Twenty years ago, the Berlin Wall fell. In one of modern history's most miraculous occurrences, communism imploded-and not with a bang, but with a whimper. Now two of the foremost scholars of East European and Soviet affairs, Stephen Kotkin and Jan T. Gross, drawing upon two decades of reflection, revisit this crash. In a crisp, concise, unsentimental narrative, they employ three case studies-East Germany, Romania, and Poland-to illuminate what led Communist regimes to surrender, or to be swept away in political bank runs. This is less a story of dissidents, so-called civil society, than of the bankruptcy of a ruling class-communism's establishment, or "uncivil society." The Communists borrowed from the West like drunken sailors to buy mass consumer goods, then were unable to pay back the hard-currency debts and so borrowed even more. In Eastern Europe, communism came to resemble a Ponzi scheme, one whose implosion carries enduring lessons. From East Germany's pseudotechnocracy to Romania's megalomaniacal dystopia, from Communist Poland's cult of Mary to the Kremlin's surprise restraint, Kotkin and Gross pull back the curtain on the fraud and decadence that cashiered the would-be alternative to the market and democracy, an outcome that opened up to a deeper global integration that has proved destabilizing.
"From the Hardcover edition.
About the Author
Stephen Kotkin holds a joint appointment in the history department and the Woodrow Wilson School for Public and International Affairs at Princeton University. He has served as Vice Dean of the Woodrow Wilson School, and he established Princeton's Global History initiative. From 1996 until 2009 Kotkin directed Princeton's Program in Russian and Eurasian Studies. From 2003 until 2007, he was a member and then chair of the editorial board of Princeton University Press. He currently serves on the core editorial committee of the flagship journal World Politics. He has published four books and has worked as the regular book reviewer for the New York Times Sunday Business section (2006 9) and as a consultant in post-communist higher education for various foundations.
Jan T. Gross is Professor of Politics and European Studies at New York University. He is the author of, among other books, "Revolution from Abroad: Soviet Conquest of Poland's Western Ukraine and Western Belorussia" (Princeton) and a coeditor of "The Politics of Retribution in Europe: World War II and Its Aftermath" (Princeton).
"Following hard on the heels of Armageddon Averted, Stephen Kotkin has written a brilliantly original account of the fall of the Soviet empire. Almost everything on this subject up until now has been journalism. Kotkin's genius as an historian is to turn conventional wisdom on its head and force us to rethink completely a revolution we thought we understood merely because we lived through it." —Niall Ferguson, Laurence A. Tisch Professor of History at Harvard and author of The War of the World
"In this lively and fast-paced study, two distinguished Princeton historians, Stephen Kotkin and Jan Gross, analyze the 1989 revolution in Eastern Europe as a product of the political bankruptcy of 'uncivil society,' meaning the communist elite. Using the case studies of Poland, Romania, and the German Democratic Republic, the authors combine deep historical analysis of the development and failures of East European communism with brilliant insights into the events of 1989 themselves. The book makes a critical contribution to our understanding of the annus mirabilis." —Norman M. Naimark, Robert and Florence McDonnell Chair of East European History at Stanford University