Revolution lowest 1989: discount The Fall of the Soviet Empire sale

Revolution lowest 1989: discount The Fall of the Soviet Empire sale

Revolution lowest 1989: discount The Fall of the Soviet Empire sale
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Revolution 1989 is the first in-depth, authoritative account of a few months that changed the world.

At the start of 1989, six European nations were Soviet vassal states. By year''s end, they had all declared national independence and embarked on the road to democracy. How did it happen so quickly? Victor Sebestyen, who was on the scene as a reporter, draws on his firsthand knowledge of the events, on scores of interviews with witnesses and participants, and on newly uncovered archival material. He tells the story through the eyes of ordinary men and women as well as through the strategic moves of world leaders. He shows how the KGB helped bring down former allies; how the United States tried to slow the process; and why the collapse of the Iron Curtain was the catalyst for the fall of the entire Soviet empire.

Review

“A must-have accounting. . . . Sebestyen’s brilliantly written narrative unfolds in brief, gripping episodes.” — Newsweek
 
“Numerous books have [attempted] to synthesize the compelling story of the fall of communism, but Revolution 1989 comes closest to being the essential volume. Sebestyen’s elegant narrative lays out in crisp episodes what was happening . . . throughout the tumultuous 1980s.” — The Daily Beast
 
“Full of sharp snapshots and crisp narrative . . . vivid personal glimpses and striking details.” — The New York Review of Books
 
“Vivid, panoramic. . . . The writing is taut, the scene-setting dramatic, giving the book an almost cinematic feel.” — The Sunday Times (London)
 
“A digestible and colourful history of that miraculous year.” — The Economist
 
“It’s a complex story spanning many countries, but this exciting yet deeply researched work brings it impressively to life. . . . Compelling.” — The Observer

“Sebestyen’s strength is his sharp focus and racy prose. . . . Here is history written like a Greek tragedy.” — The Times (London)

“A compelling and illuminating account of a great drama in the history of our times which showed once again that ordinary men and women really can change the world.” — The Mail on Sunday
  
“A rollicking mix of high drama and sordid reality . . . spiced with telling quotations.” — The Independent
 
“A thrilling read. . . . Sebestyen is good at sketching the leading players but he also succinctly conveys what life was like for ordinary citizens.” — Daily Express
  
“Sebestyen brilliantly pulls together the events that led to the fall of the Soviet empire.” — The Spectator
 
“Superbly  written and impressively documented.” — Times Literary Supplement

About the Author

 Victor Sebestyen is the author of Twelve Days: The Story of the 1956 Hungarian Revolution. He has worked for many British newspapers, including the Evening Standard. Born in Budapest, he lives in England.

Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.

Part One:  COLD WAR

ONE: THE WORKERS'' STATE

They ran to us shouting,
''Under Socialism
A cut finger doesn''t hurt.''
But they felt pain.
They lost faith.
—Adam Wazyk, ''Poem for Adults''

Three years after the Berlin Wall was built in 1961 , the German Democratic Republic''s ruling regime devised an unorthodox but lucrative business scheme to earn convertible currency from the West. It started trading in human beings. Officials from the East offered to release political prisoners to West Germany in return for a fee. The traffic began on a small scale, a handful at a time. The first few were prominent dissidents, ''troublemakers'' whom the East Germans did not mind packing off into exile. Within a few years it became a well oiled business with an infrastructure of its own. A few days before each sale the prisoners were taken to a special, highly secret, jail in Karl Marx Stadt (now Chemnitz) run by the GDR''s intelligence service, the Stasi. A fleet of buses had been built by a West German contractor just for the purpose of ferrying this precious cargo. The vehicles were fitted with revolving number plates—East German for the return trip from the prison to the border and Federal Republic of Germany (FRG) registrations for the time they were in West Germany. Around twice a week groups of ten or so would be driven, early in the morning, to a border post near the city of Jena, where, unusually, they would be waved through by guards without any document searches. They would be in the FRG by lunchtime, on the road to Hanover.

