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Rise and Fall of Communism, The Hardcover – June 9, 2009

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 720 pages
  • Publisher: Ecco; First U S Edition edition (June 9, 2009)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0061138797
  • ISBN-13: 978-0061138799
  • Product Dimensions: 9.4 x 6.3 x 1.8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 2.3 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (21 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #343,175 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews


“Ranging wisely and lucidly across the decades and around the world, this is a splendid book.” (William Taubman, Pulitzer Prize-winning author of Khrushchev: The Man and His Era)

“This book requires and deserves space on all important book shelves for decades to come.” (Gary Hart, United States Senator (Ret.))

“[Brown’s] account is studded with delightfully pertinent and pithy personal observations and anecdotes...It is easy to be polemical about communism. Mr. Brown strives to be fair-minded...As a single-volume account of mankind’s biggest mistake, Mr. Brown’s book is hard to beat.” (The Economist)

“A sweeping, engrossing history. . . . Brown does a fine job of describing the social and political conditions that led people to embrace communism. And how, when the charms of the system wore off, these people found themselves ensnared by a totalitarianism that gave them no way to opt out.” (Dallas Morning News)

“Historical writing and political analysis of the highest order.” (Kirkus Reviews (starred review))

“A riveting and magisterial work.” (Strobe Talbott, president of the Brookings Institution and author of THE GREAT EXPERIMENT)

“For decades this volume will remain a definitive study of communism.” (Literary Review (UK))

“Readable and judicious...both controversial and commonsensical…‘The Rise and Fall of Communism’ is a work of considerable delicacy and nuance.” (

“Condensed with information that is both well-researched and well-placed within textbook history, [Brown’s] book is a rewarding read. It is an important book for the time—a sober reflection on the physical, objective results of ideological thought.” (Sacramento Book Review)

“Consistently superb” (Dwight Garner, New York Times)

“Archie Brown’s The Rise and Fall of Communsm is a rare thing, meticulously researched history that is immensely readable and, even better, a disinterested overview of the most deeply divisive topic of the past 100 years that has been highly praised by critics on the Right and Left”. (Australian Nonfiction Books of the Year)

From the Back Cover

From the internationally acclaimed Oxford authority on Communism comes a definitive history that examines the origins of the ideology, its development in different nations, its collapse in many of those countries following perestroika, and its current incarnations around the globe. The Rise and Fall of Communism explores how and why Communists came to power; how they were able, in a variety of countries on different continents, to hold on to power for so long; and what brought about the downfall of so many Communist systems.

For this comprehensive and illuminating work, Brown draws on more than forty years of research and on a wealth of new sources. Tracing the story of Communism from its nineteenth-century roots, Brown explains both its expansion and its decline in the twentieth century. Even today, although Communism has been widely discredited in the West, more than a fifth of humanity still lives under its rule.

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Customer Reviews

Overall, however, I highly recommend this book.
T. Dingman
This is an excellent text on the history and political science of Communism.
Galina Baron
This is a great book on the fall of communism in USSR.
Todd Carlsen

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

32 of 34 people found the following review helpful By Harriet Klausner #1 HALL OF FAME on June 10, 2009
Format: Hardcover
Mr. Brown puts together a deep perspective on the Communist phenomena touching on the writings of Marx and Engles in the nineteenth century and those who were precursors of the "founding fathers"; loosely like Locke's influence on America's "Founding Fathers". Obviously the prime focus is in the twentieth century but also somewhat in this past decade. Although the author looks at the final five survivors of Communism (Cuba, China, North Korea, Viet Nam and Laos) and their attempts for footholds in Africa and the Caribbean, the tome mostly focuses on the Soviet Union and the Eastern Europe Bloc behind the Iron Curtain, which Mr. Brown admits has been his major area of study. The insight into the Gorbachev-Yeltsin transition period is especially powerful and enlightening as Mr. Brown insists that Gorbachev's reforms led to unintended consequences for the party and the empire. In every case except for the rather short Prague Spring, Trotsky's theory of the party substituting for the workers always led to harsh dictatorships and usually to internal power struggles especially when change at the top occurred. Well written throughout the large volume, the conclusions are profound based on solid arguments; for instance the surviving nations all claim the purest form of communism, as each governs differently and that the utopian socialist workers' state has never been attained. However, once again it is the fall of the Iron Curtain that is the most insightful section of a fascinating look at THE RISE AND FALL OF COMMUNISM.

Harriet Klausner
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8 of 8 people found the following review helpful By J. Smallridge on September 9, 2011
Format: Paperback
This is a tough, but rewarding read. Brown's history of communism is as much of world history as it is a history of an ideology. He covers nearly every part of the globe in a way that is complete but never boring. His chapters on the Soviet Union and China are incredibly complete (frankly, there is still no great biography of Brezhnev or on some of the Chinese leaders after Mao) while his insights into Cuba and eastern Europe also are fully illuminating.

The paragraphs are packed with dense text and complex arguments that build upon one another so that a reader looking for a single answer as to why communism succeeded or failed probably isn't going to be satisfied. Rather, he shows how key leaders, intellectuals, freedom of information, economic growth (or not) all played important roles in how societies developed.

One final critique, while this is primarily a history, Brown does a nice job of bringing theory into both the beginning of the book and the ending so that a reader seeking to explore broader questions about communism and its role in history can ponder them long after the final page.
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12 of 14 people found the following review helpful By Tom Munro on October 25, 2009
Format: Hardcover
One of the current debates is what ended the cold war. American's have suggested that Ronald Reagan played a decisive role by accelerating the arms race. The inefficient Soviet economy could not keep up and the Soviet leaders had to divert an increasing share of production to military spending. This eventually lead to the collapse of the Soviet Economy. This book discusses the rise and the fall of communism and the reasons for them both.

Brown takes the opposite approach from that of American triumphalism. He suggests that intensification of the cold war generally entrenched the position of communist hard liners in the Soviet Union. It turned attention away from the question of whether things were working. Also the collapse of the economy is not itself sufficient to lead to the collapse of a communist state. Look at North Korea an economic basket case but one in which the regime is currently rock solid. This due to the huge amount of state resources invested in the security organs and very tight controls over the flow of information to the population as a whole.

What led to the collapse of communism in Europe was one thing and that was the role of Gorbachev. He decided to reform the political structure of the Soviet State. One this happened and the party was not kept in power by force the old structures melted away. The communist regimes in Eastern Europe had been kept in place by the threat of invasion from the Soviets as had happened in Hungary and Czechoslovakia. One Gorbachev signalled that this was not going to happen those regimes fell quickly. Market reform followed on from political change. Brown points out that one of the major success of communist regimes was the huge spread of literacy and the increase in the numbers of people who received tertiary education.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful By S. J. Snyder on November 18, 2009
Format: Hardcover
Brown has several strong areas, above all the Gorbachev years. In fact, I'd love to see him do a separate book called "The Last Years of the Soviet Union" or similar. That said, the book has other strong points, primarily in some of the specifics of how different Eastern European parties interacted with Moscow, and in raising some philosophical questions about just what makes a country communist and whether or not a country like today's China is still communist.

That said, without exactly feeling crammed, I would have loved to have seen another 60-100 pages in this book, and perhaps trimmed the Marx-Engels introductory material, which one would think any reader of this book would already know.

That relative thinness, for a book this important, is the main reason it doesn't quite get a fifth star. It's a definite four-star, if not 4.5, but plenty of other reviewers, besides the disgruntled Kindle reader, will give it five anyway.
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