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)
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"
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.
Biblioholic and Russophile.
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.
Are we doomed to repeat it? The importance of the subject makes it worth the time investment. I wish it was part of everyone's education.
The frightening insights into state-ism. There really is no difference between them and any other group of fanatics who believe that their worldview should be forced on others, and the unbelievers should be shot. I learned a lot. I understand their mindset / paradigm better now.
and to the 1940s too. One of the more interesting books that this former student of political science has read (listened to) in recent memory.
Seeing examples of how some people made it through this period relatively intact (most didn't).
I was most interested by the people of East Germany -- because I speak German -- but the events in Hungary and Poland were also of interest to me.
No, it was too long for that.
I learned that I have a lot to learn about eastern European life behind the Iron Curtain.
I am a great fan of history and thought this one would be a good listen after hearing the author interviewed on NPR. Unfortunately for me there are just too many details and it starts getting boring after awhile. I found myself skipping through because I wanted it to be done.
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