Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev's brief address to the American people on television today could be a dramatic pregame show. But it is not the first time he has addressed the United States directly.
A collection of Gorbachev's speeches, toasts, interviews and press conferences recently was published by Richardson & Steirman, a small publishing company based in New York. The book, "A Time for Peace," has sold about 43,000 in hard cover and, says company President Stewart Richardson, bookstores are demanding more and more copies. An advertising agency in Union, N.J., has initiated broadcast advertising for the book, using "800" phone numbers.
Richardson, a former editor at Doubleday & Co., had been to the Soviet Union a half dozen times for a number of projects, including a book done in conjunction with the Soviets on Russian astronauts.
"I first got interested in doing a book like Gorbachev's when Andropov was in power," he said. "I wrote him a letter, asking if he'd be interested in writing on foreign policy, but he fell ill. With Chernenko, I was interested again, but I was told that he already had a book of speeches out. And he was ill, too."
Gorbachev became general secretary of the Soviet Communist Party last March, and Richardson wrote him two months later asking if he was interested in writing a book.
"Gorbachev's people told me he felt it was a little early, that he had to consolidate his power before he'd write anything," said Richardson. "But in early September I got word back that he'd do it."
Richardson and Aleksei Pushkov, president of the Novosti Press Agency Publishing House, signed the contract. There was no advance, and the royalties that would ordinarily go to the author will be donated to Soviet Life, a Soviet English-language magazine published here.
"If Gorbachev's gotten a penny out of any of this, I don't know about it," said Richardson. "It's a little hard to tell precisely. I doubt if he's riding around in a Rolls because of all this."
Gorbachev wrote the straightforward, 2 1/2-page introduction to the book and edited the seven-page biography. The biography is mostly boilerplate material, adding little to what even the most casual reader already knows: " . . . At fourteen he had already learned to handle a grain combine during the long hours of the strenuous harvest."
"A Time for Peace" is mainly a collection of public performances delivered in a distinctly Soviet variety of stiffness. Lenin is quoted time and again.
"From the Speech at the Petrovsky Factory" is typical: "The Soviet people know well the enormous efforts made by our Party and government to uphold peace, to save the Earth from a nuclear catastrophe. In his day, Lenin expressed the principled position of the socialist state clearly, saying, 'We promise the workers and peasants to do all we can for peace . . . this we shall do.' "
For the average reader there is little glimpse into Gorbachev as a personality. Even some of the more vigorous exchanges over human rights in Paris last fall lose their resonance on the page. But to journalists and Sovietologists who monitor the Soviet leader's rhetoric and nuances, the book is an indispensable reference to Gorbachev's dramatic first months as general secretary.
Today's speech is a different sort of public relations gesture. The White House had been pressing for months to have President Reagan address the Soviet people on television, and the exchange of New Year's messages is the result of those negotiations. White House officials have indicated that Reagan's taped message is not likely to contain harsh references to such sensitive issues as human rights and the war in Afghanistan, and most expect Gorbachev, too, will say nothing that could diplomatically offend.
"My guess," said Richardson, "is that he'll get on the air, say 'Peace on Earth,' 'Happy New Year,' and that'll be the end of it."