The "Children of Perestroika": Moscow Teenagers Talk about Their Lives and the Future, by Deborah Adelman. Armonk, N.Y.: M. E. Sharpe, 1991. 246 pp. Hardcover. Reviewed by Angene H. Wilson.
Researcher Deborah Adelman interviewed eleven Moscow teenagers of diverse backgrounds between January and June 1989. Adelman's excellent opening chapter sets the scene and offers some generalizations. The eleven individually expressed views that follow-on family, intergenerational and male-female relationships, recreational activities, and hopes for the future-are fascinating.

The difference in gender role expectations for young women and young men is especially interesting. For example, Ilya thinks more women should hold leadership positions in government to help solve the problem of "everything ending up on women's shoulders." She also believes, however, that children are the mother's responsibility. Maxim, who states that women have equality with men now, doesn't want his future wife to work or to be involved in politics.

Adelman writes that most of the teenagers with whom she talked had never had a factual discussion about sex with an adult. She quotes an estimate that for every birth in Russia there are between five and eight abortions. One in four women is eighteen years old when she marries, and a large number have children within the first nine months of marriage.

Adelman found that collectivism (group activities with friends) was valued by these Russian teenagers although they were alienated from the Komso12mol, the once prestigious political youth organization that was by then under attack. When these young people were interviewed in 1989, socialism as an ideal still survived.

Several of the students are particularly articulate about history and current affairs. Lena's ability to talk critically about history and to compare the Lenin and Jacobin dictatorships is impressive. She thinks students will soon be able to discuss their history more openly and to do research in the archives.

Tanya expresses her hopes for the future of her country:

Our generation, it seems to me, if it continues along the present path, will raise a different kind of children, even better than we ourselves are. And this is the essence of perestroika. They will be more honest and they will be responsible people....Maybe they will be more active, which is to say that they will have enthusiasm....And things will be more cheerful. There won't always be this constant, heavy memory. People will be better-that's the way it seems to me. (25)
In the coming years, perhaps U.S. teenagers will be able to talk personally with the Tanyas, Ilyas, and Maxims of Russia about their common hopes for becoming better people. Adelman's book gives U.S. adults and teenagers an opportunity to begin listening to the Russian side of that conversation.

Postscript: An electronic mail message dated February 1992 from a University of Kentucky American Exchange student in Vladimir, Russia, responding to this review reads in part:

The youth of Moscow are shielded from many of the realities that the average Russian faces in the provinces. The people here are incredibly apathetic about political reform....Contraceptives are hard to come by except for condoms.... Chauvinism is rampant....All youth are well versed in history and cultural areas such as film/art/music. It's enough to put the average American to shame.

Angene H. Wilson
University of Kentucky
Lexington, Kentucky
Almanac of American Presidents: From 1789 to the Present
, edited by Thomas L. Connelly and Michael D. Senecal. New York: Facts on File, 1991. 485 pp. $35.00 hardcover. Reviewed by Keith C. Barton.
This collection presents itself as "an original compendium of facts and anecdotes about politics and the presidency," and its twenty chapters include such topics as the education of the presidents, odd jobs they held, their military careers, their homes, the role of religion in presidential politics, scandals, and "memorable first ladies." In spite of its apparent breadth of coverage, however, this work has little depth, and will be of little or no use to social studies educators, students, or historians.

The very need for such an "almanac" is unclear: presidential biography is hardly the most active arena of historical scholarship. Furthermore, I am unconvinced by the editors' claim that "Americans are almost always rewarded with the kind of leadership they deserve....The president mirrors faithfully the collective aspirations, abilities, shortcomings, and obsessions of the electorate he represents" (vii). One could, however, imagine using the experiences of the nation's chief executives as the focus for wider explorations of the social, economic, and political trends of U.S. history. Indeed, the topics selected here promise just such a focus. Historical changes in architecture, education, religion, or other areas might well be examined in light of the way they have been played out in the lives of the country's presidents.

Unfortunately, this work makes no such attempt. Each chapter presents only barren factual information about each president, and there is little effort to describe significant changes in politics, economy, or society. Nowhere are the presidents' disparate experiences brought together in a coherent narrative or analytic framework, and the separation of each president's experience into chapters on, for example, jobs, marriages, and postpresidential careers prevents the development of any feeling for their individual lives. In many cases the authors seem oblivious to current scholarship in the field; in most, the information provided is simply of the most antiquarian variety or irrelevant to historical scholarship-as when we learn, for example, that the restored house of James K. Polk "is open to the public every day except Thanksgiving, Christmas Eve, and Christmas Day" (14).

Perhaps such standards are too harsh for a book whose avowed purpose is merely to allow readers to "find myriad remarkable tidbits on a variety of subjects" (jacket). By their nature, almanacs do not aim at synthesis or narrative, but rather at the presentation of large amounts of information in readily accessible form. Such information certainly has its place in education; if among the dry and antiquarian presentation of decontextualized information one could find such fascinating trivia as the jacket promises, the book might be redeemed. It does include some interesting material: who would not be delighted to learn that when Benjamin Harrison attended college, he "developed a fondness for 'forbidden' cucumbers and 'long' cigars" (47), and that Lyndon Johnson's campaigners responded to Goldwater's "In Your Heart, You Know He's Right" slogan with buttons that read, "In Your Guts, You Know He's Nuts" (179)?

Overall, though, the book is a disappointment. Little of the information is genuinely fascinating, and most is easily available in encyclopedias or standard biographies. The information included here is generally of the most pedestrian and uncontroversial variety. Connelly's chapter on "Family Ties," for example, simply lists the wives and legitimate children of each president; not only does he make no attempt to examine how these families reflected their times, he does not even recognize the less "officiaquot; affective ties of presidents such as Jefferson and Buchanan.

What the book does well, however, is mimic the style of the worst history texts. The writing is lifeless and uninspiring, and assumes a high degree of background knowledge; the chapter on nominating conventions, for example, is practically incomprehensible without a thorough knowledge of just those events it purports to explain. Numerous inserts and boxes-only marginally related to the rest of the text-further reinforce the impression that one is reading a textbook. Even the illustrations are bland; they consist primarily of formal portraits and occasional political cartoons or photographs of stump speeches-a rare and ironic exception is a picture of a smiling Ronald Reagan receiving the Tower Commission report. The blandness of both material and presentation assure that this work will find little use among either students or teachers.

Keith C. Barton
Northern Kentucky University
Highland Heights, Kentucky