6 of 8 people found the following review helpful
Lurid and sensational, but not much analysis...,
This review is from: Revolution 1989: The Fall of the Soviet Empire (Hardcover)
Sebestyen's account of the events of 1989 came out at the same time as a number of others, 20 years afte the events they describe, and together they make possible putting together the pieces of the puzzle of 1989 possible. One thing is clear: despite their frequent assertions to the contrary, it wasn't the Americans that did for the Warsaw Pact, but the inability of the system to meet even the basic material needs of the population that eventually tipped the situation into a crisis. To that end, Sebestyen's examination of the finances of the Soviet satellite states is revealing, if not detailed, and gives as good a reason as any for the build up of economic pressure from the populace and panic in the various leaderships. As to be expected from a journalist, his writing is fairly lurid and occasionally sensationalist. There is little new in this book other than some fawning interviews with some of the major players whose summaries of the events and their personal motivations (all terribly high-minded), are treated absolutely at face value. In the end this is a workmanlike collection of the events in total, put together in a coherent narrative and an exciting writing style, but this is not much more than reportage (which the telly does better anyway, with all that footage).
The facts often don't live up to much, and there is plenty of cliche and hyperbole to go around, but there is a reasonable stab at the telling the story. If you are after the analysis one would expect twenty years after the events, you will be disappointed. There is insufficent research for that, but plenty of amusing detail (the aged Ceausescus bickering in a single bed about how they ended up being arrested, the crowds in Wenceslaus Square jangling their keys to tell the regime it was time to go, or the suspension of FRG air pollution regulations to allow Trabants to cross the Czech border without breaking the law), and a ya-boo focus on the personalities of the (invariably) dull but wicked Communists and their (always) creative and inspired opponents who triumph over them. They all did it pretty tough for a few years after this, but the magic of this moment ought not to be forgotten by anyone, especially ideological despots.