In This Review

Failed Illusions: Moscow, Washington, Budapest, and the 1956 Hungarian Revolt
Failed Illusions: Moscow, Washington, Budapest, and the 1956 Hungarian Revolt
By Charles Gati
Stanford University Press, 2006, 280 pp.

On the 50-year anniversary of the 1956 Hungarian Revolution, Gati marks the event with a starkly honest retelling that challenges nearly every settled assumption. A despotic, intolerant, and imperial Soviet leadership turns out to have been confused, divided, and, for a brief moment, ready to tolerate a freer Hungary. Imre Nagy, the tragically heroic Hungarian leader who stood up to the Soviets, emerges as a brave but inadequate figure who embraced too late the eruption he knew not how to manage. The young people at the heart of the revolt had within their numbers some whose brutality helped trigger the Soviet decision to crush it. And the Americans, particularly their Radio Free Europe, in a combination of ignorance and cynicism, fanned passions they had no intention of helping satisfy. The outcome, Gati argues, could have been different. The product of more than 15 years of extraordinary research and interviewing, much of it in Hungarian, his book highlights just how much we have to learn about key Cold War events and, more important, how we should go about learning it.