Over the years around 34,000 people were ''sold'' in this way and the trade was sensitive to free-market economic laws. In the mid-1960s the price per head was around DM 40,000; by the mid-1980s, inflation and hard bargaining by the East had pushed that up to more than DM 100,000. The GDR soon saw it as away of maximising income. The state made nothing from people who legally applied for visas to see their relatives in the West. So the police arrested thousands of them on trumped-up charges, called them ''political prisoners'' and promptly sold them to West Germany. Egon Bahr, for many years the administrator who handled the sensitive business on West Germany''s side, said it was clear to him that ''it was part of the GDR''s general budget''. Usually payments were made in hard cash, but on occasion the East received bartered goods. In one year, as part of the agreement, the GDR was sent shiploads of bananas, a luxury item in the East at the time, extremely hard to obtain in the shops of Berlin, Leipzigor Dresden. According to one of the most senior East German economists, this ''business venture'' netted his massively indebted nation a total of around DM 8 billion. It was the kind of sum without which the country could not survive.

The trade depended on conditions of high secrecy; it depended on a quiescent population in East Germany desperate to leave the country; and it depended on a regime cynical enough to believe it could sell and buy citizens at will. The sales were never officially admitted by the GDR. The Authorities of course recognised that it was not the best advertisement for life in the countries that Erich Honecker, East Germany''s supreme leader then and for more than two decades, liked to say operated ''actually existingsocialism''.


It was socialism as the Soviet Union saw it, imposed at gunpoint on a half-dozen states that did not want it. The empire Joseph Stalin built after World War Two extended as far as the Russian armies reached in the final onslaught against the Nazis in the spring of 1945. There was no other logic to it. By agreement with the Allies at Yalta, the Soviets were essentially allowed to do what they liked in their ''sphere of influence''. Stalin treated the entire region as one vast dominion, barely recognising any national identities in countries of extremely diverse cultures. The Red Tsar in Moscow imposed as his consuls in Prague, Warsaw and Sofia his own henchmen, whose prime loyalty was to the USSR and then to a Communist ideology. They were chosen for their unswerving allegiance to him. Most of them had spent fifteen or twenty years in exile in Russia and had taken Soviet citizenship. They had lost contact with the lands of their birth. The Soviet Union had given them shelter and a cause to believe in. Most were from countries where Communist Party membership had been illegal between the wars and they had spent long periods in jail. When they returned on Stalin''s instructions after the war, they were not going home. They went to Hungary or Czechoslovakia or Poland as representatives of a foreign power, to serve the interests of the Soviet Union. They knew what was expected of them: they were to build a socialist imperium in Central and Eastern Europe, with barely any deviation permitted from the Stalinist model. These countries in 1945 had important things in common: they were overrun and occupied by the Red Army and Stalin was about to transform them utterly in his image. Otherwise there were substantial differences, occasionally antagonisms, between them.

The Soviet attempt to turn the region into a stable,reliable and monolithic whole would be a hard task. There was some idealism to begin with. The majority of people who had endured the Nazi occupation were simply relieved the war was over. The experience of the 1920s and 1930s had turned many Central Europeans into socialists, though never anything like as many as the Communists imagined. Only in one country, Hungary, did Stalin permit a genuinely fair election. In November 1945 the Party won 17 per cent of the vote, and the centre right parties received 56 per cent. The Soviets insisted on a coalition government, while the power of the police and ''state security'' was placed in the hands of the Communists. In Czechoslovakia there had been a large industrial working class during the 1920s and 1930s; immediately after the war the Communists were supported by about 35 per cent of the voters. But if democracy would not give them power, the Soviets were determined to take it — one way or another. Using a mixture of bribery, intimidation, deceit and, finally, terror, within three years the Soviets had asserted full control over their new colonies. All other political parties were abolished by the end of 1948, or subsumed into the Communist Party and ceased to exist independently.

