CLBR #281: Gorbachev Biographer William Taubman

Our Miami Book Fair author series continues with a fascinating discussion with William Taubman on his definitive biography of the last Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev taped earlier this month.

GORBACHEV: His Life and Times
By William Taubman

time zones


As memories of the Cold War fade, and worries about a new era of tense relations between Russia and the West emerge, the moment is ripe to revisit the decades when the United States and the Soviet Union—the world’s two “super powers”—dictated geopolitical strategy, foreign policy, and economic stability.

There were many reasons for the collapse of the Soviet Union and the rise of Russia, but one man, in particular, was able to conceive of a post-Communist future in which peace and prosperity might be shared with former enemies and adversaries. In Gorbachev: His Life and Times, Pulitzer Prize-winning historian William Taubman combines rigorous biographical research, compelling narrative skill, and extensive access to his subject to create a portrait of Mikhail Gorbachev, one of the most important political figures of the twentieth century.

Gorbachev Timeline

  • 1931:  Born to combine harvester operator in age of Stalin
  • 1932-33:  Soviet famine, half of his village starves to death
  • 1930’s: Both grandfathers arrested, one sent into exile in Siberia
  • 1955: Graduated from Moscow State
    There he met his wife Raisa, became close friends with Zdenek Mlynar, who would become the primary ideologist of the Prague Spring in 1968 and joins the Communist Party
  • 1961: Gorbachev attends 22nd Party Congress where Kruschev Nikita Khrushchev announced a plan to surpass the U.S. in per capita production within twenty years.
  • 1964: Leonid Brezhnev assumes power, would reign until 1982.
  • 1970:  Gorbachev appointed First Party Secretary of the Stavropol Regional Committee, a body of the CPSU, becoming one of the youngest provincial party chiefs in the nation.  He helped reorganize the collective farms, improve workers’ living conditions, expand the size of their private plots, and gave them a greater voice in planning.
  • 1978: Gorbachev named Central Committee Secretary
  • 1982:  Brezhnev dies, succeeded by Yuri Andropov.
  • 1984:  Andropov dies succeeded by Konstantin Chernenko
  • 1985;  Chernenko dies,  Gorbachev takes over as general secretary of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union.First Summit between Gorbachev and President Reagan in Geneva.
  • 1986: Gorbachev outlines plan for economic restructuring (perestroika).Chernobyl explosion.Reykjavík Summit with President Reagan.
  • 1987: Gorbachev-Yeltsin battle at Party CongressGorbachev and Reagan sign Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty
  • 1988  – Party conference approves glasnost political reforms
  • 1989 – Fall of Berlin Wall
  • 1990:  Gorbachev wins Nobel Peace Prize
  • 1991 – Gorbachev and President George H.W. Bush sign Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty
    Coup  Attempt and Collapse of Soviet Union

William Taubman

William Taubman Photo © Michele Stapleton

GORBACHEV: His Life and Times


William Taubman, the Bertrand Snell Professor of Political Science Emeritus at Amherst College, is the author of the just-published Gorbachev: His Life and Times. His biography, Khrushchev: The Man and His Era, won the Pulitzer Prize and the National Critics Circle Award for biography. Also the author of Stalin’s American Policy: From Entente to Détente to Cold War, and co-author with his wife, retired Amherst College professor of Russian Jane Taubman, of Moscow Spring, William Taubman was president of the American Association for the Advancement of Slavic Studies in 2009 and chairs the Academic Advisory Committee of the Cold War International History Project at the Woodrow Wilson Center in Washington. He has received the Karel Kramar Medal of the Czech Republic and the Order of Friendship of the Russian Federation. He lives in Amherst, Massachusetts.

More information about his academic interests and activities can be found on Amherst College’s faculty page.

Critical Acclaim:

“Masterly….[This] richly layered portrait….will surely stand as the definitive English-language chronicle of this most intriguing figure for many years to come.”
-Peter Baker, New York Times Book Review

“Superb…. Enlightening…. [A]n extraordinary story of one man and history in a tense wrestling match.”
– David E. Hoffman, The Washington Post

“William Taubman’s extraordinary new biography, Gorbachev: His Life and Times, is fly-on-the-wall history…. A riveting page-turner….
[H]is book is anything but a solemn academic tome. It’s gripping.”
– Mark Katkov, NPR

[A] deeply penetrating history and engrossing psychological study….” -Robert Legvold, Foreign Affairs

”Comprehensive… immensely readable… applies a Tolstoyan lens to Russia’s recent history.”
The Economist

“Fascinating, perceptive and compelling… .[a] magisterial book.”
Nicholas Burns, The Boston Globe

“A meticulously researched, clear-eyed volume that will undoubtedly stand for years as the definitive account of the Soviet Union’s last ruler.”
– Max Boot, Wall Street Journal

”Sympathetic in his judgments yet clear-eyed in his criticisms, Taubman has rendered Gorbachev in a vast and complex portrait that will be the standard for years to come.”
– Michael O’Donnell, Washington Monthly

Amherst College

Founded in 1821 in Amherst, Massachusetts.



Our annual year-end Heroes and Zeros show will be Wednesday, December 20th with our special guests – Brenda Christensen, Denise Howell and Dan Tynan.

the judges

We have already started announcing my recommendations for 2017.



Dec. 6

Author Series – Jonathan Taplin

Move Fast and Break Things:
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Cornered Culture and Undermined Democracy

Dec. 13

FTC Crackdown on Influencers

with Jeffrey Greenbaum Frankfurt Kurnit Klein & Selz

Dec. 20

CLBR Annual

Heroes and Zeros Show

with Brenda Christensen, Denise Howell and Dan Tynan


Dec. 27

Author Series – Jared Yates Sexton

The People Are Going to Rise
Like the Waters Upon Your Shore:
A Story of American Rage 



Jan 3

Jan 10

Jan. 17

Blockchain, Cryptocurrencies

and Smart Contracts

Prof. Angela C. Walch
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Jan. 24

Regulating Online Political Ads

Ann Ravel,

Former Chair
Federal Elections Commission