In the long-awaited follow-up to her Pulitzer Prize-winning Gulag, acclaimed journalist Anne Applebaum delivers a groundbreaking history of how Communism took over Eastern Europe after World War II and transformed in frightening fashion the individuals who came under its sway.
At the end of World War II, the Soviet Union to its surprise and delight found itself in control of a huge swath of territory in Eastern Europe. Stalin and his secret police set out to convert a dozen radically different countries to Communism, a completely new political and moral system. In Iron Curtain, Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Anne Applebaum describes how the Communist regimes of Eastern Europe were created and what daily life was like once they were complete. She draws on newly opened East European archives, interviews, and personal accounts translated for the first time to portray in devastating detail the dilemmas faced by millions of individuals trying to adjust to a way of life that challenged their every belief and took away everything they had accumulated. Today the Soviet Bloc is a lost civilization, one whose cruelty, paranoia, bizarre morality, and strange aesthetics Applebaum captures in the electrifying pages of Iron Curtain.
©2012 Anne Applebaum (P)2012 Random House Audio
"So much effort is spent trying to understand democratization these days, and so little is spent trying to understand the opposite processes. Anne Applebaum corrects that imbalance, explaining how and why societies succumb to totalitarian rule. Iron Curtain is a deeply researched and eloquent description of events which took place not long ago and in places not far away - events which contain many lessons for the present." (Fareed Zakaria, author of The Post-American World)
"Iron Curtain is an exceptionally important book which effectively challenges many of the myths of the origins of the Cold War. It is wise, perceptive, remarkably objective and brilliantly researched." (Antony Beevor, author of Stalingrad and The Second World War)
"This dramatic book gives us, for the first time, the testimony of dozens of men and women who found themselves in the middle of one of the most traumatic periods of European history. Anne Applebaum conveys the impact of politics and ideology on individual lives with extraordinary immediacy." (Amanda Foreman, author of Georgiana: Duchess of Devonshire and A World on Fire: Britain’s Crucial Role in the American Civil War)
Few books detail the suffering of the Polish people during and after the Second World War. That being the case, I'm grateful that Anne Applebaum researched and wrote this book as the information contained therein is rare and valuable. I found her description of the Eastern European social context at the close of the war to be especially so.
She treats horrors visited upon the Poles, Ukrainians, Hungarians, Czechs, Germans, and Jews with incredible clarity and with a rare touch that brings context to those horrors and allows for an appreciation of suffering by one or other group that does not diminish horrors visited upon others.
Her work here is admirable.
Unfortunately, the book does not hang together especially well.
She structures the book in chapters each describing a component of Soviet occupation (Policemen, Violence, Ethnic Cleansing, Radio, Politics...). Each of these components combine to create a context within which Soviet occupation was able to take root, grow in influence, and "flower" into its particular flavor of totalitarianism.
Each chapter then contains a series of anecdotes that describe how the chapter subject was realized in Poland, Hungary, and Czechoslovakia.
In theory, the above structure could work well, but I had trouble with it in this book.
Any overarching thread felt subsumed by anecdotes. Chapters launch into episodes about Poland, Hungary, and Czechoslovakia but without a clear sense of how each anecdote or episode fits into a larger thesis. Some chapters have a closing few sentences that draw back to a central notion, but while reading, I lost a sense of what about a given anecdote was important. And then, without a paragraph to help put the story just heard into a broader framework, another anecdote would follow. So I was left with a collection of stories without a concrete feeling of why each was important or how it fit into a broader picture.
The author has done quite a bit of research and she's eager to demonstrate it through the inclusion of quite a bit of detail. I wish she would have provided more interpretation of that detail to lend the book greater coherence.
I will recommend this book to friends and colleagues because its subject is so important and books about it are so scarce. I will however not recommend it unreservedly.
