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The Berlin Wall: A World Divided, 1961-1989 Hardcover – May 29, 2007

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Starred Review. Walls, like those of Hadrian and Maginot, do not have a good reputation, and Taylor (Dresden) has written a superb narrative of the rise and fall of the monstrous one that scarred Berlin between August 1961 and November 1989. Walls, too, are more than merely bricks and mortar (or, in the 100-mile-long Berlin version's case, anti-vehicle crash obstacles, unclimbable barriers, barbed-wire fences, self-activating searchlights and heavily armed border guards), and one of Taylor's major themes is the Berlin Wall's significance in the global power politics of the Cold War. According to Taylor, Kennedy, Macmillan and de Gaulle were not decisively opposed to the division between East and West Germans. Berlin, in truth, was a dangerously volatile potential flashpoint, and while the erection of the wall was brutal and oppressive to those caught behind or trying to get over it, it stabilized Europe and symbolized the differences between capitalism and communism. Reagan, however, emphasized the rights of the trapped and challenged Gorbachev to tear it down. The Kremlin, ironically, was undone by its own creation. Taylor's enthralling story, combined with impeccable research and its rich human interest, makes this as dramatically gripping as any of the spy thrillers that used the wall as a backdrop. 16 pages of b&w photos, map. (June 1)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

From Booklist

On August 13, 1961, Berliners from both the western and Soviet sectors awoke to find their city divided by a barbed wire barrier. Within weeks the barrier would be converted into a wall, and eventually other obstacles and guard towers would be added. The effect was devastating, as families were divided, friendships severed, and East Berliners forced to live in a virtual prison state for 28 years. Symbolically, the wall presented a physical manifestation of the division of Europe; it also served as a brutal reminder of the tyranny and failures of communism. Yet, as Taylor eloquently illustrates, the wall served the purposes of both the Eastern bloc and the major Western powers. For the fragile East German state, the barrier stopped the intolerable drain of the best and brightest citizens; for the Americans and other Western powers, the sealing off of the Soviet-controlled sector provided a measure of stability and predictability in their relations with the Soviet bloc. Taylor provides a fascinating and often heartbreaking account of both the human costs and the geopolitical effects. Freeman, Jay
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 512 pages
  • Publisher: Harper (May 29, 2007)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0060786132
  • ISBN-13: 978-0060786137
  • Product Dimensions: 6 x 1.3 x 9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.8 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (55 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #782,555 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

41 of 41 people found the following review helpful By John Bennett on June 13, 2007
Format: Hardcover
Having read Frederick Taylor's fast-moving and extremely informative 'Dresden,' I was looking forward to his latest book on that icon of the Cold War - the Berlin Wall. I was not disappointed.

The story of the Wall is not quite as linear as that of Dresden, in which events moved inexorably towards the horrific fire-bombing. Rather, there are three acts: the lead up to the construction of the Wall in 1961; the Wall years; the endgame, 1989.

From the start, the book builds with excitement as it is becomes clear that GDR leader Ulbricht, supported by Security Secretary Honecker, will prevail against the preference of (the surprisingly rational) Khrushchev and be allowed to imprison his own people (who were fleeing in huge numbers). Amazingly, all this was not clear to Western security services.

At the beginning of the 'Wall years' there is a slowing of pace as West Germany and the world come to grips with what has happened right under their noses, and in defiance of the four-power Potsdam Agreement. But it doesn't take long for the excitement to rise again with the escape attempts and the first death. The unravelling of Soviet power that leads to the eventual dismantling of the Wall seems, in the end, to be a closing chapter of the Second World War rather than of the Berlin Wall itself.

Taylor's strength as a historian and storyteller is his ability to weave a great deal of minutely researched detail into a highly readable, very accessible tale. The book taught me an astonishing amount, even though I lived through much of this saga. But it was a pleasure, never a chore.

This book is highly recommended for those who wish to more fully understand a frightening period of recent history.
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11 of 13 people found the following review helpful By Gio on January 28, 2010
Format: Hardcover
Frederick Taylor's breezy - and sometimes cheesy - anecdotal history of the German Democratic Republic makes excellent armchair reading, as long as the reader avoids the risk of considering it authoritative. Notice, please, that I've already dismissed Taylor's disingenuous title; "The Berlin Wall" is not simply an account of events from 1961 to 1989. It's a broad interpretation of the whole history of Germany, from the rise of Prussia, through the World Wars, to the central matter of the book, the "brief life and unlamented death" of East Germany, the GDR. Obviously too huge a topic, even for a 500 page book, but Taylor is less committed to responsible historiography than to entertaining journalism, and it's as the latter that this book should be read.

Taylor's first-chapter overview of German history involves the reader in some risk. If you are reasonably informed about modern European history, the risk is that you'll become enraged at Taylor's flippant simplistic account and hurl the book through a window. If you are NOT at least moderately informed, the risk is far more serious, that you might be persuaded by Taylor's cleverness to consider his account adequate. It isn't.

However, once Taylor gets to the point -- that is, to the division of post-war Germany into East and West, and more particularly to the bizarre 'career' of the GDR as a communist society -- the book gets better, the research more apparent and more plausible... and the anecdotes more amusing. And when he finally narrates "Operation Rose", the clandestine construction of 'The Wall' in 1961, followed by case after case of courageous resistance and thrilling escape, Taylor is in his element as a journalist.
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11 of 13 people found the following review helpful By John E. Drury VINE VOICE on September 28, 2007
Format: Hardcover
Frederick Taylor distinguished himself in his previous book "Dresden." He repeats that distinction in this fascinating, informative book on the Berlin Wall. Deep research and a facile writing style make this book a highly informative and interesting read which moves effortlessly from specifics like escape attempts and stories of the dead to a well written overview ending which he entitles "the theft of hope" for the East Germans. His carefully concealed contempt for Walter Ulbricht and Erich Honecker never slides into a polemic. Taylor even allows a trace of humor or maybe farce describing Lyndon B. Johnson's 1961 visit to Berlin who sees Willy Brandt's fine shoes and demands to shop for a pair for himself on Sunday.

Taylor, obviously fluent in German, joins the ranks of other fine English historians, all knowledgeable in German, who have recently written superb histories about Germany and European affairs; Max Hastings' "Armageddon," Ian Kershaw on Hitler, Richard Evans' books on the rise of Nazism, Antony Beevor on the battles of Stalingrad and Berlin, and Adam Zamoyski on Napoleon and the Congress of Vienna.

These are all fine histories which obviously come about by the access to records, previously unavailable, before the fall of the Wall.
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful By Patrick J. Glenn on September 13, 2009
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
A well written insightful look at Berlin, the wall and the cold war. As with any good history this is a story of people places and time. Taylor brings to life people as diverse (or maybe as similar) as Fredrich the Great, Erich Honecker, the Cold War Leaders and working class Berliners. Each story had me going to Google Earth to look for the part of Berlin in which it took place. Taylor starts not in 1961, but with founding of Berlin as a divided cityand takes us through the rise and fall of the wall and those who built it. If you like history from a European viewpoint rather than the harsh anti-communism of most American treatment of this subject you'll like this book.
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