If it were fiction nobody would believe it. Real life events just don’t happen in such dramatic and thematic sync, right? A succession of aged, feeble, and sclerotic Soviet leaders General Secretaries Leonid Brezhnev, Yuri Andropov, and Konstantin Chernenko become embodiments of the total moral rot that was the Soviet Union. The next in line, Mikhail Gorbachev, believed in communism and, unlike almost all of his colleagues, admired Lenin. Who would have thought that a man with such beliefs would introduce glasnost (openness), and perestroika (restructuring), and that he would be serious about it? That he would insist upon the unthinkable: that the Soviet satellite states independently make their own political decisions? The Soviet Union was ideologically, militarily, and fiscally bankrupt, and in cutting loose the satellite states, Gorbachev believed these states would choose communism. Victor Sebestyen’s Revolution 1989: The Fall of the Soviet Empire chronicles the transformation of the Soviet leadership under Gorbachev and the revolutions in the six nations of the Warsaw Pact East Germany, Poland, Czechoslovakia, Hungary, Romania, and Bulgaria that toppled the old guards of the Soviet Union and altered the course of history.
Sebestyen had access to the Soviet archives, and the finely detailed narrative renderings that pervade Revolution 1989 indicate the archives were extensively used. Paul Hecht, with his rich baseline baritone voice, his precise dramatic control, his evocative vocal cadences and inflections, and careful detailing of characters and events, is the perfect narrator for this book. At 18 hours, 40 minutes in length, the narrative is presented both chronologically and by shifts to and from the six Warsaw Pact states and Soviet Russia. The narrative architecture of the Soviet Union’s deconstruction is a complex and involved and exhilarating story. For this listener and reviewer, the effect of dynamic events of such scale and on all fronts produced a stark, dramatic, and fluid rendering of visual images. Without Hecht’s superb narration I doubt this visual enhancement would have been present in the audiobook. Revolution 1989 is a richly compelling, historically important, and very exciting listen. David Chasey
©2009 Victor Sebestyen; (P)2009 Recorded Books, LLC
I bought this book to try to understand the events that lead to the fall of the Soviet Empire. I lived through the period as an adult and thought I knew what happened, but also thought that an actual history might help me understand the underlying events that caused the fall. I expected to be slightly bored by a retelling of events that I thought I knew, but expected to learn enough new to be worth the time. What I found was a fascinating book that kept me entralled as much as any suspense novel. I also found that much that I thought I knew was either wrong or incomplete.
Mr Sebestyen's book follows the events in Eastern Europe chronologically so the book is constantly switching from what is happening in one country to the events in another country. I thought at first that this was going to be a distraction, but in the end it helped me understand why things happened because events in one country were often affected by those in another. Further, because Mr Sebestyen's writing is so good, the change of context from one country to another seems perfectly natural and helps the flow of the narrative.
Because the events are so recent and because the revolutions were, for the most part, so peaceful, many of the participants are still alive and willing to talk candidly. Their honesty and openness in explaining what happened and why is exemplified by one East German official who, in discussing the government's unwillingness to remove Erich Honecker to try to save the situation, said that they were idiots (although is use of idiom was somewhat more colorful).
I learned many things through this book and am reluctant to spoil the journey of discovery for others. Still some things are clear. Central to the story is the character of Mikhail Gorbachev without whom these events would have been very different. Also clear was that many of the people responsible for the fall of the Soviet sponsored Eastern European governments were part of those governments, people who were committed communists but were unwilling to stay in power if the only way they could do so was through the spilling of the blood of their own citizens. Also it must not be forgotten that without the citizens of the country, many of whom put their lives at risk, none of this could have happened.
The events in this book cover all of Eastern Europe except Yugoslavia, Albania (which is never even mentioned) and the Baltic Republics. These countries are all free today and this book describes why. The writing is wonderful, the narration is flawless and I not only learned much I did not know, but found myself reluctant, at times, to stop listening. I have seldom read history books as informative and enjoyable as this one. I highly recommend it for anyone with an interest in the turn history took in the late 20th century.
I am currently a graduate student at the University of California, Santa Cruz.
With the labels "Communist," "Marxist" and "Socialist" being thrown around so much in contemporary politics that they start to lose their meaning, it is refreshing to hear an account of what "really existing socialism" was like and how the oppressive systems that used socialist ideals to legitimize power ultimately collapsed.
"Revolution 1989: The Fall of the Soviet Empire" does an excellent job of describing the decline and ultimate fall of the communist regimes in Eastern Europe during the turbulent 1980s. Because there were events happening in multiple countries at different times, Sebestyen jumps each chapter from location to location and crisis to crisis. In doing so, Sebestyen highlights the common problems that Soviet puppets shared both politically and economically while also preserving the unique nature of each country's path to democratization. I found this strategy compelling as it gives the reader the sense of what was happening across Eastern Europe.
Regardless of one's economic views, the one thing that this book drives home is just how broken the Soviet system was throughout much of the Cold War period. While it is common knowledge the USSR propped up Communist regimes in Eastern Europe, this book discusses how these countries were also indebted to Western governments and banks, which would often extend credit to Soviet satellites to keep, among other things, food prices low.
Two words of caution, though: first, this book is about the fall of communist regimes in Eastern Europe and does not address to great extent the fall of the Soviet Union itself. Please adjust your expectations accordingly.
