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The Fall of the Berlin Wall (Turning Points in History) 1st Edition

4.6 out of 5 stars 17 customer reviews
ISBN-13: 978-0470496688
ISBN-10: 0470496681
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Editorial Reviews


"Eloquent...immensely readable...the saga of the victory of capitalism over the brutal and irrational fraud that was state socialism." (Baltimore Sun, March 21, 2004)

"[A] great narrative of democratic survival and democratic victory." (Washington Time, March 30, 2004)

"This is a small masterpiece of the narrative tradition. The Fall of the Berlin Wall keep[s] readers turning the page." (National Review, March 22, 2004)

"...decodes the Cold War endgame..." (Vanity Fair, March 2004)

From the day the Berlin Wall went up, in August of 1961, separating East and West Berlin, to the day it came crumbling down in November 1989, it stood as a symbol of the denial of freedom and the horrors of communism. In his latest book, renowned conservative writer Buckley tells the story of the Wall from its historic inception to its fateful fall. This new entry in Wiley's Turning Points series is not an in-depth historical account of East German communism but a brief overview of cri tical events, accompanied by Buckley's insightful and occasionally witty commentary. Despite the author's political orientation, the book does not evince a strong political bias (traditionally, conservatives tout Reagan as a major player in the fall of communism, but Buckley devotes a scant couple of pages to Reagan's policies and his famous "te ar down this wall" speech); the story of the Berlin Wall is remarkable in itself, capable of being appreciated by all, regardless of their politics. It's a story about separated families, thousands of East Berliner s who risked their lives to taste freedom on the other side; those who did not make it-shot down by Communist police as they attempted to scale the wall. Buckley is at times funny, at times genuinely horrified by the Communist regime, and at times exultant over its fall. His lucid account celebrates the tenacity of the human spirit and the will to achieve freedom. Map. Agent, Lois Wallace. (Mar. 26) (Publishers Weekly, March 1, 2004)

Early in his presidency, Ronald Reagan called communism a "sad, bizarre chapter in human history whose last pages even now are being written." Ten months after he left office, one of the grimmest symbols of communism's inhumanity -- the Berlin Wall -- was breached, and the Soviet empire itself soon lay on the ash heap of history.
In "The Fall of the Berlin Wall" (Wiley, 212 pages, $19.95), William F. Buckley Jr. describes the Wall's final dramatic moments, as his title suggests, but he also tells the story of its construction and its role in the Cold War. The book is part of a publishing series called Turning Points, in which prominent writers take a fresh look at key moments in history. As stories go, few can match the intrigue and tragedy of the Berlin Wall. Imagine other great cities slashed through the middle: New York at 42nd Street, say, or Paris at the Champs-Elysees.
Mr. Buckley himself tackled this subject in a 1984 novel in which his East German resistance hero came close to forcing the Soviets to back down from their plan to splice the city in two. This was not sheer fancy on Mr. Buckley's part. In 1961, Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev informed the East Germans: "We Soviets are not willing to risk a major engagement with the West" and ordered them to withdraw if the Allies reacted to the Wall's construction with force. It turned out that John F. Kennedy and other Western leaders were relieved that Khrushchev's bluster only sealed off the city and didn't actually threaten West Berlin.
Erich Honecker, the East German official in charge of building the Wall, kept direct knowledge of the project limited to 20 people. The troops who started stringing barbed wire at 2 a.m. on Aug. 12, 1961, were told of their mission only when they got to the border. Once he became East German leader, Mr. Honecker declared himself proud of his "anti-fascist protective barrier." Too proud, it turned out. By delaying reforms, he let resentment among his own citizens build until, by 1989, a full 5% of East German adults had taken the risk of being branded disloyal by requesting exit visas. That summer Hungary began allowing East German tourists to slip through to the West, and the genie was out of the bottle. Mr. Honecker was soon swept down into his own ash heap.
In one sense, the Wall was a formidable barrier. It stood 13 feet high and was supplemented by watchtowers, alarms, mines, trenches, dogs and guards with machine guns. More than 100 people died trying to cross it. It became a tourist attraction. Mr. Buckley notes that "virtually every square inch of the Western side was covered with drawings and text and symbols." Even toward the end the experts thought it would remain in place. Many citizens, too. "Most Germans themselves are convinced," wrote journalist Peter Wyden weeks before the Wall fell, "that the prospect of a single Germany is a fantasy."
But the Wall was surmounted by invisible forces. "The enemy of the people stands on the roof," raged Honecker's predecessor, Walter Ulbricht, complaining about the television antennas that were pointed west at night and allowed 85% of East Germans to watch Western TV and see what they were missing.
Mr. Buckley writes about the many individual Germans who did their part to bring the Wall down. An American stalwart was Gen. Lucius Clay, the organizer of the 1948 Berlin Airlift, who learned after the Wall went up about the isolation of Steinstucken, an exclave of 200 West Berliners who were separated from the city by East German territory. He flew in by helicopter to reassure them and arranged to supply them by air until the East Germans allowed road access to the West, around the Wall.
But for different reasons, history will record two paramount figures: Ronald Reagan and Mikhail Gorbachev. Mr. Reagan first saw the Wall in 1978, when he told his aide Peter Hannaford: "We've got to find a way to knock this thing down." After he became president, he returned in 1982 and enraged the Soviets by taking a couple of ceremonial steps across a painted border line. Then, in 1987, he overruled his own State Department by giving a momentous speech in which he implored the general secretary directly: "Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall!"
The "tide of history" that Mr. Reagan liked to refer to in his speeches must have been on Mr. Gorbachev's mind two years later when he visited East Berlin and informed the comrades there that they needed to change. He told reporters who asked about the Wall: "Dangers await only those who do not react to life." The signal was sent that Moscow would no longer prop up a corrupt system.
Mr. Buckley believes that the Wall's fall was both a vindication of the West's refusal to kowtow to the Soviets and a tribute to the "undeniable spirit of East German dissenters." Today pieces of the Wall exist as mere souvenirs on mantelpieces. Elsewhere in the world, sadly, the symbols of oppression are still intact. But as Mr. Buckley's poignant narrative reminds us: There is no reason to suppose that this will always be the case. (Wall Street Journal, March 18, 2004) --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From the Inside Flap

