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Capsule Review

Worlds of Dissent: Charter 77, the Plastic People of the Universe, and Czech Culture Under Communism

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Worlds of Dissent: Charter 77, The Plastic People of the Universe, and Czech Culture under Communism
Worlds of Dissent: Charter 77, The Plastic People of the Universe, and Czech Culture under Communism
By Jonathan Bolton
Harvard University Press, 2012 360 pp. $49.95 Purchase

Western scholars of the Cold War have only recently begun to try to reconstruct what life was actually like in Eastern European societies during the Soviet era. And until the publication of this book, the phenomenon most central to the Western narrative of communism’s collapse -- dissident opposition -- had escaped this treatment. In an intelligent, fluent study of Czechoslovak dissent in the 1970s and 1980s, Bolton pushes aside the mythologized image of Czechoslovak dissidents and examines the diverse and sometimes conflicted ways they went about their lives. He is not so much deflating the political influence or courage of dissidents such as Václav Havel and Adam Michnik as he is “explaining the texture and psychology of dissident life,” breaking down the compartmentalized notions of dissidence and ordinary life and allowing them to flow together. In doing so, he affords a much broader understanding of what constituted a defection from regime orthodoxy, including the role of the underground music scene and the free thinkers and artists whose work predated the existence of a “dissident” label.

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