In 1983 Lieutenant General William Odom, then head of the US National Security Agency, forecast that the Soviet Union in the 1980s would see 'sound and fury about domestic reform accompanied by little actual change, while abroad, 'we can expect threats to end détente.' Why did so many Western specialists on the Soviet Union fail to foresee the changes taking place in Moscow after the death of Brezhnev? Why did Kremlinologists make annual predictions of the fall of Gorbachev and why were they wrong? In this timely account of life in Gorbachev's USSR, Patrick Cockbum describes the forces which are changing Soviet society. He goes on to scrutinize the ways in which the perceptions of those observing the Soviet Union — from academic Kremlinologists to casual visitors — are shaped and distorted.
"Visiting Moscow today is like visiting a hothouse where unusual flowers are growing, but outside the Russian landscape is largely unchanged, if not impervious to change", wrote Karen Elliott House, foreign editor of the Wall Street Journal, at the end of 1988. Cockbum argues that the exact opposite is true. Surveying the Soviet Union from Siberia to the Ukraine he shows how the social, economic and ethnic landscape has been transformed in the thirty years between the death of Stalin and the election of Gorbachev. In so doing he presents the Gorbachev phenomenon in a new light.