The occupation had been accompanied by atrocities from Russian troops who had seen some of the most brutal fighting in the war. It will never be known exactly how many women were raped in Germany, Hungary or Poland after the Soviet ''liberation'', but the number certainly ran into hundreds of thousands. Desperate, conquered, exhausted, most people were prepared to put up with the new reality as long as a few improvements came along. Some of these countries were massively unjust peasant societies where serfdom had been abolished less than a century earlier. In large parts of Romania, agriculture had barely changed since medieval times. Generally, they lagged behind Western Europe. The Communists promised to transform all this, eradicate the injustices, start from scratch and build a dynamic new commonwealth of equals through rapid development.

For a while it worked. Immediate postwar reconstruction was as fast as in the Western half of Europe. But it started from an extremely low base of devastation and destruction. While in Britain there was still food rationing until the early 1950s, Czechoslovakia and Romania began exporting food fairly soon after the end of the war. The new regimes were given some praise for getting bridges and city centres rebuilt, transport links running again. Initially, at least, peasants were handed small pockets of land taken from the vast latifundia estates that stretched through tracts of Eastern Europe. Then the land was taken away again in a rush to organise great collective farms owned by the state. Any enthusiasm there may once have been did not last beyond the purges of the last insane years of Stalin''s life.

The Communists had eliminated or cowed into submission their real enemies soon after the war. Opposition politicians were murdered en masse, Church leaders were intimidated into silence and on occasion collaboration. The bourgeoisie had their homes dispossessed and artists were told by commissars of culture what kind of music or painting or literature would henceforth be permitted. All businesses employing more than a handful of people were nationalised and in some countries — Bulgaria for example — no one other than the state was allowed to be an employer of any kind.

Relations between East and West had reached freezing point soon after the war-accelerated by Winston Churchill''s ''Iron Curtain'' speech in Fulton, Missouri, in 1946.Then, in the winter of 1948-9, a Cold War broke out within the socialist bloc. A leader in one of the ''liberated territories'' dared to challenge Moscow. During the war Josip Broz Tito had been a partisan leader in Yugoslavia''s struggle against the Nazis, earning respect, and material support, from anti-Communists. He established a Marxist dictatorship in Belgrade but resisted Yugoslavia''s descent into the slave status of his Central and East European neighbours. He identified various paths towards socialism, declared himself a ''national Communist'' and saw the future for his country as ''nonaligned''. All this was heresy in the eyes of Stalin, who once boasted ''I could smash Tito with a snap of my fingers.'' It proved to be not quite so easy. Stalin thought he could afford to show no crack in Communist solidarity in case it was exploited by the West. Tito''s defiance could not go unpunished. Anyone in the empire inclined to show sympathy with the Yugoslavs had to be crushed. Stalin organised a campaign against the ''nest of Titoist Trotskyite spies'' throughout the satellite states which for the next few years convulsed all of Eastern Europe as Communists devoured their own children in an orgy of bloodshed.

Famous names who had been hailed in the Bolshevik pantheon as heroes suddenly faced arrest on bogus charges, terrible tortures, show trials and, after a ritual ''confession'', execution. Such was the fate of loyal Communists like Rudolf Slánský, second in command of the Czech Party, László Rajk, the heir apparent in the Hungarian leadership, and the impeccably Stalinist Tchaiko Kostov in Bulgaria. Scores of thousands of lesser-known comrades were shot in the back of the neck, in the classic Bolshevik manner, or rotted away in prison camps. Often Communists who had survived Hitler''s camps and came out as faithful believers in socialism, died at the hands of their comrades — for example Slánský''s co-defendant Josef Frank, who after three years in Buchenwald returned to Czechoslovakia as an honoured figure in the ruling regime but was murdered four years later in a Communist-run camp. In turn, those same executioners a month or a year later would themselves be executed. This was the method by which'' socialist order'' was imposed. Who was or was not a traitor did not matter — the argument was semantic. Stalin believed in constant purges as the most effective way of retaining power and, when things were not going well, he required a regular supply of scapegoats. The system as created by him could not be in error: someone had to be responsible for its failures.

