Moscow, December 25, 1991
Moscow, December 25, 1991
The Last Day of the Soviet Union
PublicAffairs, Hardcover, 9781586487966, 352pp.
Publication Date: August 23, 2011
The implosion of the Soviet Union was the culmination of a gripping game played out between two men who intensely disliked each other and had different concepts for the future. Mikhail Gorbachev, a sophisticated and urbane reformer, sought to modernize and preserve the USSR; Boris Yeltsin, a coarse and a hard drinking bulldozer,” wished to destroy the union and create a capitalist Russia. The defeat of the August 1991 coup attempt, carried out by hardline communists, shook Gorbachev’s authority and was a triumph for Yeltsin. But it took four months of intrigue and double-dealing before the Soviet Union collapsed and the day arrived when Yeltsin could hustle Gorbachev out of the Kremlin, and move in as ruler of Russia.
Conor O’Clery has written a unique and truly suspenseful thriller of the day the Soviet Union died. The internal power plays, the shifting alliances, the betrayals, the mysterious three colonels carrying the briefcase with the nuclear codes, and the jockeying to exploit the future are worthy of John Le Carré or Alan Furst. The Cold War’s last act was a magnificent dark drama played out in the shadows 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.”
“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“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."
Democracy“Vividly written…. O’Clery excels in the art of sketching one- or two-sentence portraits of his various actors and the role they played in the collapse of communism.”