Four distinguished journalists (Smith and Shipler with the New York Times, Kaiser with the Washington Post, and Pond with the Christian Science Monitor) and, in the case of the Cracraft book, twenty-six scholars have provided the West with invaluable insights into the Soviet people and the everyday operation of the major Communist society. These correspondents and scholars contribute to a major strength of our system: free access to information. However, our disinclination to read such important books results in little difference in understanding within the Soviets’ restricted society and our free society, for in the West far too many have unencumbered or, worse, closed minds.
Smith and Kaiser served in the USSR for three years each, Pond for two, and Shipler for four. All of them are extraordinarily perceptive and thorough, and one may read any of these works with confidence and great benefit. From this group, Smith and Kaiser were the first (in 1976) to give a detailed picture of contemporary Soviet life. Their work was a groundbreaking achievement. Both books are good, but Smith’s is probably the more adequate of the two. He has provided his revised 1984 edition with a strong sixty-three-page postscript treating the last years of Brezhnev’s life, Andropov’s one-year tenure, and Chernenko’s rule.