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Revolution 1989: The Fall of the Soviet Empire

Revolution 1989: The Fall of the Soviet Empire

Amazon.com Review

Victor Sebestyen on
The principal reasons the Soviet empire fell was the USSR's disastrous decade-long war in Afghanistan, which is eerily reminiscent of the conflict the West is involved in now. Soviet generals of 20 or 25 years ago were saying almost identical things about their war against the Mujahideen (The Army of God) as NATO soldiers are saying now fighting the Taleban. Just substitute the names and it would be hard to spot the difference. Even more topically, many of the places where battles are being fought now are the same as then. Almost nobody predicted the sudden and speedy collapse of Communism--and its defeat was the last war that the West won. Almost nobody in politics, diplomacy, the military, the media or academia saw it coming. Least of all was it predicted by the intelligence agencies. Despite trillions of dollars and rubles spent on spying in forty years of Cold War--as well as a vast industry in espionage books and movies--the spooks in the East and West were hopelessly ill informed. The CIA consistently over-emphasized the strength of the Soviet bloc. Even in the Spring of 1989 the then Director of the CIA, Robert Gates, said the Soviets would use force to keep their hold on the East Europe states and, amongst other wrong calls, said the Kremlin would "never" let the Berlin Wall come down. Robert Gates is now US Secretary for Defense. Ronald Reagan was a great President, but he is admired for the wrong reasons. The classsic explanation for the collapse of Communism is that Reagan's tough rhetoric against the "Evil Empire" and his arms build-up defeated the Soviets. Quite the opposite is true. We can now take a more nuanced view. When he took a hard line Reagan got nowhere. In fact, it nearly led to a nuclear war by accident. He was successful when he took a soft line and began negotiating with the Russians, in particular with Mikhail Gorbachev. His greatness was in seizing that opportunity--not by ideology. It is hard to see why Reagan is a hero amongst conservatives at all. Western bankers did more to bring down Communism than did Presidents or Prime Ministers. Foreign debt forced a crisis in countries like Poland and and Hungary, which were spending three quarters of their income on paying the interest on loans from the West. The debt crisis--another topical theme now--was a vital factor in the story of 1989. The book reveals new information about how the first President Bush tried to slow down the process of change in 1989. He was worried the revolutions were happening so quickly that "global security" was at risk and that some of the East European dissidents were not ready to take power. There is a dramatic scene in the book when George Bush goes to Poland in the summer of '89 to plead with the Communist general in charge of the country to cling on to office for a while longer. —Victor Sebestyen (Photo © Stacey Mutkin)

Review

U.S. Praise for Revolution 1989: The Fall of the Soviet Empire
 “Vivid personal glimpses and striking details . . . Victor Sebestyen’s book is full of sharp snapshots and crisp narrative.”
—Timothy Garton Ash, The New York Review of Books
 
“A sturdy examination of events that led to the collapse of Eastern Europe’s communist regimes. . . Sebestyen’s episodic, skillfully narrated account . . . [is] a well-crafted, constantly revealing study of the world-altering changes of recent history.”
Kirkus Reviews
 
“Sebestyen’s brilliantly written narrative unfolds in brief, gripping episodes . . . A must-have accounting.”
—Andrew Bast, Newsweek
“In the last few months, numerous books have come out that attempt 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 in Russia, Bulgaria, East Germany, Hungary, Czechoslovakia, and Afghanistan throughout the tumultuous 1980s. His portrait of Gorbachev is particularly sharp—and asks us to reconsider the Soviet leader’s surprising role 20 years ago. As a refugee from Hungary in 1956, Sebestyen brings a personal touch to these historic moments.”
The Daily Beast
 
 . . . and from the UK:
 “Sebestyen’s strength is his sharp focus and racy prose . . . Here is history written like a Greek tragedy . . .”
—Michael Binyon, The Times (London)
 
“Victor Sebestyen’s vivid, panoramic work is a fine account . . . The writing is taut, the scene-setting dramatic, giving the book an almost cinematic feel.”
—Adam LeBor, The Sunday Times (London)
 
“Pacy and vivid . . . [Sebestyen] is a thoroughly professional writer with a gift not only for exposition but also evocation.”
—Anthony Howard, The Daily Telegraph
 
“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.”
—Jonathan Dimbleby, The Mail on Sunday
 
is a lucid primer on the background to, and events of, that magical year. Sebestyen’s narrative is clear, entertaining, and sure-footed.”
—Angus Macqueen, The Guardian
 
“It’s a complex story spanning many countries, but this exciting yet deeply researched work brings it impressively to life . . . Compelling.”
—Simon Sebag Montefiore, The Observer
 
“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.”
—Christopher Sylvester, Daily Express
 
pulls together the events that led to the fall of the Soviet empire . . .”
—Richard Beeston, The Spectator
 
“The tale fair rips along . . . A solid piece of storytelling of an exhilarating and enspiriting moment of history.”
—Misha Glenny, Evening Standard
 
Revolution 1989 is a superbly written and impressively documented chronicle of the year John Paul II described as an annus mirabilis . . . A vivid portrait.”
—Vladimir Tismaneanu, The Times Literary Supplement
 
“Sharp focus and racy prose capture the events and decisions that fed into the growing turmoil across Eastern Europe as the East German regime crumbled.”
The Times (London) “We’re Reading” section
 
“Sebestyen has made an excellent job of organising his disparate material, so that the reader can recapture, with the same sense of bafflement and elation, the events that made the Europe we live in—and after twenty years he can add understanding too.”
—Michael Fry, Scotland on Sunday
 
“Sebestyen has got the pace and the balance just right.”
The Scotsman
 
“Sebestyen’s record of the 1980s is a compelling, page-turning read . . . a precise, step-by-step account of the high politics and the big-name political players in the years between the August 1980 strikes in Gdansk and the crumbling of the Berlin Wall nine years later.”
—Denis MacShane, Tribune
 
“A digestible and colourful history of that miraculous year.”
The Economist
and for Twelve Days: The Story of the 1956 Hungarian Revolution
“A small masterpiece that should be read and treasured by all who value mankind’s eternal quest for freedom.”
New York Post
“Excellent . . . A gripping, detailed reconstruction.”
The New York Times Book Review
“A fast-paced journalistic narrative built scene by scene, moving deftly among the key players . . . Steeped in detail.”
The Wall Street Journal
“Sebestyen is excellent at bringing to life the revolutionary movement. Personalities leap from his pages.”
Financial Times

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.

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