 The great monster died in 1953 and his crimes began to be exposed by Nikita Khrushchev three years later. Over time the violent excesses were removed, but essentially the system that Stalin created survived barely reformed for another three and a half decades under various successors. It became less vicious, but through bureaucratic inertia and stagnation just as rigid, inflexible and hungry for control over its subjects. ''Society is the horse and the Party is the rider,'' Stalin had said. The horses of Eastern Europe were ridden extra hard and would prefer to have been stabled elsewhere.

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Top reviews from the United States

Donald G. Zeiter
5.0 out of 5 starsVerified Purchase
Finally The End Of Communism?
Reviewed in the United States on August 24, 2018
Growing up in 60''s and 70''s I never thought communism would fall so quickly. My son was born in 1989 so has no concept of the cold war. This book describes some of the horrors of communism but that should be a book all it''s own. Why do communists still teach on our... See more
Growing up in 60''s and 70''s I never thought communism would fall so quickly. My son was born in 1989 so has no concept of the cold war. This book describes some of the horrors of communism but that should be a book all it''s own. Why do communists still teach on our college campuses when they were as bad as nazis? It is amazing the number of people that communism is fine,we just need the right people to run it.
6 people found this helpful
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Belleparker
4.0 out of 5 starsVerified Purchase
very worth while
Reviewed in the United States on December 25, 2020
The events during 1989 were extremely important and brought a breadth of fresh air to the world. This book details the fall of communism throughout the Soviet Empire not just in Germany. It contains many informative events that most people don''t know about. I liked it... See more
The events during 1989 were extremely important and brought a breadth of fresh air to the world. This book details the fall of communism throughout the Soviet Empire not just in Germany. It contains many informative events that most people don''t know about. I liked it very much and highly recommend it to any one interested in important recent historical events.
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Richard C. Geschke
5.0 out of 5 starsVerified Purchase
When the Nuts and Bolts Came off the Communist Machine
Reviewed in the United States on November 29, 2009
Victor Sebestyen''s gripping masterpiece in what transpired in Eastern Europe culminating in the startling events of 1989 makes us realize that it just didn''t happen. This remarkable treatise provides us with only the beginnings of understanding these historical events.... See more
Victor Sebestyen''s gripping masterpiece in what transpired in Eastern Europe culminating in the startling events of 1989 makes us realize that it just didn''t happen. This remarkable treatise provides us with only the beginnings of understanding these historical events. Sebestyen explains the Warsaw Pact relationships of the old guard and how these countries operated under the careful auspices of "Mother Russia". In doing this, we see the basic structure and dependency of these satellite Communistic states of the USSR.
Sebestyen goes into detail about the basic failures and flaws of these totalitarian states and that the events played out in 1989 just didn''t happen. The Author summarizes the life and times of Mikhail Gorbachev and his rise to leadership and his introduction of glasnost and perestroika. In essence he shows the USSR at an economic and political crossroads. The old regime of Leonid Brezhnev et al was tired, ineffective and no longer could "sell the big lie". It took three generations, but when Gorbachev came into power the USSR was totally bankrupt economically and politically.
With this in mind Sebestyen weaves an excellent historical perspective of all the iron curtain countries and shows their similarities and also their differences. His narrative explains these events that seem spontaneous but in reality were actions which were bottled up for decades within these countries which have experienced a "long hard winter".
This study will enlighten all who read it. I would highly recommend this as a general outline study for these historical events. One thing I was surprised about in this scholarly study was that the editing was not good. Sebestyen''s writing is very good, however on more than one instance words were missing and sentences were fragmentized.