Second, if you're either a Reagan Mythologizer or Reagan Demonizer you will find this book frustrating. In terms of the former, the book discounts the popular myth that Reagan's military spending and hardline stance brought down communism—a position that I felt was, for what it's worth, disrespectful to opposition figures likes Lech Walesa, Vaclav Havel and others. If anything, this book highlights Gorbachev's policies and willingness to withhold Soviet military power as anti-Communist opposition grew as the more crucial reasons to why the Soviet empire fell.
If you are a Reagan demonizer, you may find irritating the description of Reagan moderation and pragmatism towards the "Evil Empire" as he reached his second term, especially after the Able Archer '83 scare. For example, aware of the dangers of nuclear weapons, he worked with Gorbachev on arms reduction.
If you're interested in the Cold War, especially its last stages, I highly recommend this book.
I read science, biographies, histories, mysteries, adventures, thrillers, educationals, linguistics but not no way, not no how, romances.
I've always felt the best compliment I can give a book is to say I wished it was longer. Revolution 1989 deserves my greatest compliments. This story is nearly 20 hours long I wished the whole while that it was at least 25. There is so much here and it is so interesting. You'll watch it unfold with wonder and excitement, I promise.
It examines the Soviet Union, specifically the satellite states, from the appointment of Pope John Paul II in 1978, to Nicolae Ceausescu's execution in December of 1989. The scope of this book is immense, we watch three Russian dictator's come and go and see the progression that will lead to the collapse of Eastern Germany, Czechoslovakia, Romania, the Ukraine, and Poland. At the end, Russia stands as a completely different country. How did all these events happen within months of each other in relatively bloodless uprisings?
That's a lot of ground to cover and I wanted to get to know all the amazing people who made it happen. As it is, we get to see them on a cursory level but have to move quickly through time, as there is so much to cover (my favorite two chapters were in Chernobyl and the revolution in Romania during Ceausescu's last speech.) It's incredible that a 20 hour book can feel rushed, but this does.
That said, it's an amazing book. Even though these events happened in my lifetime, I did not see them for all their colors and intrigue. So here it is, a book that isn't perfect, but one that's on my Highly Recommended List.
Those who are already interested in the history of the Eastern Bloc will find this rich with satisfactory detail. Others new to the subject will appreciate the wide variety of areas covered, and the focus on the individuals, not only the overall movements and ideologies involved. The narrative moves back and forth between the USSR, Poland, East Germany, Hungary, Afghanistan, and Czechoslovakia, so it's necessary to pay attention or one might get lost; but overall I think that is a virtue.
As for production, I have no complaints. The narration was clear, no pronunciation mistakes with tricky Slavic words, and so it faded to the background, allowing one to focus on the book.
I've been listening since 1989. Then it was Books-on-tape. Now it's Audible. The narrator is a key part of the audiobook experience.
An excellently researched and composed account of the tide and eventual tsunami of events that led to the fall of communism. The internecine machinations and conflicts among the corrupt leaders in the satellite countries of Eastern Europe, especially the GDR, are particularly fascinating and revealing. The portrait of Gorbachev is also surprising.
Never read the print.
The author researched well and I enjoyed the flow of information.
I don't remember but he does a great job.
When Nicolae Ceaușescu showed absolutely no remorse when confronted with his crimes.
An outstanding review of the events leading up to the Fall of the Wall and relatively peaceful revolutions in the Soviet satellite states.
The book is detailed but never dry. The author tells a balanced story, explaining that the economic decay of the Warsaw Pact nations ultimately doomed its members while describing the individuals, events, and specific actions that perpetuated the historic changes of 1989.
Excellent reader - interesting voice and never annoying.
I would and I am - I finished it and immediately started again.
Good pace, good pronunciation.
Too long for one sitting - But I got through it very quickly. I was using Wikipedia to get more details and check out some maps as I progressed through the book. This is fascinating stuff!
Get this and listen. Even being aware of a lot of this stuff I still found tons of new insight and information. If you don't know much about the Revolutions of 1989 and how the Commies fell apart this is a GREAT resource. EVERYONE should know ALL about this stuff!!
The fall of the Soviet Empire which from this distance seems like it must always have been inevitable, but which at the time surprised just about everyone- what could be more interesting? Just about everything as it turns out.
There was nothing I could point to that was specifically untrue, but I found this book really propaganda-y. I get it, communism is bad, but could the author not have allowed the facts to speak for themselves? Despite multiple attempts I simply could not get past chapter 5 (about 2.5 hours in) my lasting impression of this book is that it was disjointed and somehow desperately dull.
For anyone looking for a good Cold War era read I would recommend Iron Curtain: The Crushing of Eastern Europe 1944-1956 by Anne Applebaum or the surprisingly engaging The Sword and the Shield by Christopher Andrew and Vasili Mitrokhin as Audible alternatives.
If you're interested in this topic in a general way, you can't go wrong with this book. It was very readable, with great characterizations of the principals involved, plus lots of subtle humour. If it ever dragged slightly, it was never for long. By necessity, it had to jump from one country to another to cover them all and their interactions, but the descriptions of each were so vivid, I didn't find it hard to keep track. The fall of the Berlin Wall wasn't as emotional to me in its portrayal as it had been in another book, but that's fine too. The other book, one of fiction, works well as a companion piece to this one. The fiction one that I read first was Ken Follett's final book in the Century Trilogy, called the "Edge of Eternity". They each have their place, but really I'd say this one, 1989, is a stronger book, with no bias to speak of and entertaining enough to hold one's interest. Ken Follett's book covers a broader topic than eastern Europe, of course, with a major focus on the civil rights struggle. They are both great for casual history buffs who aren't really willing to slog through anything too dry in their free time!
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