Autopsy on an Empire:
The American Ambassador’s Account of the Collapse of the Soviet Union
by Jack F. Matlock, Jr.
As the United States ambassador to Moscow during the Gorbachev period and Ronald Reagan’s full-time go-between with the Soviet leadership, Jack Matlock couldn’t have been in a better position to observe the collapse of the Soviet Union. A career diplomat, fluent in Russian, with a scholarly grasp of Russian history and culture, Matlock served in the USSR for much of his career and knew the men in the Kremlin well. He had traveled widely in the Soviet Union—more widely, perhaps, than most Soviet officials—and had seen firsthand the discontent in the captive republics. Matlock was uniquely placed to anticipate and interpret the process as it unfolded. Yet, even he was surprised by the speed and finality with which the rickety empire gave way.
Though Matlock writes that a definitive version of these events may never be told, it is unlikely that a more intimate and knowledgeable account of the rise and fall of Gorbachev and the collapse of the Soviet empire will ever be written. A first-rate historian and a powerful writer, Matlock offers new insight into the contrasting policies and personal approaches of President Reagan, who dreamed of changing the Soviet Union, and President Bush, who witnessed a collapse he tried to prevent. Drawing on frequent private meetings, he explains the agenda behind Reagan’s “evil empire” speech and describes how Gorbachev developed his program for reform, and why he failed.
Autopsy on an Empire contains many new revelations—details of the plot to oust Gorbachev in August 1991 (including Bush’s inadvertent impact on the plotters’ timing), accounts of infighting within the politburo, and insight into the true positions of American policy makers. It is a monumental work of observation and scholarship, arising from vast personal experience and more than thirty years of reflection. Matlock is a superb writer, and Autopsy on an Empire will be the classic account of the fall of Soviet communism.
Questions and comments are welcome from registered participants who have read the book. (I don’t have time to explain again something I have explained in the book.)