Stephen Karlson (shkarlson) wrote in 50bookchallenge,
Stephen Karlson


I've deliberately stolen the title of Anatole Shub's An Empire Loses Hope to introduce Book Review No. 44, Michael Meyer's The Year that Changed the World: The Untold Story of the Fall of the Berlin Wall. Untold Story exaggerates: that Poland and Hungary were well on their way to reform early in 1989 is not a secret, and that East Germany's government changed its position relatively quickly is well known. The book is instructive reading despite the author's tendency to play down U.S. triumphalism, as it is the product of work he did after accepting an assignment to the Warsaw Pact beat that a colleague had turned down as unlikely to provide any blockbuster stories. Oops.

That gives Mr Meyer the opportunity to cover much of the same territory as Mr Shub. Where Mr Shub began his explorations just before the building of the Berlin Wall and ended with the 1968 occupation of Czechoslovakia, Mr Meyer began with the Soviet decisions neither to occupy Poland in response to an election nor to occupy Hungary in response to a decision to open their borders and ended shortly after Romania's execution of the Ceausescus. There is a coda referring to the troubles in Jugoslawia that offers some lessons about generalising too carelessly about threats to the United States elsewhere on the basis of standing firm against Communism. Some of that is Newsweek talking back to The Weekly Standard, and some of that has potential for graduate seminars in international relations. Great story all the same, complete with a genealogical challenge: does Hungary's Miklos Nemeth, who was instrumental in his country's transition, share a common ancestor with the New York Jet quarterback who famously undid a somewhat less substantive empire?

(Cross-posted to Cold Spring Shops.)
Tags: history
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