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The official date of this issue is Nov. 7, a day that once lived in infamy, because on this day in 1917 a tiny Marxist group, through a mixture of ungodly determination and depravity, seized power in Russia. Vladimir Lenin and then Josef Stalin wiped out in Mafia-like style their opponents, including those who had been their friends. Decades later, at the height of its military power, in an awesome show of God's judgment, the Soviet empire quickly collapsed.
What an amazing story! And how dully Archie Brown's The Rise and Fall of Communism (HarperCollins, 2009) tells it. The political Iliad of the 20th century needs to be written-but by someone who understands the evil that comes when men see themselves as gods. Brown's liberal worldview comes through clearly when he states that "the Cold War almost certainly did more to keep Communist systems going than to bring them down." He minimizes the importance of Ronald Reagan's strong words and military spending in showing Soviet leaders that they couldn't win.
To understand what the true issues were, the first 100 pages of Whittaker Chambers' Witness (1952) are far better than the 688 pages of Brown, who says that those who became Communists in America and western Europe "often did so for the best of motives." That's only true if thumbing noses at God is the best of actions. Chambers got it right: Communism deified Man and attempted to banish God.
Uncivil Society: 1989 and the Implosion of the Communist Establishment (Random House, 2009), by Stephen Kotkin with Jan Gross, is another book that attempts to explain the amazing events that God wrought 20 years ago. Kotkin attributes Communism's fall to material causes: Eastern Europeans, it seems, ran up destructive debts and then borrowed some more, much like Americans in the decade before Wall Street's 2008 collapse. True-but much more was going on.
You can get a better sense of how even Soviet elites lost confidence in Communism by reading the fascinating and sometimes amusing Spymaster: My 32 Years in Intelligence and Espionage Against the West (Basic, 2009) by Oleg Kalugin, an espionage expert who became a Gorbachev ally and then a public critic of the KGB. Readers who relished John le Carre's superb Smiley trilogy will enjoy Kalugin's take.
To gain some grasp of what it was like to live in the Soviet Union, and to be entertained by a page-turner at the same time, read Tom Rob Smith's two novels: Child 44 and The Secret Speech (Grand Central, 2009). They give a searing portrait of Soviet citizens living the lie in 1953 and partially telling the truth in 1956. (One sign of the cultural dominance of the left in America is that numerous popular movies and books are set in Hitler's Germany but few in Stalin's Russia.)
If you mourn missed opportunities in Russia during the 1990s, read Yuri Felshtinsky and Vladimir Pribylovsky's The Corporation: Russia and the KGB in the Age of President Putin (Encounter, 2008). Russian democrats did not finish off the KGB, so it has finished off many of them.
Russell Moore's Adopted for Life (Crossway, 2009) excellently roots adoption in biblical theology. Weaving in the story of the two Russian children he and his wife have adopted, and explaining how churches should view adoption as part of their mission, Moore shows what a difference it would make if Christians were known once again as the people who take in orphans and make them sons and daughters.
Alvin Townley's Spirit of Adventure: Eagle Scouts and the Making of America's Future (Thomas Dunne, 2009) shows the merit of Scouting. Souls in Transition: The Religious & Spiritual Lives of Emerging Adults (Oxford U. Press, 2009) by Christian Smith with Patricia Snell is an academic analysis that offers bad news and good: Church youth groups don't keep young folks in the fold, but reports of atheism among 20-somethings are exaggerated.