Soviet Baby Boomers: An Oral History of Russia's Cold War Generation

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Donald Raleigh's Soviet Baby Boomers traces the collapse of the Soviet Union and the transformation of Russia into a modern, highly literate, urban society through the fascinating life stories of the country's first post-World War II, Cold War generation.

For this book, Raleigh has interviewed sixty 1967 graduates of two "magnet" secondary schools that offered intensive instruction in English, one in Moscow and one in provincial Saratov. Part of the generation that began school the year the country launched Sputnik into space, they grew up during the Cold War, but in a Soviet Union increasingly distanced from the excesses of Stalinism. In this post-Stalin era, the Soviet leadership dismantled the Gulag, ruled without terror, promoted consumerism, and began to open itself to an outside world still fearful of Communism. Raleigh is one of the first scholars of post-1945 Soviet history to draw extensively on oral history, a particularly useful approach in studying a country where the boundaries between public and private life remained porous and the state sought to peer into every corner of people's lives. During and after the dissolution of the USSR, Russian citizens began openly talking about their past, trying to make sense of it, and Raleigh has made the most of this new forthrightness. He has created an extraordinarily rich composite narrative and embedded it in larger historical narratives of Cold War, de-Stalinization, "overtaking" America, opening up to the outside world, economic stagnation, dissent, emigration, the transition to a market economy, the transformation of class, ethnic, and gender relations, and globalization.

Including rare photographs of daily life in Cold War Russia, Soviet Baby Boomers offers an intimate portrait of a generation that has remained largely faceless until now.

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Editorial Reviews

Library Journal
Raleigh (history, Univ. of North Carolina; Russia's Sputnik Generation) surveys the last decades of the Soviet Union from the perspectives of members of its Baby Boomer generation. He traces how this generation's upbringing—including social, educational, gender issues, religious identity, and life experiences—defined them and prepared them for the postcommunist era. What sets Raleigh's work apart is his use of oral histories (as in his Russia's Sputnik Generation) intertwined with his historical exposition and analysis. He interviewed 60 people (not from the previous book), some from Moscow and some from Saratov, a southern manufacturing city that was "closed" to foreigners. Raleigh is careful to acknowledge that his generalizing from memories can be dangerous without a greater historical framework and addresses how differing memories of the same event highlight the social complexities that defined this generation. VERDICT Raleigh brings the last decades of the Soviet Union to life through the words of those who were defined by and helped to define the era. Academics will appreciate the myriad insights his oral histories provide.—Elizabeth Zeitz, Otterbein Univ. Lib., Westerville, OH
From the Publisher
"A landmark... [Raleigh] has created a sophisticated and nuanced cultural history. His book, eschewing cliche about the necessary and inevitable stasis of Russian society or its long-term yen for authoritarianism, at the same time puts forward thought-provoking, and at times unexpected, material about the lasting and deep impact of the late Soviet era on the present day." —English Historical Review

"[A] unique, revealing oral history of the Cold War generation...This well-crafted book is required reading for anyone interested in understanding changing Soviet attitudes during the ear of late socialism...Essential." —CHOICE

"This book is a collective biography that will fascinate its subjects' grandchildren, to whom the world it depicts will seem like a distant planet." —Foreign Affairs

"What was it like to grow up under Communism and to live through and beyond its collapse? Soviet baby boomers tell their illuminating stories to an American historian of their country in this valuable book. Both Russia specialists and general readers will find it fascinating." —William Taubman, Pulitzer Prize-winning author of Khrushchev: The Man and His Era

"Donald Raleigh's book creates a fascinating portrait of an elite group within the last true Soviet generation. Born after Stalin's great war, these people saw the best the Soviet system could provide and they witnessed its fall. Their story is a poignant but surprising one, a glimpse into another world, and Raleigh tells it with humanity and admirable tact. An authentic and perceptive oral history whose warmth and color make this work a model of its kind." —Catherine Merridale, author of Night of Stone: Death and Memory in Twentieth-Century Russia

"The book offers a valuable, and rare, comparative perspective by putting together respondents from the capital and 'closed' city. Their stories highlight many momentous differences in Soviet life experience that were determined by geographic location... This is a hugely valuable set of personal windows on grand - and less grand - historical events. It shows us how highly educated urbanites from a particular generation remember their country's passage from Stalinism to its version of capitalism. As Raleigh keenly observes, this tells us much about Russia today." —The Russian Review

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780199744343
  • Publisher: Oxford University Press
  • Publication date: 11/18/2011
  • Series: Oxford Oral History Series
  • Pages: 432
  • Product dimensions: 6.38 (w) x 9.60 (h) x 1.12 (d)

Meet the Author

Donald J. Raleigh is Jay Richard Judson Distinguished Professor of History, University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill. He is the author of Revolution on the Volga, Experiencing Russia's Civil War, and Russia's Sputnik Generation.

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Table of Contents

Introduction Chapter 1: The Real Nuclear Threat: Soviet Families in Transition Chapter 2: Overtaking America in School: Educating the Builders of Communism Chapter 3: "Unconscious Agents of Change": Soviet Childhood Creates the Cynical Generation Chapter 4: The Baby Boomers Come of Age Chapter 5: Living Soviet during the Brezhnev-Era Stagnation Chapter 6: "But then everything fell apart": Gorbachev Remakes the Soviet Dream Chapter 7: Surviving Russia's Great Depression Conclusion: "It's they who have always held Russia together"

Notes Appendix Bibliography

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Sort by: Showing all of 5 Customer Reviews
  • Anonymous

    Posted December 6, 2011



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  • Anonymous

    Posted December 6, 2011

    very good!

    very good!

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  • Anonymous

    Posted December 6, 2011

    good book!

    love it

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  • Posted December 5, 2011

    Unique, well researched, well written!

    As one of the "Soviet baby-boomers" interviewed by the author, I¿d been dying to see the book in print. The result of this fascinating project exceeded my expectations. For me, as it is, I¿m sure, for my former classmates, it is a nostalgic trip down memory lane. For an outsider it will be an eye opener. I¿ve lived and worked in the United States for over twenty years and I know from experience that the Americans¿ view of the Soviet Union is still, by and large, incomplete, at best, or distorted, at worst. Since the end of the Cold War, there appeared quite a few informative publications about the country: its economy, culture, politics, etc. But there was (until now!) a virtual vacuum of accurate information about its people. What makes this book unique is that, drawing from the conversations with numerous Soviet baby boomers, a generation born after a devastating war, it provides a rare insight into their lives, their values and aspirations. It might come as a huge surprise to some Western readers that those were formed not only by the values instilled in them by the country they were born and lived in but also by the Western world that seemingly they were shut off from by the Iron Curtain. Why and how they had access to that world, especially during the tumultuous 60¿s, why they enthusiastically and wholeheartedly supported Gorbachev¿s ¿perestroika¿ in the 80¿s is one of the most intriguing, in my view, parts of this amazing book. American baby-boomers are in for a follow-up surprise: despite the differences, they and their Soviet counterparts have a great deal in common. A realization that, I believe, is vital in the world we live in, the world of today and tomorrow.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted December 5, 2011

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