The Making of a Statesman
by Susanne Schattenberg
This title was previously available on NetGalley and is now archived.
Pub Date 4 Nov 2021 | Archive Date 6 Dec 2021
Bloomsbury Academic, I.B. Tauris
Leonid Brezhnev was leader of the Soviet Union for eighteen years, a term of leadership second only in length to that of Stalin. He presided over the Brezhnev Doctrine, which accelerated the Cold War, and led the Soviet Union through catastrophic foreign policy decisions such as the invasion of Afghanistan. To many in the West, he is responsible for the stagnation (and to some even collapse) of the Soviet Union. But much of this history has been based on the only two English-language biographies (both published before Brezhnev's death and without access to archival sources) and Brezhnev's own astonishingly untrue memoirs – written for propaganda purposes.
Newly translated from German, Schattenberg's magisterial book systematically dismantles the stereotypical and one-dimensional view of Brezhnev as the stagnating Stalinist by drawing on a wealth of archival research and documents not previously studied in English. The Brezhnev that emerges is a complex one, from his early apolitical years, when he dreamed of becoming an actor, through his swift and surprising rise through the Party ranks. From his hitherto misunderstood role in Khrushchev's ousting and appointment as his successor, to his somewhat pro-Western foreign policy aims, deft consolidation and management of power, and ultimate descent into addiction and untimely death. For Schattenberg, this is the story of a flawed and ineffectual idealist - for the West, this biography makes a convincing case that Brezhnev should be reappraised as one of the most interesting and important political figures of the twentieth century.
"Following Stalin’s reign of terror and Khrushchev’s erratic reforms, Leonid Brezhnev tried to stabilize the Soviet system. Brezhnev, his first full and in-depth portrait, draws on long-secret sources to chronicle his rise, his rule, and his contributions both to the growth of Soviet power and the USSR’s eventual disintegration, along with his own." William Taubman, Pulitzer Prize-winning author of Khrushchev: The Man and His Era (2003), and of Gorbachev: His Life and Times (2017)
"A compelling new view of Brezhnev, demythologizing his early life and career, and using recently-opened archival materials to present his two decades in power as Soviet leader in an unfamiliar light. Schattenberg shows him introducing a new style of ‘caring’ interactions with colleagues as well as consolidating the long-promised Soviet welfare state at home and striving for détente abroad. But his decline in his last years (from addiction to sedatives, it turns out, not just old age) marred his legacy." Sheila Fitzpatrick, Author of On Stalin’s Team: The Years of Living Dangerously in Soviet Politics (2015)
"The benchmark against which all future biographies of Leonid Brezhnev will be measured, Susanne Schattenberg’s Brezhnev: The Making of a Statesman, now available in English, is the most informed, detailed, judicious, accessible, and academic account of this pivotal Soviet leader. Filling a real gap in the literature, the wide-ranging study is a must read for anyone interested in the twilight years of Soviet socialism." Donald J. Raleigh, author of Soviet Baby Boomers: An Oral History of Russia’s Cold War Generation (2012)
"Susanne Schattenberg has produced the first serious biography of Brehznev, using newly opened Party archives to give us a vivid portrait of the man and leader. This will be essential reading for historians of the late Soviet Union for many years to come." Orlando Figes, author of 'The Europeans' (2019)