This is the first history of the collapse of communism in Eastern Europe done by a professional historian. It offers the historians deep understanding of the region in combination with a graceful, lucid ability to tell the story. His starting point, 1968, is also a key part of his explanation: When Brezhnev and his counterparts in Eastern Europe made their decision that the economic and political reforms proposed in Czechoslovakia in 1968 were too dangerous for socialism, they signed the death warrant of the system they thought they were saving. He then, with easy motions, draws from the vast tangle of historical detail the thread bearing this truth. It weaves from the Prague Spring through Hungary, Bulgaria and Romania in the late 1970s to East Germany and Poland's Solidarity movement in the 1980s, and then to 1989. Ultimately, he cannot -- or at least does not -- tell us why the denouement occurred when it did, other than implicitly by the importance he attaches to Gorbachev's arrival. Instead he offers a grand thesis to locate this latest revolution in East Europe's twentieth-century evolution, from the jaws of the antirationalist fascist experiment to the hyper-rationalist communist experiment to the now belated chance to join the pluralist experiment. About this he is optimistic, but within the historian's time frame of decades and longer.
Get the best of Foreign Affairs' book reviews delivered to you.
More Reviews on Eastern Europe and Former Soviet Republics From This Issue