In all this was a remarkable read. Hopefully the editing will be better for future editions
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Ronald van Vollenhoven
5.0 out of 5 starsVerified Purchase
Recent history that everyone should read
Reviewed in the United States on October 10, 2009
This book is subtitled "the fall of the Sovjet empire"- which may sound a bit melodramatic. But it is, in fact, hard to overstate the magnitude and drama of the change that occurred in the pivotal year of 1989 when the six countries of eastern Europe in the Sovjet block one... See more
This book is subtitled "the fall of the Sovjet empire"- which may sound a bit melodramatic. But it is, in fact, hard to overstate the magnitude and drama of the change that occurred in the pivotal year of 1989 when the six countries of eastern Europe in the Sovjet block one by one replaced their single-party communist systems with multi-party democracy, cut their allegiances to Moscow and the Warsaw pact, and embraced western style market-capitalism, social democracy, the European Union, and NATO.

In this book, Viktor Sebestyen, known from the acclaimed "Twelve Days" about the Hungarian uprising of 1956, takes us through the decade and a half preceding the year 1989. Chapter by chapter the book moves back and forth through the six countries under Sovjet dominion: Eastern Germany, Poland, Chechoslovakia, Hungary, Rumania and Bulgaria, providing us glimpses of those countries'' unique histories and the manner in which they ended up being Sovjet vassals, the pivotal events in each of these countries that would have major repercussions - sometimes years later - such as the election of Polish pope John Paul II, and up until when, finally, the actual mostly peaceful overthrow of the communists'' reign took place. Naturally, there is attention for the events in the Sovjet Union, where the succession of Leonid Brezhnev by Mikail Gorbachov (with two other leaders briefly in-between) led to sweeping changes in its policies and goals. However, that is not the focus of this particular book (I rather suspect Mr. Sebestyen is working on a separate book on that story) and here it is only given to the extent it helps us understand the events in the six East-block countries. The book does not describe paralel events in Yugoslavia or Albania, either.

Mr. Sebestyen is a very good writer in the tradition of British journalism, and this book is an easy and pleasant read. The chapters are all rather short and infuse the story with excitement and not rarely a cliff-hanger of sorts. As best I can tell the facts are presented in a balanced way and the research seems to have been done well - although I am sure some may find details that are incorrect (I found one: the Nobel prize for peace is given out in Oslo, not in Stockholm). There are some photographs in the book that illustrate and enliven the story - but more would have been better.

In some places Mr. Sebestyen provides us with a glimpse of how history research can discover only later what dramatic events were taking place without most of us realizing. One example of that, described in this book, is how in December of 1983 the world came closer to nuclear war than ever before. This is chilling reading, a reminder how differently things could have turned out... And, unexpectedly, Mr. Sebestyen provides us with a view of then-president Reagan that casts him in a more favorable light than many other sources have done.

The book is not edited well. There are sometimes gaps in the story lines, and some things are left hanging in the air. In some instances it is impossible to figure out when a specific event was supposed to have happened. But those are minor flaws in an otherwise impressive book.

