A History of the Soviet Union from the Beginning to the End

As I reported in my review of History of the USSR: An Outline of Socialist Construction, I have had a dismal record in finding engaging national histories. Fortunately, A History of the Soviet Union from the Beginning to the End by Peter Kenez, published in 1999, has been the best of the bunch. Like the above title I acquired it as a rejected library donation. Both were likely study materials as the Kenez book was filled with highlighted passages–a definite no-no for library collections. The Kenez history was a longer and more detailed read than the Kukushkin, and as it was written by a University of California professor after the fall of the Soviet Union, and not by a Soviet propagandist during the time Brezhnev was in power, it was more credible. Monographs such as this with minimal endnotes make for easier reading as the author managed to incorporate the additional details within the main text. After a brief introduction Kenez started with the October Revolution and followed it with chapters on New Economic Policies and the First Five-Year Plan. The author managed to make Soviet economic history interesting, as the truth–involving stories of forced collectivization, purges, kulaks, and economic shortfalls–is always more of a page-turner than Soviet propaganda. We learn how Stalin gained so much power and how the Khrushchev regime tried to obliterate him from Soviet history. Kenez affirms that the USSR was on a rapid downfall even before the ascension of Gorbachev as General Secretary in 1985, yet his reforms sealed the deal. I found the history about the old-guard opposition to Gorbachev, and their unsuccessful August 1991 coup, to be gripping reading. The extensive bibliography and author notes about the best books among them have given me future reading ideas. 

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