A review of Moscow, December 25, 1991: The Last Day of the Soviet Union


Here’s another review of a book about the death of the Soviet empire…  

Conor O’Clery looks at the last day of the Soviet Union.A look at the day the Soviet Union died…

I’m pretty fascinated by the former Soviet Union. Ever since I found out about the Soviet Union as a grade school kid, I’ve enjoyed studying it. I also lived in the Republic of Armenia, which was one of the Soviet Union’s fifteen republics, just after the fall of the Soviet Union. I well remember the 1990s and, in particular, that time in August 1991 when there was a political coup that seemed to accelerate the Soviet Union’s downward spiral into eventual oblivion. That’s why I read Conor O’Clery’s 2011 book Moscow, December 25, 1991: The Last Day of the Soviet Union.

Who is Conor O’Clery? 

It’s pretty clear that with a name like Conor O’Clery, this author isn’t Russian. Actually, O’Clery lived and worked in the Soviet Union during its final days as an award winning journalist for the Irish Times. He’s worked as a journalist for over thirty years and covered stories all over the world. He’s also got some family connections to Russia, having married a Russian born Armenian woman.

The Last Day of the Soviet Union

Having been a teenager when Mikhail Gorbachev became the leader of the Soviet Union, I vaguely remember hearing about the concepts of glasnost and perestroika. O’Clery writes about what led up to the fall of the Soviet Union, providing exhaustive commentary about Mikahil Gorbachev and Boris Yeltsin and their respective political careers. According to O’Clery, Gorbachev had a lot to do with Yeltsin’s entry into politics, having brought him in to clean up the ministry of construction. They came from very different worlds, though, and did not like each other, but Yeltsin got things done. When the Soviet Union ended on December 25, 1991, it was Yeltsin who was poised to lead the country first post Soviet times.

When Gorbachev was forced to resign the presidency of the Soviet Union, Yeltsin wasted no time in taking over and re-launching Russia. O’Clery goes into great detail in his writing about how Gorbachev and his wife, Raisa, were treated in the days after Gorbachev left office. They were quickly evicted from their home and given no professional courtesies whatsoever. O’Clery provides some juicy details of the ways Gorbachev was humiliated as he left power. It was payback, though… because Yeltsin was similarly humiliated when Gorbachev had his time in the sun.

As O’Clery points out, Gorbachev had introduced the concepts of perestroika and glasnost; he had been a polished politician who had won over the likes of Margaret Thatcher and George H.W. Bush. But it was Yeltsin who led Russia under those concepts… and he did so despite being alcoholic and unhealthy.

O’Clery does a great job detailing the history of these two men who were from different worlds and had very different personalities. This book is factual, but reads a lot like a political thriller. O’Clery has a way of making the people involved come alive and, for me, it was especially interesting reading because I remember these men so well. O’Clery offers some insight into how Soviet and Russian government work.

I was riveted as I read about the colonels who were tasked with carrying the briefcase that had the power to launch nuclear war. Remembering the 1980s, I recall how people often talked or even joked about the “red button” and how if either the American or Soviet president pushed it, there would be war that would end the world as we know it. Conor O’Clery explains the truth behind that little briefcase that was always in the possession of the man in charge. O’Clery also offers some astute commentary on the reactions of the world leaders of the time, including George H.W. Bush.

This book is a look at one day. But it’s also a look at what led up to that one day when the Soviet Union fell to pieces. If you were around during that time or are interested in Russia or the former Soviet Union, The Last Day of the Soviet Union is an excellent read.


This book was a challenge to read, but that doesn’t mean I didn’t enjoy it or learn from it. I was young when the Soviet Union fell apart and I saw firsthand what happened in the earliest years after it dissolved. When I lived in Armenia, people were still recovering from the massive changes. A lot of things were still done in a very Soviet way. Indeed, O’Clery writes about how American business leaders and politicians swarmed to Russia and the former Soviet Republics after the Soviet Union fell apart. They were there to offer advice and, of course, make money. In those days, Russia was in very bad shape. As I read O’Clery’s account, I found myself nodding a lot.

I would definitely recommend The Last Day of the Soviet Union to anyone who is interested. I found it a good, entertaining, exciting and useful book to read.

Mikhail Gorbachev resigns.
A truly excellent video about this subject. I just subscribed to History Scope’s channel. He’s got a good touch.

As an Amazon Associate, I get a small commission from Amazon on sales made through my site.