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Brezhnev

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This a well done, if long(512 pp.),biography of Leonid Brezhnev, who led the Soviet Union for 18 years--1964-1982. I rate it 4 stars for its impressive breadth and prodigious research into recently released Soviet archives. The author paints a much more nuanced portrait than the traditional Western view of him as a hard line Cold warrior who invaded Czechoslovakia and Afghanistan.
She traces his rise from his early days as an oblast leader through the Great Terror of the 30s, WWII, being a supporter of Khrushchev and then to being one of the main players in orchestrating Khrushchev's ouster.
Contrary to the Western view of his invasion of Czechoslovakia, he tried valiantly to persuade Dubcek to come around to his way of thinking. In 1968, his position was not secure and he had to placate hard liners in the party and some of the Soviet satellite states, who were demanding that he deal with Dubcek. He wanted to be remembered as the Soviet leader who pursued peace, signing arms agreements with the US and European leaders.
Unfortunately, his way of dealing with stress was to take an increasing number of pills. From 1976 on, his pill addiction started to affect his health and in 1979, he gave in to his advisors who suggested a short invasion of Afghanistan. He and the Politburo had previously refused 25 requests from the Afghan government for Soviet troops.
One quote "Brezhnev presented himself on three stages: on the political stage, he fostered a new trust with obligingness, friendliness and consistency. With great tact he established himself as a genuine alternative to Stalin and Khrushchev, as someone no one needed to fear. he restored the dignity and sanctity of the old party rituals, treated his comrades with respect and took care of them all, even when removing them."

Thank You Bloomsbury Academic and Susanne Schattenberg for sending me the eARC through NetGalley.
#Brezhnev #NetGalley
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Chairman Brezhnev in this biography becomes the face of Soviet Foreign Policy in the 1960s and 1970s.  Aggressive and expansive in the third world while utterly catastrophic domestically.  Brezhnev participated in the 1960s liberation movement by supporting Nationalist Movements in Asia, Africa, and the Caribbean while crushing dissent in his own backyard.  Brezhnev was the response to Krushchev and his seemingly liberal policies domestically.  The answer to stagnation was not innovation but rather more money a whopping 27% of GDP put into the Agricultural sector with little result.  Brezhnev should be remembered as the man most responsible for the suffering caused by the Ethiopian and East African Famine of the late 1970s and mid-1980s caused by the Soviet union destabilizing the region by supplying arms men and materials to the Communist Dictator Haile Mengistu Miriam and his genocidal policies.
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The idea of a Brezhnev biography interested me because like most of my consumption of history and politics, I've read about the messy stuff, the revolutions, the putschs, and the charismatic but often terrible leaders. Brezhnev was the second longest leader of the USSR, he was in power for the first nine years of my life, and my main impression, that of history, is a stiff, somewhat boring and unimaginative leader who just hung on. Schattenberg is on a mission to dispell this myth, or at least try to muddy the waters a bit. This is an impressive bit of scholarship which works within the confines of still a large amount of secrecy from the era. She notes in the introduction that biographers have to be careful not to fall in love with their subjects, and concludes with suggesting that - if with wasn't from Prague '68 and Afghanistan '78 Brezhnev would have deserved the Nobel Peace Prize, so I am not sure she succeeded.

Whilst Schattenberg isn't in the business of letting Brezhnev off the hook, she spends half of the book watching him  manouver into eventual power without seemingly a plan or ambition. When he gets in power she seems him as a guy who just wants everyone to get along. I had to take some of these characterisations against the ambient ambition and ruthlessness of the Communist Party after WWII. Compared to Kruschev he is no autocratic egomaniac. Compared to Stalin - well - once you start comparing to Stalin you've already won. So instead she carves a stoical figure of someone who got the job done, tried to please everyone and was slower than average to use the levers of fear and terror to do it. It is interesting quite how little of the book is concerned on the deposing of Kruschev - Brezhnev is painted almost as an innocent bystander who could then be popped in post. There's a little more complexity to it, but Schattenberg is keen on telling the Brezhnev version, not least because much of his story is his part of other people's stories. The SALT Talks are probably more Nixon and Brandt with Brezhnev as the glue - taking the hunting and scaring them witless with his driving. She enjoys showing the slightly outre side of Brezhnev - which by the end becomes a pill popping mess as his start on sleeping tablets leads to an yo-yo-ing cocktail of drugs.  

The books structure clearly has an eye for its academic use. Its broadly chronological until he becomes leader, at which point it strands itself between his political policies, domestic policy, foreign policy, war and decline. As such there is are a few points of repetition where foreign policy cross into war, or his political style buts into domestic policy. And whilst it is accessible to a general reader, and the translation from German is fine, it is ultimately mainly bound for the University bookshelf - it runs a bit long in places for a casual reader. Nevertheless if you are interested in this part of Cold War history, or the figures history haven't found as dazzling, this is a good read.
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This treatise on Brezhnev does thorough research on what is happening in history, where was Brezhnev and what is most likely propaganda. If only I were more versed in history-reading this book might make someone like me sound like an authoritative source on this historical figure. I would use this book as an authoritative source on all things Brezhnev.
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Described as “Khrushchev without Khrushchev”, in 1964 Leonid Brezhnev replaced the “arrogant leadership” of that Russian premier with an ostensibly more democratic form of “collective rule” and a term in office of eighteen years - second only to Stalin’s in length. Fond of hunting, fast cars and male bonding sessions with the other members of the Politburo at his hunting lodge where he could be the alpha male, Brezhnev was a striking contrast to the previous leaderships. Forging strong relationships with his staff, he established himself as a leader that nobody had cause to fear. This would be played out on a larger scale with Brezhnev’s seemingly sincere desire to be “Europe’s greatest peacemaker”, a drive cut short by his own failing health and the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan. 
My abiding memories of Brezhnev are of an inscrutable, bushy-eyebrowed and slightly scary man on grainy late 70s/early 80s news programmes - a distant, unknowable and oh-so Russian part of my childhood. I know much more about him after reading this excellent book, and even cautiously admire him. Brezhnev was a man of contradictions, an aspiring actor in his youth with many aspects of his life eventually being hidden from the public (such as his generally apolitical upbringing and early life ) and it is this side that Susanne Schattenberg explores in this scholarly, revealing biography, translated competently from the original German by John Heath. 
Schattenberg’s book joins a very small list of Brezhnev biographies, due to the man himself not attracting the same attention as some of his more “celebrated” predecessors, and also to the difficulty in accessing original files. With restrictions easing a little in recent years, the author was able to make an almost exhaustive trawl of the available archives, enhanced by the inclusion of diary entries and memoirs by Brezhnev’s contemporaries and colleagues at the time. 
Fully illustrated with photographs, some familiar - Brezhnev was the first party leader to have their own personal photographer - while other shots are candid and more revealing. It is that photographer’s own photos that have been used in this book, and they certainly show Brezhnev’s more human and charismatic side. Susanne Schattenberg discovers a man who strove to be more healer than hardliner, and someone who cared deeply for the working people and listened to their problems. She stresses that she hasn’t attempted to whitewash Brezhnev, but merely strove to show all sides of his character.
And in that respect, “Brezhnev: The Making of a Statesman” is a triumph. The writing is concise and lucid and this is much more than just a dry and boring political biography. For example, the chapter on Brezhnev’s foreign policy and his desire to build trust with foreign leaders is riveting and enlightening. The book is biography as archaeology, as Susanne Schattenberg has unearthed a wealth of firsthand knowledge about Brezhnev the man, and her book must be regarded as the definitive work on this much-maligned and misunderstood statesman.
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