With a clear-eyed mastery of the historical issues and literature, Suny combines gripping detail with insightful analysis in a narrative that propels the reader from the last tsar of the Russian empire to the first president of the Russian republic. He focuses in particular on three revolutions, each identified with a single individual: the tumultuous year of 1917, when Vladimir Lenin led the Bolshevik takeover of the tsarist empire; the 1930s, when Joseph Stalin refashioned the economy, the society, and the state; and Mikhail Gorbachev's ambitious, and catastrophic, attempt at sweeping reform and revitalization that led to the breakup of the Soviet Union and to the victory of Boris Yeltsin. Rather than seeing the Soviet transformation as doomed from the beginning, Suny examines the complex, often incompatible themes running through Soviet history. He confidently moves from party debates and personal rivalries, to centuries-old ethnic tensions, to vast economic and social developments. He unravels tangled issues with ease, explaining "deeply contradictory" policies toward the various Soviet nationalities; Moscow's ambivalence over its own New Economic Policy of the 1920s; and the attempts at reform that followed Stalin's death. Suny's treatment of the Soviet breakup warrants particular attention, as he details precisely how Gorbachev's program unleashed forces that had built up during the previous decades - particularly the nationalism that had been shaped, ironically, by the Soviet structure of ethnically defined republics. Along the way, he offers a fresh telling of familiar as well as little-known events - capturing, for example, the movement of the crowds on the streets of St. Petersburg in the February revolution; Stalin's collapse into a near-catatonic state after Hitler's much-predicted invasion; Yeltsin's political maneuvering and public grandstanding as he pushed the disintegration of the Soviet Union, and then faced down his rivals.