Konstantin Ustinovich Chernenko. a figure wtm appeared to the outside worid as a commonplace Russian bureaucrat cut from the mold of a Gogol short story, was elevated in 1984 to the post of general secretary of the Communist party of the Soviet Union. Thus, a post held by such awesome, fearsome figures as Lenin and Stalin passed into the hands of someone perceived as a nondescript bureaucrat, devoid of ideas or initiative, and crippled by old age and infirmity.
A singular merit of this work is that it shows how far from the mark were these perceptions. This is the only full-length treatment of Chernenko. in contrast to the vast tomes written on his five predecessors as well as on the present incumbent, Mkrhail Gorbachev. The work delves into archival materials never before reported in either the East or West. The picture that emerges is not of some run-of-the-mill apparatchik, but of a figure who in the context of the Brezhnev era came forth with ideas that were revolutionary, at least in the sense of a realization of the deep malaise into which Soviet economy and society had fallen.
Zemtsov's volume explains the paradox of a servile conservative member of th Politburo becoming an innovative, even courageous, leader during the thirteen fateful months he held Soviet power, ft is a tribute to this effort at reconstruction that what emerges is a rounded human being and not simply a political actor. This analytical study of the transformation of a peasant into a politician fills out a missing link without which the current impulse to reform in the U.S.S.R. is hard to understand or appreciate