on 5 January 2002
This is an on-the-spot account of the Revolutions of 1989 as they happened in Poland, Hungary, East Germany and Czechoslovakia. Already it seems to belong to a forgotten age: East Germany no longer exists, and nor does Czechoslovakia. Yet it is a story that will be told as long as people continue to be oppressed by societies that are morally, spiritually, and ideologically corrupt.
For this is the story of the liberation of the souls of the Central European nations enslaved by the Soviet Union for over forty years following the end of the Second World War. It is like a fairy tale in its simplicity and directness: "Wir Sind das Volk" - "We are the People" - declared the banners in Leipzig; "Now's the Time!" chanted the crowds in Wenceslaus Square. The old system was bankrupt and everybody knew it.
Or did they? Would the tanks roll in Warsaw as they did in Tiananmen Square on June 4th, 1989? And if not, why not?
Perhaps the dictators themselves realised the game was up, and they themselves no longer believed their own lies...
This reveals why the Revolutions in Warsaw, Budapest, Berlin and Prague were swift and peaceful, and gives majesty to Garton Ash's description of 1989 as "The Year of Truth". But it masks their efficient cause, which was, arguably, President Gorbachev's decision to abandon the Brezhnev Doctrine - in other words, not to interfere in Eastern Europe to safeguard Communism.
'We The People' was first published in 1990, and this 1999 edition includes a new postscript that briefly examines some of the consequences of the 1989 Revolutions. But even so, it doesn't date the narrative. Chiefly because, I suspect, 'We The People' is such a beautiful story: the story of the triumph of good over evil, of truth over lies, and of peace over war. What's more, it's a story that needs to be told over and over again, so that we may have courage when oppressed, and strive - by peaceful means - to be free.
I don't really understand the three-star reviewer's criticism of this book. Garton Ash states in his introduction that this is a compilation of four `witness statements', written shortly after or at the time of the events concerned, and intended to provide a sort of sample of the feelings of the people experiencing these `revolutions' in 1989.
After the four pieces, there is an essay looking at the significance of these events together, comparing them to previous revolutions (most notably the violent ones in 1848) and then questioning whether these revolutions were actually revolutions at all. Isn't a revolution violent by definition? Isn't a revolution supposed to provide some radically different way of ruling and managing a country? Did any of these `revolutions' do that? Didn't they just overturn one system in favour of a return to the previous one? In the midst of numerous other razor-sharp insights, Garton Ash's main thrust points out that non-violent revolution is exactly that - a revolution of revolutions.
In this new edition there is also a '10 Years On' section, that shows how some of the author's constrained optimisim of 1989 proved to be well founded and works as an interesting juxtapose to the deliberately slightly excited writing of the 1989 pieces, particularly the Prague piece.
For a 160-page book, this contains a wealth of insightful and very readable historical material. If anyone is, Garton Ash is the voice of late 20th century Europe.
on 19 March 2003
We The People is not a book; though it looks like a book, it does not read like a book. It is a compilation of four brilliantly written pieces discussing four different countries. Individually, each piece offers keen insight into the intricacies of the goings on in the minds and lives of people at some very poignant times in the history of Eastern Europe.
The tradgedy of Garton Ash's We The People is that in the bringing together of four distinct articles the strength of each, respectively, is lost. Binding together into one book four different historical events, with no connecting flow of explanation or introduction, creates a somewhat painfull experience for the reader.
Garton Ash's We The People strains and creaks its way between the covers of a book causing an unfortunate depletion of the power each article contains in its own right.
on 21 October 2013
The book was really cheap and in perfect shape! It was delivered fast and it is another example for me how good Amazon is. They deliver time and time again. I need these books for my study and are not easy to find in the Netherlands, but Amazon has a huge range of books, so I am a very happy customer. This one especially was a bargain!