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The File: A Personal History Paperback – 1 Jul 2009

4.2 out of 5 stars 34 customer reviews

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Product details

  • Paperback: 256 pages
  • Publisher: Atlantic Books; Main edition (1 July 2009)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 9781848870888
  • ISBN-13: 978-1848870888
  • ASIN: 1848870884
  • Product Dimensions: 12.9 x 1.7 x 19.8 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (34 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 86,852 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Product Description


"* 'He is our best informed and beadiest commentator on Europe - eloquent, sceptical, fearless, with a tinge of idealism so wary as to be acceptable' - Craig Raine * 'Garton Ash is, in the most literal sense of the term, a contemporary historian. He writes primarily as a witness to the events he is treating, and not just as an outside witness but often as an inside one as well... yet the sense of the historic dimensionof the events in question is never lost. And the quality of the writing places it clearly in the category of good literature.' - George F. Kennan, New York Review of Books"

From the Inside Flap

"Eloquent, aware and scrupulous . . . a rich and instructive examination of the Cold War past." --The New York Times
In 1978 a romantic young Englishman took up residence in Berlin to see what that divided city could teach him about tyranny and freedom. Fifteen years later Timothy Garton Ash--who was by then famous for his reportage of the downfall of communism in Central Europe--returned. This time he had come to look at a file that bore the code-name "Romeo." The file had been compiled by the Stasi, the East German secret police, with the assistance of dozens of informers. And it contained a meticulous record of Garton Ash's earlier life in Berlin.
In this memoir, Garton Ash describes what it was like to rediscover his younger self through the eyes of the Stasi, and then to go on to confront those who actually informed against him to the secret police. Moving from document to remembrance, from the offices of British intelligence to the living rooms of retired Stasi officers, The File is a personal narrative as gripping, as disquieting, and as morally provocative as any fiction by George Orwell or Graham Greene. And it is all true.
"In this painstaking, powerful unmasking of evil, the wretched face of tyranny is revealed." --Philadelphia Inquirer -- Dieser Text bezieht sich auf eine vergriffene oder nicht verfügbare Ausgabe dieses Titels.

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Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Paperback
Timothy Garton Ash discovered after the reunification of the two Germanies, that the Stasi had kept a file on him under the code name "Romeo"(He thinks this name came from the Alfa Romeo he was driving at the time). They recorded everything about him from his first stay in West Berlin in 1978 as a student of history from Oxford who researched for his thesis on the Third Reich, and got specially interested in his person when he spent some time in East Berlin where he was allowed to study archives for his work.
So these files brought the older Garton Ash of the nineties back to his professional beginnings, and, since he kept his own notes from the time, he is in the unique position of comparing his own view of his life and past events with the outward view of those informing on him. The first half of the book deals with the incongruities of personal memory and historical events and the forever shifting perception of how things happened and what your own role was. This is sometimes a trifle tedious, because, as Garton Ash himself says, as a priviliged foreigner he had no negative or even dangerous consequences to fear, compared with East Germans, whose file brought them to Bautzen prison for years or ruined their personal and professional life. On the other hand, the "outsider's" view of this total surveillance of every move you made, every personal contact you established, is gripping in its honesty.
In the second, more thrilling part of the book Garton Ash interviews all the people who spied on him, the "IMs" as they were lovingly called by the communist system of the GDR. And the author tries very hard to be fair, to find out what made these informers do their dirty work.
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Format: Paperback
In part contemporary history, in part investigative journalism, in part memoir and in part essay,The File is a remarkable book. It is well-written, penetrating and readable.

Garton Ash lived in East Berlin in 1980, working on a doctoral dissertation on the Nazi period but also producing journalistic pieces on East Germany. He was the subject of Stasi surveillance and the core of the book is an account of what he found in the file that the Stasi kept on him and his subsequent exploration of how it was put together by tracking down and interviewing informers and others and by drawing upon his own recollections and notes of the time.

The File also describes as historical phenomena the Stasi and the so-called Gauck Authority, which provides access to the Stasi files, and it contains a more general treatise on such themes as memory, attitudes to the past and the factors lying behind the darker side of the history of Europe in the twentieth century.

There is a primary focus on the people who were involved in Garton Ash's life in East Germany: his friends, those who informed on him and Stasi officers. Their motivations, strengths, weaknesses and background are described in a detail which is never tedious. The clear driving force behind Garton Ash's interest here is the desire to find out why people acted as they did.

Contrast and irony permeate the book much as they do a novel. Perhaps the most important are the intimate proximity of high European culture and systematic inhumanity, which Garton Ash calls the "Goethe Oak", and the choice between the heroic resistance of a Stauffenberg and the collaboration of a Speer. As he openly admits, he only has partial explanations for these phenomena.
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Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
Garton Ash would be the first to admit that the Stasi treated him,like most foriegners in the GDR,with kid gloves compared to the way they treated East German citizens they had cause to investigate.Having said that,this book is a great read,and shows how the Stasi went to work on foriegn residents of the GDR.
Garton Ash had the opportunity to read a copy of his file(now more or less impossible due to a new law of 2000)and then tried to find the IMs(unofficial collaborators)of the Stasi who passed on information about him.He makes it quite clear that he dosen't want most of them identified (can't say why in this review,I'd ruin the story)and shows some understanding,even pity,for them.
Only four stars as it's too short,it could do with a more detailed considered approach.It's a great story of the old saw "Absolute power corrupts absolutely".Readers who never lived under totalitarianism will appreciate how lucky they are.The more perceptive will learn that those not as lucky as themselves had to make difficult decisions all the time.Pointing fingers and playing the blame game,as Garton Ash makes clear,is never a good way to gain any kind of understanding of such people.
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Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
The Author studied and lived in East and West Berlin during the whole Cold War debacle. He discovers that the 'Stasi' secret Police kept a file on him during this time, with the code name 'Romeo', due to his Alfa Romeo car.
( not due to his stunning good looks or way with women) :)

After Reunification, Garton Ash goes back and reads his file and then investigates and interviews those who informed and kept him under surveillance.
It's a good story and one worthy of writing and telling, but Garton Ash is an academic and unable to tell the story with the emotion and raw simplicity that would make such a story utterly compelling.

He frequently mentions a name, briefly, then many pages later will refer to that person and expect the reader to know and follow the story as he can, which is impossible as it's his story!
This happens many times in the book, with characters barely described, who keep popping up here and there and the reader cannot remember them as they've been barely described or described in a totally unmemorable way.

Many times, you'll come across an interesting passage and think the book is picking up, then he rambles again or goes another direction and interest wanes.

For anyone, not familiar with the Stasi and their methods of operation, it's ok and it will inform the reader somewhat, but a much better book for all levels of understanding is Anna Funders 'Stasiland' which I have reviewed on this site also.

I thought this book could've and would've been much better.
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