Wednesday, 9 April 2014

The Year That Changed the World, by Michael Meyer

Why I read it: Economist Review

Podcast: C.V. Starr Center, which you can find on iTunes

Brow: High, even higher if you've actually been to Berlin.

Summary: Meyer was Newsweek's Eastern Europe correspondent in the 80s and was a firsthand witness to the extraordinary events that led to the fall of communism in Eastern Europe and its most hated symbol, the Berlin wall. He walks us through each country's transition, from Poland's first free elections in 1981 to a blunder at a press conference by a communist party spokesperson in East Berlin in 1989 that led to the wall being opened that very night, with liberal sprinklings from Hungary, the former Czechoslovakia, and Romania thrown in for good measure.

But should you read it? If you've kind of heard of this thing called communism but aren't really sure what it was or why some parts of Europe seem so much poorer than say, Sweden or France, this is a great book to walk you through what happened. It's also short enough that it won't take you very long to read it.  Although this book was published before the Arab Spring, another interesting reason to read it is parallel between the fates of the countries that broke free of the Iron Curtain and what is currently happening now in the Middle East. Some of the revolutions were relatively peaceful (Czechoslovakia, Germany, Tunisia); others somewhat messy (Romania, Egypt) and still others led to years of civil war (the Balkans, Syria). It will be interesting to see where everything ends up in another 40 years. If you're looking for an in-depth country-by-country analysis of the collapse of communism, this isn't your book.

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