All in all, this is a very good book on events that for many of us occurred during own lifetimes but we may nonetheless have missed some of the key ingredients. For those who were not around or too small to remember, this book is an absolute must-read. And maybe this book, or one similar in scope, should be required reading for all, lest we should forget how only very recently a major change in our world took place, in mostly a peaceful manner, forever changing the course of history.
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scott89119
5.0 out of 5 starsVerified Purchase
Revolution 1989 by Victor Sebestyen
Reviewed in the United States on December 31, 2010
Postwar Europe is a fascinating subject, no matter what angle of it you''re learning about. Sebestyen''s new book, chronicling the gradual decline of Communism throughout Eastern Europe, is as necessary as any book I have yet read about the region and its tumultuous period.... See more
Postwar Europe is a fascinating subject, no matter what angle of it you''re learning about. Sebestyen''s new book, chronicling the gradual decline of Communism throughout Eastern Europe, is as necessary as any book I have yet read about the region and its tumultuous period. It is best for people like me, the wayward reader with not a lot of knowledge about the time period and looking for a succinct dissertation on the area as a whole. Each (short) chapter is about a separate country, each filled with its own intrigues and problems stemming from totalitarian leaders and the top brass off in distant Moscow. The overall problems, and the myriad of smaller issues and injustices, are laid out in easy to understand, sharply written vignettes, fascinating in themselves and layered in a clever structure that constantly builds more and more pressure tonally throughout the book, leading to the inevitable conclusion. Other readers may take umbrage with the lack of more detail in the chapters, and they may be right, but as a bird''s-eye view this really cannot be beat. It is a vital work of modern history that enlightens (and oftentimes mystifies) the reader. Highest recommendation.
3 people found this helpful
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Anglotopia
4.0 out of 5 starsVerified Purchase
I would like the book to have continued and followed to the ...
Reviewed in the United States on July 3, 2016
This was a fascinating deconstruction of the fall of Communism in Eastern Europe. However, if you''re looking for a book about the collapse of the Soviet Union, this is not it. It focuses on the members of the Warsaw Pact and while the Soviet Union and the figures that ran... See more
This was a fascinating deconstruction of the fall of Communism in Eastern Europe. However, if you''re looking for a book about the collapse of the Soviet Union, this is not it. It focuses on the members of the Warsaw Pact and while the Soviet Union and the figures that ran it play an important role, the books stops just before the collapse of the Soviet Union itself. I would like the book to have continued and followed to the endgame of Gorbachev''s reforms, but it stops at 1990. But disappointing really. It''s also interesting to think what a wonderful thing the current free movement Europeans have in this context when many were prisoners in their own countries.
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Thomas
5.0 out of 5 starsVerified Purchase
One of the Best
Reviewed in the United States on March 6, 2016
This has got to be one of the best "history books" I have ever read. There is a goldmine of information that you wouldn''t find in your normal history class. It gives a masterfully-written and engaging look at virtually all of the Soviet Satellites between the late... See more
This has got to be one of the best "history books" I have ever read. There is a goldmine of information that you wouldn''t find in your normal history class. It gives a masterfully-written and engaging look at virtually all of the Soviet Satellites between the late 1960s up to 1991, including the Afghanistan War, Solidarity, the Power Politics behind all of it, and the eventual crumble through the regimes of Bulgaria, Romania, East Berlin, Poland, Czech, and Hungary. Even if you are not looking to use this as an educational experience, this dynamic text is a must-have for fans of central-eastern European history.
2 people found this helpful
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T. Nielsen
4.0 out of 5 starsVerified Purchase
and visited the wonderful Solidarity museum
Reviewed in the United States on January 5, 2016
Fascinating book about the collapse of the Soviet Union. Quite detailed, sometimes hard not to get lost with all the places and names, but still, a very compelling narrative is woven, connecting the dots between all the events that started in G''Dansk and the shipyard... See more
Fascinating book about the collapse of the Soviet Union. Quite detailed, sometimes hard not to get lost with all the places and names, but still, a very compelling narrative is woven, connecting the dots between all the events that started in G''Dansk and the shipyard strikes. I had visited there this summer, and visited the wonderful Solidarity museum, and wanted a book to help expand on what I had learned there. There are surprisingly few books that tackle that story. I enjoyed this book quite a bit.
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Top reviews from other countries