The narrator is capable and improves after the opening section which is made up of a series of quotes. Unfortunately, her pronunciation of Polish place names is frustratingly mediocre, as though she didn't approach their pronunciation seriously. Aside from that, she improves over the course of the reading and is not unpleasant. This is not an easy book to narrate and the narrator does pretty well to lend shape to text that hasn't much shape on its own.
She deserves 4 stars in general, but her pronunciation mistakes are so careless that I remove a star.
The subject of the book is important enough to lift the "overall" star score though its realization here is imperfect.
It's a worthwhile read.
Excellent book about a terrible era! When horrors are so pervasive as to become commonplace….what happens to our compass? One Audible review says that the book was confusing, which it wasn’t. The reviewer incorrectly summarizes that the book is about Poland, Hungary, and Czechoslovakia. But it’s about Poland, Hungary and EAST GERMANY, which is almost impossible to get wrong if he actually read this book.
I recommend digging into this one…dial back the clock to 1945-1956 and bear witness to goings on behind the Iron Curtain. Socialist societies do not die at the onset of failure…they live on, they limp forward, unable by ideology to see how deformed they have become. Most of our understanding about communism and socialism is waning as The 20th Century drifts into history, along with all its hard fought lessons. We may be forgetting why our free market system is superior to the brutal alternatives.
The book shows us that to ‘free’ humanity, you must first eliminate the enslavers. To eliminate the enslavers, you must have control of the society. To control society, you must have power. To maintain power, you must control the political system. To control the political system, you must control public opinion. To control public opinion, you must control what people think. In order to control what people think, you must control humanity. Such is the paradox of idealism and reality.
But ‘Iron Curtain’ does not discuss this philosophically. (Thank you!). Anne gives us her best effort here…she painstakingly illustrates with documentation, interviews, quotes, facts, figures, raw data, and real stories just what the human experience behind the Iron Curtain was like. Her details come at us like the planes of the Berlin airlift….one after the other in an unbroken chain. She reminds us that Poland, Hungary, and East Germany were once rich and vibrant cultures, as unique and flowering as France and Italy…yet these eastern counterparts have been somehow erased from our thoughts; they are simply ‘Eastern Bloc’ countries or ‘former Soviet satellites.’ Poland, Hungary, and East Germany seem blank and sterile, almost clones of anonymous nations. Not true. They were made that way. Clicking play will show you how, and remember....this all actually happened.
Daily commute and frequent travel predispose to solitude on the move, a condition treatable by a good audiobook. Addicted to audiobooks...
An insightful, well researched book. I grew up in a Siberian "closed" town in 1970s, which was build by Gulag prisoners before I was born. I spent my childhood behind three rows of barbed wires and had a happy childhood in this Soviet version of "gated community", which was not on the map. Interestingly, my home town Zheleznogorsk is still not on the map - Google maps missed it for some reason. My small town produced refined plutonium and spy satellites. In nearly 30 years I lived in the USSR before moving to the USA, I had no idea what was happening outside USSR, not only in the capitalist West, but even in the socialist East. We just never had a chance and thus did not even dream about traveling the world, until Soviet Union collapsed and suddenly everything become possible. Now I am trying to catch up with all the missed opportunities - and travel 30-40 times a year.
Book is a bit single sided though. I wish I could discuss it with the author. I live in Missouri now, not too far from Westminster College in Fulton MO, where the famous "Iron Curtain" speech was delivered by Winston Churchill in 1946. A week later the transcript of this speech was on Stalin's desk and infuriated him. It prompted Stalin to approve plans for building my home town among a network of similar "closed" cities of Siberia and for establishing my Alma mater - Moscow Institute of Physics and Technology - the best STEM school in former Soviet Union, which trained many outstanding physicists. It is impossible to go back in time, but what would have been without this speech? I am far from thinking that Stalin would have been different, but historical dynamics might have been not so dramatic in 1946 and on after the speech.
It is sad that the responsibility for rape of Eastern Europe by Stalin's Soviet Union is not acknowledged by the current Russian government, as it was by Germany. Without such a moral statement there will be no reconciliation.
Spreadhead and Biblioholic.
