Based on material that has been available only since 1991, this book tells a story no less surprising than that told in a preceding book by the same author, on the history of the USSR from Lenin to Stalin. But this story is also very different. The final, dark years of the Stalin era, characterized by famines and repression, were followed by a period of wide-ranging and unexpected reforms culminating in Khrushchevs critical speech at the 20th party congress in 1956. The Soviet Union experiences its best years then, although the regime became even more totalitarian, albeit less violent, than in Stalins time. The apparent stability concealed a decline involving the spread of alcoholism, technological backwardness, and marginalization of significant segments of the population. International triumphs relating to decolonization, wealth flowing from oil resources, and Western defeats allowed the system to fool itself into thinking that it had won the cold war in 1975. And then, shortly thereafter, everything was turned upside down and an exceptional process of change led to the events of 1989-1991. The Soviet Union equipped with massive armed forces and thousands of nuclear warheads peacefully abandoned its domains and announced its dissolution on television, its leader invoking the values of democracy and humanism.
Andrea Graziosi teaches Contemporary History at the Federico II University of Naples and is president of the Italian Society for the Study of Contemporary History.