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Tear Down This Wall: A City, a President, and the Speech that Ended the Cold War Hardcover – November 3, 2009

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Standing before Berlin's Brandenburg Gate in 1987, President Reagan delivered his famous challenge to Soviet Premier Gorbachev: to tear down the wall dividing East and West Berlin. Within two years, the wall crumbled, and the U.S.S.R. soon followed. Time magazine deputy managing editor Ratnesar has mined American and East German archives to produce a lively, impressively detailed history of the iconic speech. Despite impeccable conservative credentials, Reagan considered avoiding nuclear war more important than defeating communism. This only became obvious in 1985, when Gorbachev assumed the Soviet leadership. Over the course of several meetings, the two leaders developed a rapport and announced disarmament agreements that distressed Reagan's hard-line supporters. In early 1987, speechwriter Peter Robinson produced a draft containing the tear down this wall statement, followed by a tortuous four months of innumerable drafts and quarrels with high officials who considered it unnecessarily offensive. In the end, Reagan liked the phrase, so it stayed. Being the world's sole superpower has brought America little satisfaction, so readers should enjoy this slim, lucid account of a time when events turned out brilliantly. (Nov.)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.


“Timely and insightful. . . Ratnesar’s book deftly explores the history of those famous words and highlights Ronald Reagan’s clarity of vision and commitment to the American ideal.” –Condoleezza Rice

“Romesh Ratnesar has produced a riveting account of one of the greatest speeches in modern times, which would have been enough. But along the way he has also written a brilliant and incisive history of the end of the Reagan Presidency and the Cold War. Tear Down this Wall affirms the power of words.”

--David Grann, Author of The Lost City of Z

“Fast-moving and splendidly written. . . a remarkable re-creation of the last days of the Soviet empire, with East Germany as the culmination of the Marxist dialectic, and the wall the perfect symbol for that strange alternate universe.”

–John R. Coyne, Jr., Washington Times

“Romesh Ratnesar has told the story with narrative verve, brilliant political and personal insight, and a combination of concision and pithiness worthy of the Great Communicator himself.”

--Strobe Talbott, author of The Great Experiment: Ancient Empires, Modern States, and the Quest for a Global Nation --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 240 pages
  • Publisher: Simon & Schuster; First Edition edition (November 3, 2009)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1416556907
  • ISBN-13: 978-1416556909
  • Product Dimensions: 9.6 x 6.4 x 0.9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 15.2 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (15 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,769,255 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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10 of 12 people found the following review helpful By cf otto on December 4, 2009
Format: Hardcover
This is a well-written, clear-eyed and unbiased book about President Reagan's role in bringing down the Berlin Wall. The focus is on his speech-writers and the interesting machinations they went through en route to creating the speeches we find so memorable. In addition, the author interviewed key people, such as Gorbychav and gleaned many fascinating insights and anecdotes from them.

My only complaint is what has to be one of the strangest last chapters I've ever read. After not mentioning Obama for the entire book, the last chapter suddenly discusses Obama vs. Reagan, how they are alike, and different, how much Obama respected Reagan (really? seems our new president is trying to tear down everything Reagan held dear in respect to government's role in our lives as well as how to conduct foreign policy). The author concludes by giving Obama a pep-talk on what he must do to have as much impact on America and the world as Reagan did... of course, assuring us that President Obama has the goods and will deliver. Say what?
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5 of 6 people found the following review helpful By Mark E. Quartullo on March 15, 2010
Format: Hardcover
As a lifelong Reagan Conservative, I was often dismayed in the `80s at the leftist partisan rancor and ideologically-based myopia of The Media when assessing President Reagan's Cold War (CW) policies - not because I supported them but because of the few credible alternative solutions offered to break the CW stalemate. For all the obstinate - even haughty - disregard for RR's policies, it was obvious that The Left was willing to perpetuate the CW with the same, tired Mutual Assured Destruction (MAD)/Detente policies. Yet, as RR correctly envisioned, the "Status Quo" (RR's definition: "That's Latin for the fix we're in") wasn't working, and the insanity of doing things the same way and expecting different results was destructive. Today, many revisionist historians try to collectively give the 8 CW presidents for ending it (particularly those who never agreed with RR's policies to begin with and cannot admit they were wrong). Yet, despite the efforts of his 7 predecessors, the CW was at a stalemate when RR entered office, with Soviet military strength increasing while the US wallowed in economic problems and declines in military viability and international credibility. Yet, from 1981-89, Ronald Reagan changed all of that. RR ultimately became the president that actually ended the CW - not merely one who carried over the fight as his predecessors did.

"Tear Down This Wall" (TDTW) is an aspect-specific treatment of the CW, with RR's famous speech at Brandenburg Gate on June 12, 1987 represented as the visionary culmination point of RR's diplomatic, military, socio-economic, and clandestine/ intelligence CW efforts in oratory form. It was the basis on which he could assert from the position of strength his policies afforded that the wall must be torn down.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful By Chuck Brooks on December 30, 2009
Format: Hardcover
President Reagan's speech at Berlin's 750th anniversary was more than a challenge to Chairman Gorbachev. In many ways, the speech was a triumph of will, a sharp coda to a fundamental change in the Western World, marking the end of empires along with new possibilities.

The speech did not happen in a vacuum. Reagan's strong views on The Wall were well formed and well known long before he became president. They were also held by many others as well, but certainly not all. This book is more then a retelling of the speech, but a narrative of how it came about, with a quick pace that is very much like a cliff hanging adventure story.

All governments are reactionary, resistant to changes of any kind that they cannot directly and absolutely control. Those in the US bureaucracy opposing the challenge, even the speech's tone, differed from their European and Soviet counterparts only in their creative justifications for, in effect, not rocking the boat. When it became clear that the speech was a defining moment in the Cold War, did those who opposed it most claimed credit for their bold words and visions of possibilities.

The narrative goes beyond Washington's turf battles, looking as well at the context, through European and Soviet eyes. Some two years later, The Wall came down. It would have happened sooner or later; Berlin, after all, had seen a lot during its 750 years. Reagen's speech helped the process along, more by looking to the future of possibilities rather than the rigidities of the past.

The book's 219 pages are organized into ten chapters, with an epilogue, well researched, and includes the speech's text. It also has a nice `where are they now?' section, contrasting their lives' now with what they were then when they were witnesses to the speech. Very readable, and highly recommended.
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4 of 5 people found the following review helpful By Joel Stein on November 3, 2009
Format: Hardcover
I don't usually like these kinds of history books as much as my Dad, partly because I've spent my life hearing about each Presidential bio he's read, but I was totally into Romesh Ratnesar's account of a far more complicated time than it looked like when I was living through it. He uses the most important moment of Reagan's presidentcy to explain not just the man, but the world in the 1980s. It's a portrait of Reagan that surprises - he's both more out of it and more brilliant, more oblivious to details and more unilateral in his decision making process than I expected. If you've ever read Romesh's stuff in Time you know that he is a spare, honest, thoughtful deliverer of prose in an era where everyone else is trying too hard to get your attention. Like I am right here. And not to ruin anything, but at the end, the wall does come down.
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