Dissolution: The Crisis of Communism and the End of East Germany

In This Review

Dissolution: The Crisis of Communism and the End of East Germany

By Charles S. Maier
Princeton University Press, 1997
376 pp. $29.95
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This is not a full history of the East German marionette, strings cut, that collapsed into a heap -- the author's metaphor -- but it is history in the full sense of the word. Maier does not just piece together the events leading to the breaching of the wall and the rush to reunification. He searches constantly for the meaning of this history, putting the revolution of 1989 in the context of Germany's earlier revolutions of 1848 and 1918, describing the emergence of East German civil society in the wrapping of eighteenth- and nineteenth-century thought, and reflecting on the deeper, almost philosophical reasons the New Forum, the liberal, admirable opposition force, faded instantly with the end of the regime.

Not that he fails to fill in the history. On the contrary, using many of the resources now open to a historian, he has traced in great detail the growing popular ferment, the regime's increasing disorientation and immobility, the steps by which it all came apart, and the role of Gorbachev and the Soviets. For this the book's value will endure; but for now, its other more immediate value is the help it provides in wrestling with the underlying questions: Was it inevitable? What were the historical paths not taken, and what difference might they have made? And hardest of all, did it have to happen when it happened?