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Twelve Days: Revolution 1956. How the Hungarians tried to topple their Soviet masters [Hardcover]

Victor Sebestyen
4.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (16 customer reviews)
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Book Description

10 Aug 2006
The Hungarian Revolution in 1956 is a story of extraordinary bravery in a fight for freedom, and of ruthless cruelty in suppressing a popular dream. A small nation, its people armed with a few rifles and petrol bombs, had the will and courage to rise up against one of the world's superpowers. The determination of the Hungarians to resist the Russians astonished the West. People of all kinds, throughout the free world, became involved in the cause. For 12 days it looked, miraculously, as though the Soviets might be humbled. Then reality hit back. The Hungarians were brutally crushed. Their capital was devastated, thousands of people were killed and their country was occupied for a further three decades. The uprising was the defining moment of the Cold War: the USSR showed that it was determined to hold on to its European empire, but it would never do so without resistence. From the Prague Spring to Lech Walesa's Solidarity and the fall of the Berlin Wall, the tighter the grip of the communist bloc, the more irresistible the popular demand for freedom. In this new account Victor Sebestyen, who was brought out of Hungary as an infant, draws on fresh evidence from Moscow, Washington and Budapest, as well as interviews with participants, that brings new light on a story that will always be an inspiration to those who hate tyranny.

Product details

  • Hardcover: 336 pages
  • Publisher: Weidenfeld & Nicolson; 1st edition (10 Aug 2006)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0297847317
  • ISBN-13: 978-0297847311
  • Product Dimensions: 3.5 x 15.6 x 23.4 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (16 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 504,851 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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'Masterly... Victor Sebestyen is a marvellous guide to the Hungarian Revolution... His nuanced, intelligent account... is a first class book .' (LITERARY REVIEW)

'superbly researched... very well written... this engrossing book is a powerful adventure story as well as an uplifting morality tale' (Andrew Roberts EVENING STANDARD)

'Sebestyen... draws on most of the public sources judiciously and narrates the tangled history with clarity.' (Tibor Fischer DAILY TELEGRAPH)

'a readable, and even exciting, blend of the scholarly with the journalistic, altogether a fitting commemmoration of the drama' (David Pryce-Jones THE SPECTATOR)

'Sebestyen has done a major good deed by commemorating this hugely important event with a clear straightforward and compelling account' (Peter Hitchens MAIL ON SUNDAY)

'fresh, readable and honest... the story of the Hungarian revolution also demands attention because of its almost disturbing relevance.' (Anne Applebaum SUNDAY TELEGRAPH)

'this lucid, highly readable account of the Hungarian Revolution... eschews all cliches to get through to what really happened' (Frank McLynn THE INDEPENDENT)

'Sebestyen dispels many cliches surrounding the uprising' (Marcus Tanner THE TABLET)

'Twelve Days is a triumph both of research and dramatic reconstruction... masterly account of the 1956 uprising.' (Richard Aldous IRISH TIMES)

'Sebestyen's book should become the standard work on the uprising... a gripping read.' (THE ECONOMIST)

'Sebestyen is excellent at bringing to life the revolutionary moment. Personalities leap from his pages...' (FINANCIAL TIMES)

'a gripping, detailed reconstruction of the revolution... excellent' (NEW YORK TIMES)

'well documented... and vividly written.' (LONDON REVIEW OF BOOKS)

'A powerful and often harrowing book, well worth reading.' (MILITARY ILLUSTRATED)

Book Description

The defining moment of the Cold War: 'The beginning of the end of the Soviet empire.' (Richard Nixon) --This text refers to the Paperback edition.

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Customer Reviews

4.6 out of 5 stars
4.6 out of 5 stars
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
12 of 12 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Twelve days that shook the world 7 Jan 2007
By Leonard Fleisig TOP 1000 REVIEWER VINE VOICE
20 October 2006 marked the fiftieth anniversary of the Hungarian Revolution, the seemingly spontaneous (at least to those outside Hungary) set of demonstrations that quickly morphed into a full-fledged revolution that almost freed Hungary from Soviet hegemony. Twelve days after it began the revolution was crushed under the tread of Red Army tanks. Victor Sebestyen's "Twelve Days" is an informative and well-written examination of the revolution, its causes and its consequences.

Twelve Days is divided into three parts: "Prelude", "Revolution" and "Aftermath". In the Prelude Sebestyen provides a concise history of Hungary in the first half of the twentieth century. This is an invaluable introduction for readers, such as this reviewer, who have not previously immersed themselves in Hungarian history. After the First World War and the subsequent Treaty of Versailles, Hungary came to be ruled by a fascist regime led by Admiral Horthy. Hungary under Horthy became an ally of Hitler's Germany and found itself at war with the Allied Powers, most importantly the USSR. Toward the end of the Second World War, the German Army occupied Hungary and fought a desperate battle against the Red Army. The 100 day siege and conquest of Budapest was brutal and the damage to Budapest was exceeded only by the damage done to Leningrad, Stalingrad, and Warsaw. (Krisztian Ungvary's "The Siege of Budapest" makes an excellent companion volume to Twelve Days). Sebestyen then takes the reader through the immediate post-World War II years in which the Hungarian Communist Party, under the leadership of Matyas Rakosi gradually seized total control of the reins of power. Sebestyen's description of the brutality of Rakosi, who fancied himself as something of a Stalin-protégé follows.
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7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Lessons from History 19 Dec 2006
For a few days in 1956, it must have felt as if Christmas had come early for the people of Hungary: "Many people in Budapest had never eaten so well as during the Revolution. Strange, when all that fighting was going on to remember that, yet it was so".

