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on 22 July 2017
This is an excellent book; very informed and especially honest from a 'Western' author. Applebaum aims to stear clear of various ideologies blinding some other authors.
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on 7 February 2014
I am just about old enough to remember 'Eastern Europe'; I can remember school books and soon-to-be-outdated atlases in which Europe was neatly divided in half, West and East. I can just about remember the 'fall of Communism', specifically I remember the tanks on the street of Romania, and the fall of the Berlin Wall, and later the collapse of the Soviet Union. One of my headteachers actually managed to get hold of a piece of concrete he solemnly told us was a piece of the Berlin Wall. I got an idea of Eastern Europe as a strange and homogenous region with identical cultures, histories, and similar sounding place names, all built out of concrete. Later, I learnt about spheres of influence, the Warsaw Pact, the Cold War, and Totalitarianism, all of which seemed to reinforce these ideas.

Later still, and I started to meet people from 'Eastern Europe' and found my ideas were challenged. Not least, people from the Czech Republic and Poland aren't especially impressed with the 'East/West' dichotomy and see themselves as inhabitants of central Europe, a place that was never in my old books. I have visited both countries, and found that the old Habsburg cities survived the horrors of World Wars and Communism, if not intact, then with their historic hearts still beating. I realised that my earlier ideas weren't just challenged, but wrong. So was Communist 'Eastern' Europe just a veneer, or a piece of Western propaganda? How did the Soviet Union come to dominate such a large territory so completely?

So it was with some interest I looked forward to the paperback publication of this book; the title alone seemed to be exactly what I was looking for. However, fairly early on it becomes apparent it wasn't quite what I was looking for; rather than the 'Crushing of Eastern Europe', this is a book about the suffocation of parts of Central Europe. Most of the Soviet sphere of influence is mentioned only in passing, with the dominant focus being on East Germany, Poland, and Hungary. Eastern Europe itself, being an integral part of the USSR during the period in scope, is barely mentioned at all.

The distraction of the title and the disappointment of the slightly limited scope apart, this is a marvellous book. Appelbaum looks in detail at various aspect of how the Soviet Union found itself in control of large swathes of Europe outside its own territorial borders, and the means it used to exercise complete domination over these countries. The very first chapter shows that the job of 'crushing' the area had largely been done by World War Two, and whilst not a blank canvas, the Soviets had several pulverised, demoralised and weary countries in dire need of reconstruction on which to inflict it's brutal totalitarian regimes.

In the first half of the book, through chapters on the situation at the cessation of hostilities, the dividing of the defeated areas into zones, the nascent communist parties in the three areas of focus, the policemen, violence and media used to exert complete control over the population, the forcible repatriations of people based on ethnicity, the suppression of 'civil society' and the efforts to force one party systems and Marxist economics onto each of the conquered countries, Appelbaum paints an appallingly vivid picture of the situation that befell the populations in the years immediately after World War Two.

In the second half, she concentrates on the 'reactionary enemies' in the church and the 'internal enemies' within the communist systems that were brutally suppressed in the name of Stalinism, the desire and failed efforts to turn both the people and the cities into idealised versions of a communist citizens in a communist utopia, the efforts to control both the artists and the workers, the emphasis based on 'realism' and industry, and the effect all this had on the ordinary people, whether they became 'reluctant collaborators' or 'passive opponents', or both, all culminating in the unsuccessful uprisings and revolutions in the mid 1950s after Stalin's death.

By ending where it does, the story feels a bit unfinished. The brief epilogue isn't especially satisfying, attempting to squeeze 33 years into a handful of pages after taking nearly 500 to explain a dozen years up to that point doesn't really work. There is surely scope for a sequel.

Clearly, the image of 'Eastern Europe' behind the Iron Curtain was not a veneer, and not a construct of Western propaganda. Life under Soviet communism was unpleasant, difficult, or downright impossible for many people. There were definite similarities between the experiences of each of the constituent countries of the 'Soviet Empire', especially in the years leading up Stalin's death. Yet, as Applebaum demonstrates, the populations of these three countries, and by extension the rest of the 'Soviet Empire', somehow managed to retain enough 'civil society' and national character to re-establish themselves once the Soviet yoke was lifted. Crushed or not, Central Europe survived under Soviet domination, and has regained it's place on the map.
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on 22 February 2015
This book is probably best read as a follow-on to a decent history of the Second World War, so if you know your Ardennes from your Dunkirk, you'll be good to go. It starts at the end of the war, with the Soviets having stormed Berlin and pretty much continues from there, making a convincing refutation of the general idea that conflict and bad times stopped in 1945. Millions of people in Eastern Europe had it what you might call 'bad' under the Nazis but if Applebaum is to be believed (and with a bibliography like that, not to mention the amount of shoe-leather she's worn out digging out old survivors to talk to in person, why wouldn't she be?) it got, if anything, considerably worse under the Russians.

