The New York Times
Yeltsin: A Lifeby Timothy J. Colton
Even after his death in April 2007, Boris Yeltsin remains the most controversial figure in recent Russian history. Although Mikhail Gorbachev presided over the decline of the Communist party and the withdrawal of Soviet control over eastern Europe, it was Yeltsin-Russia’s first elected president-who buried the Soviet Union itself. Upon taking office, Yeltsin
Even after his death in April 2007, Boris Yeltsin remains the most controversial figure in recent Russian history. Although Mikhail Gorbachev presided over the decline of the Communist party and the withdrawal of Soviet control over eastern Europe, it was Yeltsin-Russia’s first elected president-who buried the Soviet Union itself. Upon taking office, Yeltsin quickly embarked on a sweeping makeover of newly democratic Russia, beginning with a program of excruciatingly painful market reforms that earned him wide acclaim in the West and deep recrimination from many Russian citizens. In this, the first biography of Yeltsin’s entire life, Soviet scholar Timothy Colton traces Yeltsin’s development from a peasant boy in the Urals to a Communist party apparatchik, and then ultimately to a nemesis of the Soviet order. Based on unprecedented interviews with Yeltsin himself as well as scores of other Soviet officials, journalists, and businessmen, Colton explains how and why Yeltsin broke with single-party rule and launched his drive to replace it with democracy. Yeltsin’s colossal attempt to bring democracy to Russia remains one of the great, unfinished stories of our time. As anti-Western policies and rhetoric resurface in Putin’s increasingly bellicose Russia, Yeltsin offers essential insights into the past, present, and future of this vast and troubled nation.
The New York Times
When President Boris Yeltsin (1931-2007) left office in 1999, he was unpopular in Russia and viewed as a buffoon by some internationally, but it would be a mistake to underestimate his influence on contemporary Russia, Colton, director of Harvard's Davis Center for Russian and Eurasian Studies, argues in this balanced yet sympathetic portrayal. Unpretentious, patriotic and with a strong work ethic, says Colton, the provincial young man, whose father had spent time in the gulag, rose up the Soviet bureaucratic ladder. But apparently, in 1989, on a trip to the U.S., Yeltsin saw the benefits of capitalism and foresaw the pending Soviet collapse; Yeltsin's popularity among ordinary Russians served him well when he made his famous 1991 tank speech during the anti-Gorbachev coup. Colton agrees with most pundits that overwork and poor lifestyle habits eventually caught up with Yeltsin, forcing him to leave office in 1999; he named Vladimir Putin his successor. While praising Yeltsin's ability to keep Russia together and sow the seeds for later economic success, Colton criticizes his failure to establish constitutional safeguards that might have prevented Russia's recent turn toward authoritarianism. Colton's book offers a finely detailed portrait of a key international leader. (Apr.)Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.
In spite of his tremendous importance in the transformation of the former Soviet Union, few biographies in English trace the rise and fall of Boris Yeltsin. Colton (government & Russian studies, Harvard; Soldiers and the Soviet State) remedies that situation somewhat with this detailed study informed extensively by Russian-language primary documents and an interview with Yeltsin in person. Covered are Yeltsin's origins in the downtrodden kulak peasantry; his rise through the intricate networks of Soviet bureaucracy from provincial posts to leadership in Moscow; the political machinations behind his role in the upheavals that brought about the dissolution of the Soviet Union; and his eventual decline and death. The wealth of detail will either fascinate or daunt general readers depending on their level of interest in tracing byzantine maneuverings. Although Yeltsin the human being emerges sometimes in the foreground, this is chiefly a book about politics and political processes. It will be of lasting importance to serious readers and is highly recommended for academic as well as large public libraries.
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Meet the Author
Timothy J. Colton is Morris and Anna Feldberg Professor of Government and Russian Studies and Director of the Davis Center for Russian and Eurasian Studies at Harvard University. He lives in Wellesley, Massachusetts.
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Author has done a great job researching Yeltsin but has destroyed it with his writing style. He seems to want to impress the reader with his long, convoluted sentences, and he then embellishes his otherwise interesting content with words chosen to test the most sophisiticated vocabulary.