whether we like it or not we are likely, if we want to achieve our own objectives, to find ourselves having to treat the Russians with the respect they believe they deserve, and can increasingly command.”

—Rodric Braithwaite, former UK ambassador to the Soviet Union and Russia, author of Across the Moscow River: The World Turned Upside Down and Moscow 1941: A City and Its People at War

“Possessing both deft storytelling abilities and deep scholarly knowledge, Treisman provides a truly masterful exposition of the tumultuous past two decades in Russian history, politics, and society. Anyone interested in Russia and its leaders should read this book.”

—James Goldgeier, George Washington University

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781416560715
  • Publisher: Free Press
  • Publication date: 1/4/2011
  • Pages: 523
  • Product dimensions: 6.38 (w) x 9.22 (h) x 1.62 (d)

Meet the Author

Daniel Treisman is a professor of political science at the University of California, Los Angeles, and a leading specialist on post-communist Russia’s politics and economics. A recipient of fellowships from the John Simon Guggenheim Foundation, the German Marshall Fund of the United States, and the Hoover Institution, he is the author of two previous acclaimed books on Russia. He lives with his family in Malibu, California.

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