Over the course of 450 pages, Applebaum shows, layer by layer, how the Russians went about imposing socialism on those Eastern European countries under its control after the end of the war. She shows how the involuntary imposition of a political ideology on a country can only be achieved by means of force and is thus doomed to become a totalitarian rule, no matter what the initial intention of that ideology. In this respect, the simple showing-how-it-was-done, the book is a total success. It is so good, in fact, that it could almost be used as a guidebook on how to set up a totalitarian state. In her attention to this nuts-and-bolts approach, however, Applebaum often neglects to really convey the profound impact the Kremlin's overarching decisions about moving populations and building factories and educating children had on individuals in the same way a Beevor or Hastings might. But on the other hand, no other modern historian shows how society works so clearly; no one else shows how huge, complicated changes of state often began as the whim of one man, a whim which could be changed or reversed by the hour. And the sense of understanding Applebaum creates in her readers is what is so amazingly compelling: you feel, throughout this whole book, that you finally get the whole Communism thing.

But it is in the final few pages when the reader finally sees what Applebaum has been driving at and why she has written her book in the way she has. And in that moment, it becomes clear what a monumental achievement this is.

Yeah, basically: the best book I've read about Communism.
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on 29 December 2013
I enjoyed this book very much. I have always wanted to understand why Russia and the West fought together against Germany in the Second World War, and then went on to become enemies with the division of Europe. This book is essential reading for anyone who wishes to understand this period of European history, and the background to the subjugation of Eastern Europe by Russia after the Second World War.
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Format: Hardcover|Vine Customer Review of Free Product( What's this? )
I have a great love of modern European history, with part of my degree specialising in Soviet politics and the satellite states and modern history. I ordered this book with great expectations but had not read the other reviews. Firstly this book only covers, Hungry, East Germany and Poland, which quite frankly is a travesty. Czechoslovakia, Bulgaria, Yugoslavia, Albania and Romania represent countries where the authors analysis of how socialism was engineered and Eastern Europe was crushed by the mighty Soviet Union does not necessarily hold up. The way power was transferred in these countries should have been included. Secondly the in-depth strata/realist analysis of how "Eastern Europe" was crushed is not here in this book. The author tends to make sweeping generalisations and does not look at the micro causes of why certain groups backed the taking over of the Governments in these three countries.

The book focuses upon how Governments used the threat of terror to gain public support and then used propaganda and lying to hide their failures. I am sorry but there is a far greater depth of analysis needed to understand control and taking of power in these countries. If you take just two examples Matyas Rakosi in Hungry and Wladyslaw Gomulka in Poland you can see the simplifications to the theory by the author do not explain the whole story. Rakosi was deemed too dangerous and too cruel in his treatment of the Hungarians by Moscow, that Moscow decided he had to go. Yes he kept order, yes he destroyed minority discontent but it was the Soviet Union itself who did not want this type of person in charge of Hungry so they themselves removed him. If terror was the name of the game Rakosi would have been kept in power. Gomulka reformed the Communist party of Poland and removed in the early days many vestiges of terror in doing so, although he brought back some vestiges later on. These changes were done to pacify Hungarians and Poles, but the realist intent of these decisions is not gone into in enough detail by the author.

Whilst this is not a bad book and in parts, it is very interesting, the theory put forward by the author seems to be oversimplified and not enough analysis has been done on the structural reasons why the socialist parties were allowed to take over, nor the realist intent of those who allowed it. The generalisations continue in the way that terror and propaganda are analysed by the author as the main reasons Eastern Europe was crushed. This is an interesting book, but if you want a deep analysis based upon strata analysis or realist intent then look further.

Interesting but needs more depth.
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Format: Hardcover|Vine Customer Review of Free Product( What's this? )
This is, in so many ways, an excellent book - but it's one which would have been even better if Applebaum had not allowed her own right-wing agenda to colour her story. Her own political views were not so visible in Gulag, but here they insert themselves in uncomfortable ways.

Using a mix of secondary sources (academic articles and books from the last twenty or so years), and primary sources, both documentary (e.g. former state police archives), and oral (interviews), this paints a detailed picture of Stalinism in Eastern Europe between 1944-1956.

What is disconcerting, however, in such an intelligent writer is her tendency to polarise issues in terms of left and right. This seems unnecessary when the story she tells of secret police, of targeted violence, of the drawing up and removal of state enemies - be they ideological or ethnic - is chilling enough in its own right, and doesn't need to be given a neo-conservative slant.

