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Who's the Fly on the Wall? : AT THE HIGHEST LEVELS: The Inside Story of the End of the Cold War, By Michael R. Beschloss and Strobe Talbott (Little, Brown: $29.95; 474 pp.)

March 21, 1993|The Editors

In early 1989, historian Michael Beschloss and Time magazine editor (and now President Clinton's designated ambassador-at-large) Strobe Talbott teamed up to write an account of diplomacy "at the highest levels" of post- glasnost U.S.-Soviet relations. The authors' access to anonymous sources in both governments enabled them to weave a fly-on-the-wall narrative so vivid (and so unencumbered with documentation) that we thought the flavor of the story could best be captured through a few vignettes. Scenes and dialogue are based on both exact and paraphrased quotes from the book.

The reader's first reaction will probably be: How can they be so sure they said that?

"Early in our work," the authors explain, "we quietly asked a large number of Soviet and American officials if they would speak with us on a regular basis about what was happening within and between their two governments; many consented, on the condition that we not identify them as sources. . . . We often saw our sources within days--sometimes even within hours--of the closed-door meetings, negotiating sessions, telephone calls and other diplomatic exchanges described in these pages. The information they provided was not just reproduced from fresh memory but often drawn from written talking points, memoranda of conversations, reporting cables and other documents. We have used direct quotations only when our sources had firsthand, immediate knowledge of what was said. As far as possible, we have checked information about each meeting, conversation or episode with a variety of sources."

The research and interview notes used in assembling this narrative will be held in the Williams College Library in Williamstown, Mass., under an as yet unspecified time seal--"just as the official record will eventually be declassified," the authors add.

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