Overnight, it became a powerful symbol of the stark and bitter divisions of the Cold War. The Berlin Wall was more than a symbol, however. For nearly thirty years, it separated families, kept millions of people in virtual slavery, and took the lives of many whose unquenchable thirst for freedom drove them to climb over, tunnel under, or sneak past the wall.

In The Fall of the Berlin Wall, renowned author and conservative pioneer William F. Buckley Jr. explains why the wall was built, reveals its devastating impact on the lives of people on both sides, and provides a riveting account of the events that led to the wall’s destruction and the end of the Cold War.

Writing with rare intensity and passion, Buckley examines the political, military, and human realities of occupied Germany in the early years of the Cold War. He recounts the Soviets’ repeated violations of the Four-Power Agreements that governed the occupation as they folded East Germany into their growing empire, and he documents the failure of NATO–and successive American presidents–to stand firm against Soviet bullying.

Buckley also creates detailed and perceptive portraits of such major players as East Germany’s dour and disapproving secretary general Walter Ulbricht; Konrad Adenauer, the beloved "der Alte," chancellor of West Germany; Berlin mayor Willy Brandt; and American general Lucius Clay, who faced down the Soviets at Checkpoint Charlie. His analysis of behind-the-scenes squabbling on both sides informs and entertains as it connects developments in the years-long conflict over Berlin with the Cuban Missile Crisis and other major Cold War events.

This fast-paced history overflows with the famous Buckley wit and insight as it documents the heroic, inventive, and sometimes heartbreaking efforts of ordinary people to escape the soul-killing East German regime. You’ll meet the young couple who swam a river with their infant child in their arms; the engineering student who convinced an American television network to finance his escape tunnel; and the construction worker who was left to die in agony after being shot by East German border guards. You’ll also relive the giddy celebration that followed the opening of the border and drew thousands of Berliners to the wall, hammers and chisels in hand, bent on tearing down the hated barrier, chunk by jagged chunk.

Complete with an analysis of how Ronald Reagan’s hard-nosed foreign policy undermined Warsaw Pact dictators, emboldened dissidents, and finally made the dream of freedom a reality in Eastern Europe, The Fall of the Berlin Wall is Buckley at his wry and contentious best. It is sure to delight conservatives, annoy liberals, and enlighten everyone who reads it. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.


