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on 24 December 2017
Exemplary book on a period of history (a particular focus on the years immediately after WWII) that often receives comparatively scant attention, since there is almost a prevailing narrative of a simple transition from the chaos of WWII to a gradual formation of Communist Bloc until its dissolution with the fall of the Berlin wall and the subsequent economic liberalisation of the countries involved. Yet this period of history is as horrifying, fascinating, tangled, and every bit as complex as the events of WWII, and the ideological indoctrination and terror of the Stalinist Soviet regime arguably as complete as that under Nazi Germany.

This is a meticulously researched book that is obviously the result of painstaking effort and care, but perhaps most importantly it is a brilliant, riveting and timely read in our current era that occasionally likes to delude itself - dangerously - into thinking we are somehow living in a "post-ideological" world, now immunised from the allure of toxic political regimes that purport simple solutions to complex problems.

Engrossing: thoroughly recommended.
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on 11 October 2014
Very good read. Highly detailed, leaving few areas uncovered, this is a comprehensive account of the gradual, but devastating take over by the Communists of previously democratic, peaceful countries. The methodical infiltration of existing institutions, the blatant use of propaganda, lies, misrepresentation, pressurising, the use of force and compulsion are consistently detailed in each and every state taken under the "wing" of the USSR, is disturbing. Anyone who takes an interest in British politics will find a resonance in the propaganda examples. The recent Scottish Independence referendum and in particular the nationalists style and use of propaganda in a "modern" democratic state bore disturbing similarities to the Russian tactics - used especially in East Germany, where the Russians, aware of the interest and watchfulness of the Western powers, sought to win "hearts and minds" in order to placate the democratic powers. The fact that it failed, reflected on the courage of East German residents, alert to what was going on. Ultimately it took fear, fraud and force to establish the communist state takeover. Nonetheless the power of propaganda, of authority, of fear, is so very well covered by Applebaum. This is a longish read admittedly, but that does not distract from its message. Democracy is extremely fragile and its very concept opens it to its potential demise and in a very short order. A good, powerfully written book, with warnings for us all.
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on 14 February 2018
The introduction was quite good - tightly written and tro the point. From the first chapter, though, it just gets more bloated and drifts in the way that social research so often does. So I gave up reading it.
A shame, because I suspect that a good deal of research went into this, and she is capable of perceptive and clear statements - it is just that the body of the prose is too flabby.
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on 22 December 2015
Anne Applebaum has provided a full and complete study of the USSR's total subordination of an entire region over the period of a decade. As such, Applebaum has produced one of the most thorough and detailed histories this reader has yet read. Rather than serving as a political chronology, as many such studies today often are, Applebaum has examined every aspect of political, economic and cultural life wherein the Soviets asserted their influence.
The book begins with the definition of totalitarianism as originally coined by Mussolini, as a system wherein everything is by and for the state, and then proceeds to illustrate how the progenitor of Fascism's vision was implemented by his supposed ideological opposites.
Iron Curtain follows a chronological narrative, beginning with the end of WWII and detailing the various conferences, Yalta and Potsdam, and how the so called agreements were never honoured. From there a particularly harrowing account of Soviet occupation follows. The second half of the book treats the cultural and civic takeover of communism in more detail, concluding with the failed uprisings in East Berlin in 1953 and more importantly, Hungary in 1956.
While the book offers a vivid account of the crushing of East Germany, Poland and Hungary, one feels that an account of perhaps Romania and Bulgaria could have been incorporated, however, Applebaum makes it clear in the introduction that the primary focus of the book would be those three countries, and others would feature only in passing.
As such, Applebaum did not overstretch what is already a vast study, and as a unified whole has few faults.
Overall, an indispensable work for anyone interested in 20th Century history, international relations or Eastern Europe.
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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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on 20 November 2013
A very detailed account on how ordinary citizens lived in Eastern European Countries, through the end of the Second World War and Nazism and then Soviet Invasion, at first welcoming them as liberators but slowly realizing that their freedoms were being eroded bit by bit closing down the media, radio, youth groups, art and culture, replacing them with heavily censured communist versions.

The book covers the new cities created and the communist economy such as the five year plans,and work life, the communist authority songs, marches, schools and summer camps held to inordinate citizens to be good communists and to conform, encouraging workers to accede their quotas with competitions and rewards winners were made famous and held up as good examples to aspire too.

The most difficult and emotional chapters to read were on the arrests, executions, beatings and prison conditions, and the mental toll on citizens who did not agree with communism but felt that they had to conform to keep their families safe.

The last two chapters deal with the uprisings following the death of Stalin and the debates the authorities had on whether to allow more freedoms to keep the protests at bay, the book most covers East Germany, Poland and Hungary.

A very good read and highly recommended.
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on 27 May 2015
Excellent. concise, and meticulously researched. A rather over looked chapter of European history, I always assumed that the Soviet-union absorbed the Eastern satellite states immediately after the war, fascinating to see how these countries continued to believe that self-determination was still a possibility; and how they roundly rejected the Communists in the first post-war elections. The shocking Soviet abuses, Nazi death camps simply renamed and rejigged to act as Soviet secret police internment camps, offers as true an illustration for the evils of both regimes as is possible. This alongside heartbreaking personal accounts of political violence made me appreciate anew the fact that most peoples in Central and Eastern Europe consider 1989 their real liberation.
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on 3 May 2014
A BEAUTIFULLY-WRITTEN account of how it all began and gradually unravelled. Anne Applebaum is engaging and emotionally powerful, but objective at the same time, which is quite a neat juggling act.
Makes you wonder, reading this book and getting a proper handle on all of it, why on Earth some leaders still feel they can successfully run huge countries in such a way, and not expect the ordinary people to stand up at some point and say, "Hang on, this isn't right and we don't want it."
If you are interested in this period of history, when monumental events changed the face of Eastern Europe, and to relate it to current events, such as what is happening in Ukraine in 2014, this book is just the thing.
Sadly, we seem to be witnessing idiots repeat dark history, rather than learn from it and avoid those same mistakes.
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on 4 January 2018
A valuable contribution that explains the world of evil that confronts us all. Socialism has from Russia, Cambodia and China and elsewhere, cost humanity millions of lives of men women and children. Anne should be thanked for taking the trouble to research and write up such a tome of mans cruelty to mankind.
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on 6 February 2018
Applebaum is to be commended for such a comprehensive study of the Cold War up to Stalin's death in Poland, Hungary and East Germany. However it would have been helpful if the focus of the book on these three nations had been stated in summary available to those considering the book on the Amazon website
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