Geoff Bonner
3.0 out of 5 starsVerified Purchase
How the Daily Mail might describe the end of the cold war
Reviewed in the United Kingdom on October 3, 2015
A very readable account of the end of communism in eastern Europe, but it’s more journalism than serious history, and I wasn’t surprised when I found out that the author had written for the Daily Mail. Indeed, you would get a good flavour of the book if you think of it as...See more
A very readable account of the end of communism in eastern Europe, but it’s more journalism than serious history, and I wasn’t surprised when I found out that the author had written for the Daily Mail. Indeed, you would get a good flavour of the book if you think of it as how the Daily Mail would write an account of the end of the cold war. It''s purely descriptive, with no depth of analysis to it, and the various actors in the drama are portrayed in a very black and white way – they are all either fools or knaves or heroes – with no sense of the subtleties and nuances of personality that you know must have actually been there. And it finishes at the end of the exciting bit – the overthrow of the communist regimes in eastern Europe – without going on to look at the duller but more important question of what happened next, at how the newly liberated countries faced up to their new challenges, or indeed what happened to the Soviet Union itself. So, an exciting read, but for real understanding, look elsewhere.
12 people found this helpful
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Jan
5.0 out of 5 starsVerified Purchase
A good overall view
Reviewed in the United Kingdom on October 21, 2020
I have almost finished reading this book. I can''t put it down. It is the only book I have come across which has a comprehensive sweep throughout eastern/central Europe, yet stays coherent because it focusses on different countries at different times and doesn''t try to throw...See more
I have almost finished reading this book. I can''t put it down. It is the only book I have come across which has a comprehensive sweep throughout eastern/central Europe, yet stays coherent because it focusses on different countries at different times and doesn''t try to throw it all at you at once. Very readable, literate, and with good footnotes but escapes being too academic for an ordinary reader. If you like this, try his book on Hungary.
2 people found this helpful
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John Hopper
5.0 out of 5 starsVerified Purchase
Excellent and exciting read
Reviewed in the United Kingdom on December 12, 2014
This is an excellent, detailed and exciting narrative covering the events leading up to and during the almost simultaneous fall of communism in 1989 in the six central and east European countries in the Soviet sphere of influence for the previous 40 years. The book is...See more
This is an excellent, detailed and exciting narrative covering the events leading up to and during the almost simultaneous fall of communism in 1989 in the six central and east European countries in the Soviet sphere of influence for the previous 40 years. The book is divided into three parts: the first deals with the deeper background, in particular worker unrest in Poland in the 1970s and the reasons why the Soviet Union became progressively unable and unwilling to maintain its commitments in eastern Europe - the effect of the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan in 1979 and resulting long drawn out war on its military stretch and morale, and the collapse of world oil prices meaning the decrease of revenue from the sale of its natural resources to eastern European and other countries; the second part deals with accelerating developments throughout the mid to late 1980s across the countries; and the third is a chronological account covering events throughout the year, especially during the crucial October to December period. All six countries are covered, though there is relatively little coverage of Bulgaria, the least familiar of the six to western readers, and the most loyal to the USSR (its leader Zhivkov, in power from 1954-89, once applied to Brezhnev for his country to be accepted as the 16th republic within the USSR). The main stories will be very familiar to most readers of a certain age: in Poland, the rise of Lech Walesa''s Solidarity to a position where it challenged Jaruzelski''s power but where, in a huge turnaround, they were able to find an accommodation and work together in government; the "Trabi trail" of East Germans across the border to the much freer Hungary and thence to Austria via the defunct electrified fence on the border; (of course) the fall of the Berlin Wall, triggered off accidentally by a mistaken answer by Gunter Schabowski to a journalist''s question at a crucial press conference; and the bloody overthrow of Romania''s Ceausescu, the worst of the lot in a violent confrontation which distinguished events in that country from the otherwise very largely peaceful revolutions in the others, as epitomised by the name of the Velvet Revolution in Czechoslovakia. Another common feature between nearly all of the six countries was the fact that they had become massively indebted to western banks to keep their economies going and to maintain a decent standard of living for their people; and this combined with the refusal of the Soviets under Gorbachev to bail them out, brought out a degree of opposition from workers who might not have been motivated to oppose their governments purely on the grounds of the lack of political freedoms and civil liberties. 5/5 [A brief note on the Kindle version of this book: the publishers seem to have a problem with diacritical signs in Czech and Romanian, so some of the names come out oddly.]