The bleak and desperate reality of life under Communism provides the prelude to the Hungarian Revolution, and I found it the most compelling aspect of Victor Sebestyen's book. As World War Two ended, so the Soviet army raped and pillaged its way through Hungary, and thereby set the tone for the tyranny that followed. The sheer horror of the establishment and prosecution of the Hungarian Communist dictatorship almost beggars belief, and it reached a pitch of intensity during the Rakosi purges: "Of the 850,000 members of the Communist Party in 1950, almost exactly half of them were in prison, in labour camps, exiled or dead three years later."

This grim joke dates from the time: `There are still three classes in Hungary: those who have been in jail; those who are in jail; and those who will be in jail.'

It is no surprise, therefore, that Hungary rose in revolt in 1956, and that students played a prominent part in the Revolution. However, what is striking is that Imre Nage and his new government were blind not only to the duplicity of Yuri Andropov, the Soviet Ambassador to Budapest, but also to the impotence of the United Nations, which did little to stir world opinion against the brutal Soviet invasion that finally crushed the Revolution.

At the beginning of the book, Sebestyen provides a thumbnail sketch of the `Main Actors'. At first, I thought this heading was a little trivial, and demeaned the events that the book describes.
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16 of 17 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars the best book on the uprising 2 Sep 2006
By berlin
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
There is a whole subgenre of books on the Uprising - George Mikes, Noel Barber, George Urban, etc. None of them is as complete or readable as this one, with its thumbnail sketches of all the leading characters, the narrative which for once takes in Krushchev's private dramas as well as Imre Nagy's, and its sheer pace. This slow reader took a mere two evenings to finish it. There isn't a dull passage in the book, which is in parts very affecting - not least because the story of the Uprising, and all the smaller more personal stories it contains, is one of the most dramatic and vivid in the last century. Like Anthony Beevor's Stalingrad, it makes you grateful to live in a time when history books are as exciting as the history they describe.
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13 of 14 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars History at its absolute finest 29 Oct 2006
This is a historical subject about which I (like most I suspect) knew very little. However, this book gives probably the most complete and compelling view of one of the most overlooked passages in the history of post war Europe. At a time when the West was fixated with Suez it details the subject without judgement, bias or bitterness. It is clearly a subject the author has researched in painstaking detail and one about which he cares passionately. It is also written in such a way that a complete novice of the subject like me can feel comfortable and informed without the sense of being lectured or patronised. I cannot now wait to visit the city of Budapest myself and get an even greater sense of the tragic events.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Great book, gripping story 12 Dec 2012
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
Being very familiar with the Stalinist era in Russia and Poland I was keen to find something readable about Hungary, about which I am considerably less knowledgeable. I really enjoyed this book, it described events in detail without being burdensome and difficult to follow, the maps and pronunciation guide at the beginning were also very useful, especially for a non speaker of Hungarian! Would definitely recommend for anyone interested in the Cold War, or Eastern Europe in the last 60 years.
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
4.0 out of 5 stars really enjoyed it.
really enjoyed it. in light of recent events in Ukraine, I reflected back on this book and it's lessons.
Well written and a great source on the events
Published 4 months ago by C Murphy
5.0 out of 5 stars Hungarian Revolution 1956
If you are a modern history buff and you want to know about this revolution, this is a well written account of this peoples uprising.
Published 7 months ago by G. D. Pelling
4.0 out of 5 stars Inciteful
A real incite into what led up to and happened during the 12 days revolution in Hungary in 1956 and their aftermath
Published 7 months ago by IAN C ASHMAN
5.0 out of 5 stars In living memory
Excellent detailed account - background to those 12 days also reveals US /USSR moves using previously classified documents. Nothing changes
Published 10 months ago by Helen Margaret Mears
5.0 out of 5 stars Thorough, informed and captivating
A perfect exploration of all the events of the Revolution of 1956. I used this as part of the research for my next novel and it provided me with every bit of information needed. Read more
Published 13 months ago by K. Vadaszffy
5.0 out of 5 stars A Truly Wonderful Tale of Darkness....
I have read extensively on the history of Communist Eastern Europe, however, one blind spot has always been the 1956 Hungarian Rising. Thanks to Mr. Read more
Published on 24 May 2012 by Mr. D. J. Walford
5.0 out of 5 stars Very happy recipient
The book was given as a gift, and the recipient read it cover to cover in no time at all. He reported it a very harrowing & well researched report into both the evolution of... Read more
Published on 25 Feb 2011 by A. D. Jones
5.0 out of 5 stars Communism's first Challenge
The Hungarian uprising was the first real challenge to Soviet imperialism after 1945 and as such was a significant moment in European history and an important precursor of the... Read more
Published on 21 Nov 2009 by Eugene Onegin
5.0 out of 5 stars Insight into how the Hungarian revolt was crushed
For many of us the Hungarian uprising was a small point in history. Victor Sebastyen's first book brilliantly brings the events of 1956 alive. Read more
Published on 4 Aug 2009 by Arthur Pendragon
2.0 out of 5 stars an uncaptivating account of Hungary's failed revolution.
I chose to read this book as I wanted to know more about the failed 1956 Hungarian revolution, as I only had a few snippets of knowledge about the affair which I had learned from a... Read more
Published on 18 Dec 2007 by B. Walker
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