I had looked forward to listening to this and was a tad disappointed, but my expectations had been in the wrong direction. I had expected a much more detailed discussion of the policies crafted by Stalin and Zhdanov for the overlordship of their new satrapies. Instead this concentrated much more on the puppet governments themselves, and on the social movements that fulminated in their respective countries as the USSR felt its way through the first years of occupation, slowly strengthening its grip.
The book spends a fair amount of time on the backgrounds and policies of the "little Stalins", such as Ulbrecht in the DDR. Their local struggles in implementing the policies handed down by the Kremlin are discussed in depth, particularly in East Germany, Hungary and Poland. Their difficult positions - essentially acting as the local representatives of the USSR - might almost be pitiable were they not typically willing accomplices of the NKVD.
The narration was, to my ear, bland. It may be that I'm used to having my European History read to me by a male with a British accent, but I found the reader to be lacking.
As a companion piece to this, I would highly recommend "Revolution 1989" by Victor Sebestyen. After hearing about the establishment of these dystopias, a few hours listening to the story of their dismantlement will make you feel that some wrongs, in the end, are inevitably reversed.
Ms. Applebaum has written an excellent book, again. The research is thorough, the story engrossing, and the style reads well. The political history background comes to life through extensive use of memoirs to add human experiences.
Obviously, this book will be most interesting to people who are intrigued by this region: Poland, East Germany, Hungary, Czech Republic, and to a lesser degree Bulgaria and Romania.
The author dreams that people will read her book and understand that Western apologists were wrong to paint rosy pictures of the Eastern socialist countries. However, the sad reality is most people disregard facts and stubbornly cling to bad ideas.
John Christmas, author of "Democracy Society"
In-depth background stories about Poland, Hungary
Great book if you like to learn about the history of the Soviet bloc
Originating from central Europe, the history of the central Europe region interests me quite a bit. Unfortunately, at the start of the book the author explains that she concentrated on 3 countries from the region - Germany, Poland and Hungary. None of which is my country of origin.
And despite the fact that it shed some light on what had the people go through in those years, it left a feeling of something missing to a full picture.
Since the book was more less describing mostly events from 2 central european countries, it inspired me to go and look for more information the country where i was born.
The title, subtitle, and publisher's notes give the impression that the book covers all of Eastern Europe. Not far into the book, I came to realize that the Balkans, my particular area of interest, are barely covered. Had I known this, I probably would not have purchased the book. It is primarily a book about Poland and East Germany, not Eastern Europe.
I agree with other reviewers that the author goes into much detail but gives almost no analysis or synthesis. A downside of listening to rather than reading this book is that it is difficult to keep all of the different individuals straight. I don't think of myself particularly as a visual learner, but I found it difficult to remember who was who.
Definitely for those with an interest in postwar Germany and Poland. For myself--no sure.
I was hoping this would be an insightful piece about an interesting period of history but instead it was a depressing litany of numbers and dates without revealing the human side of the issue
Not enough story - all seemed quite one sided - obviously horrible things happened but there was no attempt to understand why
The performance was good
This is a precise, detailed, nuanced look at the carving up of Eastern Europe following World War 2. The intimate details of the domination of nations on a community (and often familial) level allowed me to gain a far better understanding of precisely how the Soviet Union achieved the isolation.
Anne Applebaum's Gulag makes an outstanding companion volume, providing the history of the slave prison empire that ran through the Soviet Union.
Someone more familiar with the history, or perhaps more accustomed to narrating non-fiction books.
The narrator (Cassandra Campbell) was dreadfully miscast. I kept thinking "she sounds like she thinks she's reading a novel by Gillian Flynn" -- and then I saw that in fact she's done exactly that. From putting the emphasis on the wrong syllables in words to mispronouncing proper nouns, and generally sounding like she had absolutely no idea of the meaning of what she's saying, Ms. Campbell robbed this book of gravity in her reading. She is not a bad reader for a novel but she was absolutely terrible for this particular work.
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