4 people found this helpful
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SL-N/1973
5.0 out of 5 starsVerified Purchase
A series of fantastic history lessons!
Reviewed in the United Kingdom on February 1, 2012
This is the most compulsive page-turner I''ve read for a very long time, and that''s not something I was expecting to say about a weighty book covering an era which I thought I already knew something about. Instead, it delivers a gripping account of the awesome power, deceit,...See more
This is the most compulsive page-turner I''ve read for a very long time, and that''s not something I was expecting to say about a weighty book covering an era which I thought I already knew something about. Instead, it delivers a gripping account of the awesome power, deceit, ruthlessness and collapse of six communist states. I came to this book as a result of being interested in East Germany and the fall of the Berlin Wall, so I applaud Victor Sebestyen for widening my view of that time by writing such a reader-friendly account of a staggeringly complicated period in the 20th Century, and for introducing me to the incredible stories of so many other countries'' shift from communism. "Revolution 1989" is an over-simplistic title because the book covers the decades building up to the amazing groundswell which led to the year when the communist satellite states all fell over and their corrupt, wretched dictatorships were overthrown. It covers a huge range of politics, economics and society for Poland, Romania, Hungary, Czechoslovakia, Bulgaria and East Germany, and does so by dedicating its chapters to specific dates or times when things were happening - so for instance, if one chapter is about what was happening in Poland when Solidarity was beginning, the next will cover what was happening in Hungary or Romania and how the USSR government were involved. And this goes on until you find that day by day at the end of 1989 everything was going on at the same time. It''s very, very well written! I was hooked from the start and found out so much about things which previously I wasn''t aware of, for example the massive significance of the arrival of a Polish Pope, and the way that the communist satellite states'' destinies were so closely intertwined with each other. Victor Sebestyen has a real knack for conveying great amounts of complex information in easy-to-manage portions, and the final 150 pages or so just rattled by for me in just two sittings. As a result of reading this I''ve moved on to books specifically about Hungary, Romania and Czechoslovakia, the biographies of Vaclav Havel and Lech Walesa, and an absolute cracker about the rise and fall of communism.
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Dr. R. Brandon
5.0 out of 5 starsVerified Purchase
A Fast Paced, Lucid, and Thrilling Account of the Year of Revolution 1989
Reviewed in the United Kingdom on January 2, 2010
This is an excellent book and is as well crafted and interesting as Sebestyen''s earlier, ''Twelve Days: Revolution 1956''. It is quite an achievement that Sebestyen is able to engender excitement and pace into a narrative about which we all know the end result, the collapse...See more
This is an excellent book and is as well crafted and interesting as Sebestyen''s earlier, ''Twelve Days: Revolution 1956''. It is quite an achievement that Sebestyen is able to engender excitement and pace into a narrative about which we all know the end result, the collapse of the Soviet Empire in eastern Europe. The author successfully uses the technique of swiftly moving from one centre of power to another in short chapters such that the story quickly moves forward on all fronts. The background to the dramatic events of 1989 are carefully explored; the sequence of aged and moribund leaders in Moscow, the calamity of Russian involvement in Afghanistan, the burgeoning foreign debt problems of all the Warsaw pact countries, Russian technological failures, and finally the arrival on the international stage of two leaders who were determined to break with the past, Reagan and Gorbachev. Sebestyen then skilfully deals with the quite different approaches to change pursued by East Germany, Poland, Czechoslovakia, Hungary, Romania and Bulgaria. He gives us a clear picture of the leading players, their character, and the reasons that forced them to make the changes they did, often their room for manoeuvre being compromised by their own Warsaw Pact allies. The radically different solutions sought in each country to essentially the same set of problems remain fascinating to this day. I have no hesitation in recommending this excellent work which must stand as one of the most readable, lucid, and thrilling accounts of the momentous events of that remarkable year 1989.
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