The rise and fall of communism in the Soviet Union was a key event of the twentieth century. Spanning nine decades from the reign of the tsars to the overthrow of Mikhail Gorbachev in 1991, it is a tale of oppression, rebellion, terror, and betrayal. It is the chronicle of a dream that failed, of a utopian vision turned to ashes. The Great Fatherland War, the third of a four-book series encompassing the history of the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics, covers World War II, the most devastating period in the nation's history. It was a time during which some 20 to 25 million Soviet soldiers and civilians lost their lives -- more lives than had been lost by any nation in any war. The story of this struggle is populated by heroes like the Leningrad harbor pilot Fyodor Trofimov, who, on the morning that war broke out, risked his life to steer the damaged and flaming ship sinking beneath him to where it would not block the harbor when it exploded. It is also the record of such villains as Lavrenti Beria, head of the Soviet secret police, who conducted the Katyn Forest massacre, in which 15,000 unarmed Polish POWs were executed. Describing a conflict like no other, this book is a saga of humanity at its very worst -- and at its very best. It is a record of leadership and incompetence, patriotism and betrayal, bravery and cowardice, sacrifice and selfishness. It is also a testament to the ability of people to survive under the most difficult circumstances. Book jacket.