Communism dominated the political history of the 20th century. Yet it remains an enigmatic force: how could a philosophy of universal liberation turn so quickly into an engine of oppression? How was it possible for a rag-tag movement of street protests and café conspirators to seize command of the Russian state, turn it into a military superpower, and spread revolution to other lands? Communism exemplified the pernicious role of ideology in modern mass society. Both the sudden rise of communism in the early 1900s, and its equally abrupt collapse in the 1980s, caught observers by surprise and confounded academic conventions. The three books under review here, written by distinguished British specialists on Soviet history, successfully convey the international sweep and complexity of the Communist phenomenon. While the focus is on the rise and fall of the Soviet Union, the authors also cover the spread of Communism to China, Africa and elsewhere, and its blunting in Western Europe. The impact of Communist thinking on the arts is also explored, especially by David Priestland. But the debate over the driving forces behind communism's initial success and ultimate failure will continue for years to come.