Indeed, many of the resistant and `dissident' groups and individuals who were persecuted by, and undermined, Stalinism weren't from the right but from the traditional left: the Polish Solidarity movement, for example, as Applebaum herself documents, was built from the trade unions, students, intellectuals and academics, the liberal left who have always opposed authoritarian controls over thought, art, education and their concomitant institutions such as universities. She uses epigraphs from writers like George Orwell, Boris Pasternak, and Vaclav Havel who all certainly spoke out against Stalinism, but who remained what we would loosely term democratic socialists who were also critical of unfettered capitalism.

So this is a well-researched and, in lots of ways, meticulous book about what is a bleak but still pressing subject. We may not share Applebaum's complete confidence in America as the saviour of the free world, and unfettered capitalism as an instrument of social justice and progression, but as a rich and detailed analysis of the mechanics of Stalinist totalitarianism, this is very good.
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Format: Hardcover|Vine Customer Review of Free Product( What's this? )
Anne Apfelbaum's work is a scholarly but very readable account of how the end of World War Two saw the spread of communism across previously politically independent countries. This was of course effectively the end of democracy and free speech for a vast number of people.

The area affected was so large that generalisations and some omissions had to be made to encompass as much information as possible. There is little mention of the Baltic States of Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania, for example. There is a good reason for this - there is a heavy reliance throughout on how the changes took place through the lives of individuals, with dozens of accounts.

There are very few then-adult survivors of the immediate post war period from these small nations left to give their accounts, and it is these accounts that bring the book to life. The central focus is on the much larger nations; Poland, East Germany and Hungary.

As the wife of (at the time of writing) Poland's Foreign Minister, Anne Apfelbaum was possibly able to access previously hidden primary sources of information with greater ease. Certainly, this book confirms much of what was suspected about the totalitarian nature of the communist capture of free society, and of the mechanisms which engineered this.

This is not a re-hash of that which was already known, but an extremely important and valuable new book
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TOP 500 REVIEWERon 25 April 2013
Format: Hardcover|Vine Customer Review of Free Product( What's this? )
This is a fascinating insight into post WW2 Russia and the war ravaged areas around it.

The book sets about trying to tell the stories in chronological order but due t the events in the different areas it must skip certain aspects and return to them in later chapters, but it is not off-putting when you read it.

Anne Applebaum has obviously done a significant amount of research for this book, and it is well written and, unlike a lot of textbooks, not dry. It did, however, leaving me wondering about the lack of humanity of the human race again.
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on 5 November 2012
Anne Applebaum's last book, 'Gulag' related events that were so horrifying that you were almost glad when the book came to an end. The story here is also of cruelty and failure, but not on such a terrible scale. It shows how ordinary, decent people were made to conform, partly at least because of the threat of terror, and how the Soviet backed governments in Eastern Europe tried to divert attention from their failure to get public support or to significantly improve living standards. It ends with the doomed attempts at rebellion in East Germany and then Hungary.
A lot of research must have gone into this book, but the author manages to present her ideas clearly and simply. Partly of necessity, she has to concentrate on only three countries, Hungary, Poland and East Germany. She shows that the conventional picture of the Cold War only breaking out in 1948-9 is misleading. The communists genuinely believed, after the War, that they could win popular elections. But they were soon disabused of these ideas. Instead, they effectively seized power and crushed any opposition.
By relating the personal stories of many of the people that she was able to interview, the author is able to make the story that she is relating much more interesting. A major theme is how private institutions were not allowed to survive for very long under Communism.
This book is well worth reading. It extends our knowledge of what happened in Eastern Europe after the War, and never fails to interest the reader.
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VINE VOICEon 22 July 2013
Format: Hardcover|Vine Customer Review of Free Product( What's this? )
I cannot fully express the wonder of this book. The author has already been praised for her earlier work, but this book is as good as Gulag.

Applebaum is an academic, a researcher and an expert, yet she writes like a poet!
The style and access granted by her language is superb. This is a treat to read - I felt like I was on a wonderful roller coaster ride through the middle of the last century, in fact it was so good it could have been a novel. Yet, there is no doubting the reality of what she writes, this is a definitive work that allows non-historians like me to access recently available archives and to take a glimpse backwards in time.

I felt the depravity and failings of modern political systems, the wickedness of humanity and the obsession of those seeking to change Europe whatever the human cost. Whatever I actually felt, I was empowered with factual history that helped me learn from the past and realise how similarly we live today.

The chapters are labelled simply and clearly giving you a sense of where the author is going with each one.

The lessons of the 20th century on experiments of social engineering ought to be enough for us, but of course too few people read history and so keep making the same mistakes. This decade we are doing many of the same things, and we will also have to pay the piper.

When you place this on your bookshelf you will be proud to own a copy. It is a long time since I read such a large historical text with such vigour and delight. I can only commend it to you and say please, please read it!
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