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Revolution 1989: The Fall of the Soviet…

Revolution 1989: The Fall of the Soviet Empire (2009)

by Victor Sebestyen

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This is an excellent, detailed and exciting narrative covering the events leading up to and during the almost simultaneous fall of communism in 1989 in the six central and east European countries in the Soviet sphere of influence for the previous 40 years.

The book is divided into three parts: the first deals with the deeper background, in particular worker unrest in Poland in the 1970s and the reasons why the Soviet Union became progressively unable and unwilling to maintain its commitments in eastern Europe - the effect of the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan in 1979 and resulting long drawn out war on its military stretch and morale, and the collapse of world oil prices meaning the decrease of revenue from the sale of its natural resources to eastern European and other countries; the second part deals with accelerating developments throughout the mid to late 1980s across the countries; and the third is a chronological account covering events throughout the year, especially during the crucial October to December period.

All six countries are covered, though there is relatively little coverage of Bulgaria, the least familiar of the six to western readers, and the most loyal to the USSR (its leader Zhivkov, in power from 1954-89, once applied to Brezhnev for his country to be accepted as the 16th republic within the USSR). The main stories will be very familiar to most readers of a certain age: in Poland, the rise of Lech Walesa's Solidarity to a position where it challenged Jaruzelski's power but where, in a huge turnaround, they were able to find an accommodation and work together in government; the "Trabi trail" of East Germans across the border to the much freer Hungary and thence to Austria via the defunct electrified fence on the border; (of course) the fall of the Berlin Wall, triggered off accidentally by a mistaken answer by Gunter Schabowski to a journalist's question at a crucial press conference; and the bloody overthrow of Romania's Ceausescu, the worst of the lot in a violent confrontation which distinguished events in that country from the otherwise very largely peaceful revolutions in the others, as epitomised by the name of the Velvet Revolution in Czechoslovakia.

Another common feature between nearly all of the six countries was the fact that they had become massively indebted to western banks to keep their economies going and to maintain a decent standard of living for their people; and this combined with the refusal of the Soviets under Gorbachev to bail them out, brought out a degree of opposition from workers who might not have been motivated to oppose their governments purely on the grounds of the lack of political freedoms and civil liberties. 5/5

[A brief note on the Kindle version of this book: the publishers seem to have a problem with diacritical signs in Czech and Romanian, so some of the names come out oddly.] ( )
  john257hopper | Dec 12, 2014 |
This book details what happened in the Warsaw Pact states in 1989: Poland, East Germany, Czechoslovakia, Hungary, Romania and Bugaria. Each chapter is a short summary of a specific event in a location, and most chapters are no more than 3 or 4 pages long. The first half of the book explains the events leading up to 1989 and why Communism fell in that year, staring from about 1970. The second half is all about different events in 1989 throughout Eastern Europe. There is no discussion about events in the Soviet Union, except for going over the changes of leadership in the early 1980's and the policies Gorbachev enacted to allow the revolutions to take place. All together, a very detailed look at the events of the non-Soviet Communist states, with all six states nearly equally examined. ( )
  kaiser_matias | Jul 7, 2014 |
4680. Revolution 1989 The Fall of the Soviet Empire, by Victor Sebestyen (read 4 Mar 2010) This book tells the story of the events leading to the gloried year of 1989 when Communism in eastern Europe fell. It is not really history but it is more than journalism and I think it is well-done. I found it consistently interest-holding and informative, even though I lived through those momentous years. One marvels at the boon Gorbachov bestowed on the world by his determined effort not to impede the revolutions in the six satellites. And that Bush 42 did so little to encourage them. A worthwhile book and easy to read. ( )
  Schmerguls | Mar 4, 2010 |
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A lot of this is familiar ground... But [Sebestyen offers] new vantages on the 1989 revolutions, alternating accounts of protests on the streets of East Berlin, Warsaw, Prague, and other Eastern-bloc capitals with deliberations behind the scenes in Moscow and Washington from sources unavailable to earlier chroniclers.
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Amazon.com Amazon.com Review (ISBN 0375425322, Hardcover)

Victor Sebestyen on Revolution 1989
The principal reasons the Soviet empire fell was the USSR's disastrous decade-long war in Afghanistan, which is eerily reminiscent of the conflict the West is involved in now. Soviet generals of 20 or 25 years ago were saying almost identical things about their war against the Mujahideen (The Army of God) as NATO soldiers are saying now fighting the Taleban. Just substitute the names and it would be hard to spot the difference. Even more topically, many of the places where battles are being fought now are the same as then. Almost nobody predicted the sudden and speedy collapse of Communism--and its defeat was the last war that the West won. Almost nobody in politics, diplomacy, the military, the media or academia saw it coming. Least of all was it predicted by the intelligence agencies. Despite trillions of dollars and rubles spent on spying in forty years of Cold War--as well as a vast industry in espionage books and movies--the spooks in the East and West were hopelessly ill informed. The CIA consistently over-emphasized the strength of the Soviet bloc. Even in the Spring of 1989 the then Director of the CIA, Robert Gates, said the Soviets would use force to keep their hold on the East Europe states and, amongst other wrong calls, said the Kremlin would "never" let the Berlin Wall come down. Robert Gates is now US Secretary for Defense. Ronald Reagan was a great President, but he is admired for the wrong reasons. The classsic explanation for the collapse of Communism is that Reagan's tough rhetoric against the "Evil Empire" and his arms build-up defeated the Soviets. Quite the opposite is true. We can now take a more nuanced view. When he took a hard line Reagan got nowhere. In fact, it nearly led to a nuclear war by accident. He was successful when he took a soft line and began negotiating with the Russians, in particular with Mikhail Gorbachev. His greatness was in seizing that opportunity--not by ideology. It is hard to see why Reagan is a hero amongst conservatives at all. Western bankers did more to bring down Communism than did Presidents or Prime Ministers. Foreign debt forced a crisis in countries like Poland and East Germany and Hungary, which were spending three quarters of their income on paying the interest on loans from the West. The debt crisis--another topical theme now--was a vital factor in the story of 1989. The book reveals new information about how the first President Bush tried to slow down the process of change in 1989. He was worried the revolutions were happening so quickly that "global security" was at risk and that some of the East European dissidents were not ready to take power. There is a dramatic scene in the book when George Bush goes to Poland in the summer of '89 to plead with the Communist general in charge of the country to cling on to office for a while longer. —Victor Sebestyen

(Photo © Stacey Mutkin)

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:25:06 -0400)

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Documents the collapse of the Soviet Union's European empires and the transition of each to independent states, drawing on interviews and newly uncovered archival material to offer insight into 1989's rapid changes and the USSR's minimal resistance.

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