Roads to the Temple
Truth, Memory, Ideas, and Ideals in the Making of the Russian Revolution, 1987-1991

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The revolution in Russia of 1987-1991 was among the great surprises of history. The Soviet Union was at the height of its world power, anchored in nuclear parity with the US. No indicators pointed to an impending cataclysm. After  two decades of suppression, virtually all prominent dissidents had been vanquished. Neither expert observers nor those inside Soviet government predicted the breathtaking transformation of Russian society.

In "Roads to the Temple: Truth, Memory, Ideas, and Ideals in the Making of the Russian Revolution, 1987-1991" Leon Aron argues that the solution to the mystery of the Soviet collapse lies in a rapid and dramatic moral evolution  of the populace. The unprecedented intellectual and moral self-scrutiny of glasnost fueled a great national soul-searching, unleashing in the Russian people a craving for truth, for dignity, for an honorable way of living, and for a dignified relationship between citizens and their government.

Sifting through more than 8,000 pages of original Russian documents, Aron shows how transformative ideas and ideals were widely and quickly disseminated in articles, essays, and recovered masterpieces of great Russian literature, sparking public debate that involved both intellectuals and common folk. These writings unraveled the myths that legitimized the Soviet system, exposing the waste, neglect, and despoliation of the national economy. They examined the legacy of Stalinism and the damage it inflicted on the souls of the people. In a compelling narrative, Aron examines how these new ideas reached every corner of the nation, thwarted the philosophical underpinnings of Soviet ideology, and led to the collapse of the USSR.

Aron brings to life the moral impulse for change that is an essential component of modern revolutions. He shows that the contest between the power of the state and the conscience of the citizen was as central to the latest Russian revolution as it has been to all great anti-authoritarian upheavals since the American Revolution. "Roads to the Temple" is an essential guide to the mechanisms of political and moral awakening and to the power of ideas to inspire political action.

Dr. Leon Aron delivered a lecture to 35 Howard University students on Russian civil society and his book Roads to the Temple, February 27, 2013.



“Leon Aron has written a book about the moral foundation of perestroika and the colossal reassessment of values, which brought about an unprecedented and, for many, unexpected shift in Russian history. These were the years when we tried to bring together politics and morality. Today, when Russia is again facing a crucial choice, it is very important to remember that time and the people who moved forward this difficult but necessary process of intellectual and then political transformation.”
—Mikhail Gorbachev

“From America’s most insightful chronicler of Russian affairs comes a vividly drawn portrait of a country coming awake. Both erudite and gripping, passionate and yet rigorous, 'Roads to the Temple' is a masterpiece of cultural and intellectual history.”
—Daniel Treisman, author of "The Return: Russia’s Journey from Gorbachev to Medvedev"

“Leon Aron’s wonderful, passionate book provides the fullest and most detailed portrait yet of the ideas and ideals that inspired the Russian Revolution of 1987-1991.”
—William Taubman, Pulitzer Prize-winning author of Khrushchev: The Man and His Era

“Human beings forget luminescent moments when the pursuit of human dignity lights up our world. Leon Aron does not allow us to forget the remarkable Soviet revolution of 1987-1991, a moment of moral clarity increasingly submerged in a miasma of deception.”
—Blair Ruble, Director, Kennan Institute, Woodrow Wilson Center

“Leon Aron’s book is an indispensable guide to the forces that shaped Russia’s years of glasnost and revolution, a work of intellectual history that is brimming with fresh insights and points the way to the great challenges facing Russian democracy today.”
—David E. Hoffman, Pulitzer Prize-winning author of "The Dead Hand: The Untold Story of the Cold War Arms Race and Its Dangerous Legacy"

“Scholars will forever disagree about what caused the great revolutions. But from now on anyone who tries to explain the fall of Soviet communism will have to read, and reckon with, 'Roads to the Temple.'  An extraordinary book.”
—Stephen Sestanovich, U.S. ambassador-at-large for the former Soviet Union, 1997-2001

“This is an outstanding work. No such extraordinary work on the ideas of perestroika and glasnost will be written.”
—Anders Åslund, Senior Fellow, Peterson Institute for International Economics


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About the Author


  • Leon Aron is Resident Scholar and Director of Russian Studies at the American Enterprise Institute. He is the author of three books and over 300 articles and essays. Since 1999, he has written Russian Outlook, a quarterly essay on economic, political, social and cultural aspects of Russia’s post-Soviet transition, published by the Institute. He is the author of the first full-scale scholarly biography of Boris Yeltsin, Yeltsin: A Revolutionary Life (St. Martin’s Press, 2000); Russia’s Revolution: Essays 1989-2006 (AEI Press, 2007); and, most recently, Roads to the Temple: Memory, Truth, Ideas and Ideals in the Making of the Russian Revolution, 1987-1991 (Yale University Press, 2012).

    Dr. Aron earned his Ph.D. from Columbia University, has taught a graduate seminar at Georgetown University, and was awarded the Peace Fellowship at the U.S. Institute of Peace. He has co-edited and contributed the opening chapter to The Emergence of Russian Foreign Policy, published by the U.S. Institute of Peace in 1994 and contributed an opening chapter to The New Russian Foreign Policy (Council on Foreign Relations, 1998).

    Dr. Aron has contributed numerous essays and articles to newspapers andmagazines, including the Washington Post, the New York Times, theWall Street Journal Foreign Policy, The NewRepublic, Weekly Standard, Commentary, New York Times Book Review, the TimesLiterary Supplement. A frequent guest of television and radio talkshows, he has commented on Russian affairs for, among others, 60 Minutes,The Newshour with Jim Lehrer, Charlie Rose, CNN International,C-Span, and National Public Radio’s “All Things Considered” and “Talk of theNation.”

    From 1990 to 2004, he was a permanent discussant at the Voice of America’s radio and television show Gliadya iz Ameriki (“Looking from America”), which was broadcast to Russia every week.

    Follow Leon Aron on Twitter.

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