In just two years, from 1989 to 1991, a major geopolitical edifice collapsed. This edifice was built on the ideological foundations of the Bolshevik Revolution of 1917 (whose centenary went almost unnoticed), consolidated by the evil genius of Josef Stalin, expanded through cynical deals between post-World War II powers, and held together by the iron hand of a rigid, centralised bureaucracy.
Mikhail Gorbachev, the principal destroyer of this edifice, is as admired in the West as he is reviled in his country. Awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1990, he was deposed as president of the USSR in 1991 and, when he stood for election as president of Russia in 1996, secured just 0.5 per cent of the popular vote.
In Gorbachev: His Life and Times, William Taubman, the biographer of an earlier Soviet leader, Nikita Krushchev, tracks Gorbachev’s remarkable progress up the greasy pole of Soviet politics, and his precipitous fall from it.
Born into a peasant family in 1931, Gorbachev won a state award as a boy...