Product Details

  • Series: Turning Points in History (Book 20)
  • Paperback: 240 pages
  • Publisher: Wiley; 1 edition (October 1, 2009)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0470496681
  • ISBN-13: 978-0470496688
  • Product Dimensions: 5.8 x 0.7 x 7.7 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 8.5 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (17 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #661,458 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By Thomas Moody on May 7, 2004
Format: Hardcover
Before reading this surprisingly succinct work by William F.Buckley, it would have been hard for me to imagine a comprehensive Cold War history consolidated into 192 pages of text. But under the amazingly capable pen of Buckley, the reader learns all the highlights (lowlights?) of this seminal period in International history.
Starting with the Four-Power agreement in post WWII Germany, we see the numerous policy offenses initiated by the USSR as they grasp for power by forming the Eastern Bloc of socialist countries. Nowhere is this skewed outlook more evident than in war-torn and politically seperated Germany...specifically, it's capital in Berlin. We see immediately, the subversion encountered by the citizens of East Berlin and their realization that life would be best lived outside this repressive regime. The outpouring of the population to the West is, of course, the reason that the Wall is erected...thus symbolically subjugating Eastern Europe to over 30 years of repressive treatment. Communist/Socialist leaders from Walter Ulbricht to Erich Honecker are analyzed and dismissed as their policies reflect the repressive attitude that Communism endows on it's subjects...while at the same time it's leaders live in comparative luxury. Buckley provides these insights with a wit and writing style that makes it easy to understand this subversion and frustration that all in the East must have felt during this period. Documenting the many attrocities enacted by the East Germans as the Wall is erected and further enhanced throughout the 60's, Buckley takes the reader along for the many inside dealings that the East tried to legitimize and enhance it's regime on the International stage.
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By A Customer on March 17, 2004
Format: Hardcover
This book is really fascinating. William F. Buckley Jr. writes with amazing detail about the symbolism of the Berlin Wall, both its rise and ultimately, the meaning of its fall. I really found the personal stories included, of people trying to escape to West Germany, to be so powerful. Anybody who is interested in the Cold War history should read this book.
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Format: Hardcover
We are extremely fortunate to have the story of the rise and fall of the Berlin Wall rendered in the precise narrative of Mr. Buckley's book. Sceptics who might have expected Mr. Buckley exclusively to lavish praise on President Reagan and Prime Minister Thatcher will be sorely disappointed. What emerges in this concise history is far more complex. Three factors combined over time "to tear down this wall." First, Reagan and Thatcher were remarkably adept at pressuring the Soviet Union. On the U.S. side, National Security Directive - 75 sanctioned efforts to stimulate internal pressures on the USSR. The Star Wars program became a threat that Gorbachev could neither ignore nor afford to confront. Second, Gorbachev himself made the right moral choice in choosing to recognize rather than repress the growing aspirations for democracy in the Soviet bloc. [There was nothing inevitable in that, as made clear in the Gorbachev chapter in Ferguson's Virtual History.] Finally, within the Soviet Union, perhaps most especially in Gdansk, the desire for autonomy was courageously made actionable by ordinary citizens who at that perfect moment in time decided to become some of the century's greatest heroes. All these factors combined to replace the cold, unwavering Brezhnev Doctrine -- once a Soviet state always a Soviet state -- with what Primakov later implied was the new, Sinatra doctrine -- they can do it their way. Inevitably, the problem with well-written short books is that one wishes they were longer. So, I would like to have seen Mr. Buckley delve more into the Soviet struggle in Afghanistan with the ensuing alleged consequences for Al Queada, and I think the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict deserved a more in-depth narrative, one placing it in its larger historical context.Read more ›
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Format: Hardcover
William F. Buckley, Jr., is remembered as a serious and influential Conservative thinker, and also as an author who wrote in a concise yet highly-informative way. This book definitely shows that that reputation was well deserved. In a mere 212 pages (192, if you don’t count the endnotes and index!), Mr. Buckley tells the story of the Berlin Wall, from its conception in the mind of de facto East German leader Walter Ulbricht, through its building, its long and terror-filled life, and on to its final destruction in a carnival-like atmosphere. But, this book is even more than that, in a remarkably short space, the book tells the story of the Cold War in Europe, from the end of World War 2 to the final fall of Communism.

Yeah, this is an excellent book, the handiwork of a genius. I found the book to be very informative, and very interesting. Indeed, it is surprisingly gripping, keeping me from even looking at another book before this one was finished. I highly enjoyed this book, and highly recommend it to anyone interested in the Cold War.
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Format: Hardcover
A thorough yet condensed history of the fall of the Berlin Wall. I learned a lot about the cold war, Warsaw Pact politics, post- WWII Germany, and I highly recommend this book.By the way, I miss the author, not the wall.

Dr. Stanley E. Toompas, Optometrist
& Author of , "I'm the One the Other Isn't"
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