- The Crushing of Eastern Europe, 1944-1956
- Narrated by: Cassandra Campbell
- Length: 26 hrs and 39 mins
- Unabridged Audiobook
- Release date: 10-30-12
- Language: English
- Publisher: Random House Audio
Regular price: $35.00
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At the end of World War II, the Soviet Union to its surprise and delight found itself in control of a huge swath of territory in Eastern Europe. Stalin and his secret police set out to convert a dozen radically different countries to Communism, a completely new political and moral system. In Iron Curtain, Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Anne Applebaum describes how the Communist regimes of Eastern Europe were created and what daily life was like once they were complete. She draws on newly opened East European archives, interviews, and personal accounts translated for the first time to portray in devastating detail the dilemmas faced by millions of individuals trying to adjust to a way of life that challenged their every belief and took away everything they had accumulated. Today the Soviet Bloc is a lost civilization, one whose cruelty, paranoia, bizarre morality, and strange aesthetics Applebaum captures in the electrifying pages of Iron Curtain.
Customer ReviewsMost Helpful
By jackifus on 12-08-12
Important story, imperfectly executed
Few books detail the suffering of the Polish people during and after the Second World War. That being the case, I'm grateful that Anne Applebaum researched and wrote this book as the information contained therein is rare and valuable. I found her description of the Eastern European social context at the close of the war to be especially so.
She treats horrors visited upon the Poles, Ukrainians, Hungarians, Czechs, Germans, and Jews with incredible clarity and with a rare touch that brings context to those horrors and allows for an appreciation of suffering by one or other group that does not diminish horrors visited upon others.
Her work here is admirable.
Unfortunately, the book does not hang together especially well.
She structures the book in chapters each describing a component of Soviet occupation (Policemen, Violence, Ethnic Cleansing, Radio, Politics...). Each of these components combine to create a context within which Soviet occupation was able to take root, grow in influence, and "flower" into its particular flavor of totalitarianism.
Each chapter then contains a series of anecdotes that describe how the chapter subject was realized in Poland, Hungary, and Czechoslovakia.
In theory, the above structure could work well, but I had trouble with it in this book.
Any overarching thread felt subsumed by anecdotes. Chapters launch into episodes about Poland, Hungary, and Czechoslovakia but without a clear sense of how each anecdote or episode fits into a larger thesis. Some chapters have a closing few sentences that draw back to a central notion, but while reading, I lost a sense of what about a given anecdote was important. And then, without a paragraph to help put the story just heard into a broader framework, another anecdote would follow. So I was left with a collection of stories without a concrete feeling of why each was important or how it fit into a broader picture.
The author has done quite a bit of research and she's eager to demonstrate it through the inclusion of quite a bit of detail. I wish she would have provided more interpretation of that detail to lend the book greater coherence.
I will recommend this book to friends and colleagues because its subject is so important and books about it are so scarce. I will however not recommend it unreservedly.
The narrator is capable and improves after the opening section which is made up of a series of quotes. Unfortunately, her pronunciation of Polish place names is frustratingly mediocre, as though she didn't approach their pronunciation seriously. Aside from that, she improves over the course of the reading and is not unpleasant. This is not an easy book to narrate and the narrator does pretty well to lend shape to text that hasn't much shape on its own.
She deserves 4 stars in general, but her pronunciation mistakes are so careless that I remove a star.
The subject of the book is important enough to lift the "overall" star score though its realization here is imperfect.
It's a worthwhile read.
21 of 22 people found this review helpful
By Doug on 12-23-12
How to Devalue Human Beings – A Handbook
Excellent book about a terrible era! When horrors are so pervasive as to become commonplace….what happens to our compass? One Audible review says that the book was confusing, which it wasn’t. The reviewer incorrectly summarizes that the book is about Poland, Hungary, and Czechoslovakia. But it’s about Poland, Hungary and EAST GERMANY, which is almost impossible to get wrong if he actually read this book.
I recommend digging into this one…dial back the clock to 1945-1956 and bear witness to goings on behind the Iron Curtain. Socialist societies do not die at the onset of failure…they live on, they limp forward, unable by ideology to see how deformed they have become. Most of our understanding about communism and socialism is waning as The 20th Century drifts into history, along with all its hard fought lessons. We may be forgetting why our free market system is superior to the brutal alternatives.
The book shows us that to ‘free’ humanity, you must first eliminate the enslavers. To eliminate the enslavers, you must have control of the society. To control society, you must have power. To maintain power, you must control the political system. To control the political system, you must control public opinion. To control public opinion, you must control what people think. In order to control what people think, you must control humanity. Such is the paradox of idealism and reality.
But ‘Iron Curtain’ does not discuss this philosophically. (Thank you!). Anne gives us her best effort here…she painstakingly illustrates with documentation, interviews, quotes, facts, figures, raw data, and real stories just what the human experience behind the Iron Curtain was like. Her details come at us like the planes of the Berlin airlift….one after the other in an unbroken chain. She reminds us that Poland, Hungary, and East Germany were once rich and vibrant cultures, as unique and flowering as France and Italy…yet these eastern counterparts have been somehow erased from our thoughts; they are simply ‘Eastern Bloc’ countries or ‘former Soviet satellites.’ Poland, Hungary, and East Germany seem blank and sterile, almost clones of anonymous nations. Not true. They were made that way. Clicking play will show you how, and remember....this all actually happened.
17 of 19 people found this review helpful