“Moscow, December 25, 1991 grips you from first to last. Hour by hour, minute by minute, we follow the movements of the two protagonists of this book, Mikhail Gorbachev and Boris Yeltsin one knowing his time is up, the other hungry to assume control of the new Russia—as they play out their final duel on the last day of the Soviet Union. Combining the analytical skills of the historian sifting through masses of data, and the doggedness of a reporter after a big story, O’Clery’s minutely researched and riveting history is likely to become the standard account of what happened on that momentous day.”
Current History, October 2011
“[Moscow, December 25, 1991] is up close and personal, a tightly focused narrative that captures vividly the personalities of the two men and the processes through which they came to their respective views…. A compelling narrative.”
The New Republic
"O'Clery shows how history can sometimes have a Tolstoyan quality of individual drama played out with consequence for millions."
History News Network
"In this lively, stimulating account of the unexpected collapse of the Soviet Union, Conor O'Clery offers a mini-John le Carre treatment of constant warfare inside the once-secret walls of the Kremlin."
Publishers Weekly, June 15, 2011
“Shrewd political history…. O’Clery presents a colorful human-scale saga, full of pathos and pettiness. (As Gorbachev was preparing his farewell address, Yeltsin sent minions to evict his family from their dacha.) But he also illuminates larger historical forces: the revival of nationalist politics in the breakaway Soviet republics; the desperate food shortages as the command economy lost its authority; the social enervation that left no one willing to defend the Soviet system by force. The result is a revealing portrait of one of history's greatest upheavals.”
Library Journal, June 15, 2011
“With a journalist’s flair for detail, O’Clery offers a well-researched look at the last day of the Soviet Union and provides a balanced portrait of the characters involved…. Academics and lay readers alike will find this book a revealing addition to the history of modern Russia, as well as an engrossing journalistic study of two of Russia’s most intriguing political leaders.”
Minneapolis Star-Tribune, August 20, 2011
“[A] gripping account of the Soviet Union's final day…. Here are the personalities, the drama, the betrayals, the bickering and maneuvering, the threats and entreaties behind an event that virtually no one in the West saw coming. Told with authority and narrative grace, O'Clery's book provides a keen understanding and unique perspective on what was one of the most important events in world history.”
Sunday Times (UK), August 21, 2011
“[A] superb account.”
Daily Mail (UK), August 21, 2011
"A clear and exciting account of these momentous times…. Crammed with fascinating and telling detail, it describes Mikhail Gorbachev’s final evening as President of the USSR, with a series of flashbacks to the events that led to the hauling down of the Red Flag from the Kremlin. It also explores and illuminates the bristling personal rivalry and loathing that crackled between Gorbachev and Boris Yeltsin. It is a marvelous read and would make an unmissable TV docu-drama.”
Independent (Ireland), August 27, 2011
Writing with a journalist's flair for detail, O'Clery (The Billionaire Who Wasn't), Moscow correspondent for the Irish Times during the breakup of the Soviet Union, here offers a well-researched look at the last day of the Soviet Union and provides a balanced portrait of the characters involved. He is careful to consider the myriad factors that affected President Mikhail Gorbachev and his successor, Boris Yeltsin, in their struggle to bring their conflicting views of the future of their country into reality, including how international opinion and support reinforced their respective mindsets. O'Clery keeps his lens trained on the interaction and rivalry between these two personalities and discusses how their conflicts directed their decision making and how their tumultuous relationship drew others into action. Rather than stopping at that fateful Christmas day in 1991—the dissolution of the Soviet Union—O'Clery also provides a succinct history of the major events afterward, tracing Russia's rocky conversion to a market economy and the reemergence of communist ideology in the period following Yeltsin's election that year. VERDICT Academics and lay readers alike will find this book a revealing addition to the history of modern Russia, as well as an engrossing journalistic study of two of Russia's most intriguing political leaders.—Elizabeth Zeitz, Otterbein Univ. Lib., Westerville, OH
Former Irish Times Moscow correspondent O'Clery (May You Live In Interesting Times,2008,etc.) chronicles the last of day of the Soviet Union and pulls together the threads which lead to its dissolution.
The author gives microscopic attention to the telling details: whose pen was used to sign documents, how CNN got to broadcast Gorbachev's speech and much more. Shaping the day, writes O'Clery, were the successive effects of the bitterness, resentments and grudges of the five-year rivalry between Gorbachev and Yeltsin. Nothing went as agreed, not even the ceremony designed to transfer the Russian nuclear suitcase containing the weapons' launch codes. The nuclear suitcase remained a constant, before and after, but so too were the petty rivalries that prompted Yeltsin to refuse to meet Gorbachev ever again because his final speech was an unacceptable insult. O'Clery presents Gorbachev as a kind of communist's communist to the end—a safe in his office contained Stalin's own file about the Katyn massacre and the Hitler-Stalin pact, even though Gorbachev had insisted these documents no longer existed. It was Yeltsin who helped win independence for Russia, got himself elected president against Gorbachev's candidate, outlawed the Communist party, took over its property and organized the break-up of the Soviet Union. However, Gorbachev managed to keep the support of his Western admirers up to and even beyond the attempted coup in 1991.
A compelling story about how sometimes the little everyday things can shape the broad sweep of history more powerfully than ideologies or competitive economic systems.