A Revolution! Depicting Gorbachev

Updated: Dec 4, 2018

Article / I profile the Pulitzer Prize-winning biographer William Taubman.

Mikhail Gorbachev, Jane and William Taubman

One day in November 1985, General Secretary Mikhail Gorbachev, who had just met with President Ronald Reagan at the Geneva Summit, was giving a standard press conference, when, in the middle of an otherwise forgettable statement, he looked into the sea of reporters and flashing cameras and said that the Soviet Union’s security depended on the United States also feeling secure. Watching on television from his home in Amherst, Massachusetts, William Taubman leapt out of his seat. “That was a revolution!” he said to his wife, Jane. “That single sentence!”

Gorbachev’s tenure had just begun, but he had already distinguished himself from his predecessors. Not only was he significantly younger and more dynamic but also he had proposed reforms—perestroika (restructuring) and glasnost (openness)—that would revamp his country’s economy and policy, while adding a previously unthinkable level of transparency and accountability to the Soviet system. And now he was allowing that the entire standoff between the Soviet Union and the United States was no longer a zero-sum proposition. “It was a total reversal of a key axiom of Soviet thinking,” Taubman told me recently.

Read the article in the Summer 2018 issue of Harriman Magazine.