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The File: A Personal History Paperback – September 29, 1998

3.9 out of 5 stars 32 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

When Timothy Garton Ash graduated from Oxford in 1978, he went to live in Berlin, ostensibly to research and write about Nazism. But once there, he gradually immersed himself in a study of the repressive political culture of East Germany. As if to return the favor, that culture--in the form of the dreaded East German secret police, the "Stasi"--secretly began studying him. As was Stasi's practice, over the years its study produced a considerable paper trail. After the fall of the East German communist regime, a government apparatus was established to allow those targeted to see their Stasi files, and Garton Ash discovered and pored over his. He then set about to interview the people who made this gross intrusion possible, the several case officers, and the numerous regular-citizen informers. The result is nothing short of a journey into the darkest recesses of the totalitarian mind, taking its place honorably alongside 1984 and Darkness at Noon. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Library Journal

Garton Ash's (In Europe's Name, LJ 1/94) investigative memoir focuses on the waning days of the Cold War, when espionage and suspicion were the order of the day in Eastern Europe. The author went to Berlin to study in 1978 and soon came under the scrutiny of the Stasi, the notorious East German secret police. In 1993, Garton Ash had the opportunity to examine the secret file kept on him. Comparing the file reports with his private diary of the time, he finds distortions, fabrications, and surprising omissions in the file. There are compelling accounts of visits to his informers and the officers who monitored his case, yet the most revealing aspects of this book center on Garton Ash's search for his "lost self." While marveling at reunited Germany's unprecedented opening of the secret police files, he also analyzes the Germans' attempts to come to terms with their past. Hence, this work makes an important contribution to the literature of the new Europe and is recommended for most academic and public libraries.
-?Thomas A. Karel, Franklin & Marshall Coll. Lib., Lancaster, Pa.
Copyright 1997 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
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Product Details

  • Paperback: 272 pages
  • Publisher: Vintage; 1 edition (September 29, 1998)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0679777857
  • ISBN-13: 978-0679777854
  • Product Dimensions: 5.2 x 0.6 x 8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 8.5 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.9 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (32 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #144,861 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Top Customer Reviews

Format: Paperback
This is essentially an internal adventure story: it is the story of one man returning to his past and revisiting his younger self by reviewing his East German security service (Stasi) file. Ash, a Briton, was a graduate student at Humboldt University in the late 1970s-early 1980s. As a foreigner in East Germany, he was monitored by the ever-thorough Stasi, which managed to keep records on millions of East German citizens as well. Reading his Stasi file (made available after German unification) forces Ash to remember incidents from his past and reveals to him the identities of numerous Stasi informants -- some of whom were his friends. Ash then visits these informants and confronts them with evidence of their collaboration. In perhaps the most interesting part of the book, Ash visits the Stasi officers in charge of his case.

While Ash's writings caused him to be banned from East Germany, he was never imprisoned, nor was he subject to the depradations faced by average citizens of the GDR. Ash acknowledges that as a foreigner, he was always free to leave, and this makes his file less interesting than those of true dissidents. Ash describes, however, the story of an East German dissident who discovered that her own husband was informing the Stasi of her activities and discusses his friendships with brave East Germans who bucked the regime, and paid the price for it.

This is not the definitive work on the Stasi. It provides some background of the agency, but if you are looking for a more thorough treatment, look to "Stasi: The Untold Story of East Germany's Secret Police," by John Koehler. This book is worth reading, however, to understand, through the file of one man, why men joined the Stasi and how the Stasi turned so many ordinary East Germans into informants. Ash also raises important moral questions about spying and intelligence agencies, which are relevant to free societies as well.
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Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
I came across this book by accident just searching for books about East Germany on Amazon.com. On a personal note, I myself immigrated from the USA to the DDR (Home of my fathers family) in 1982 and lived there until 1987 when I was expelled for political reasons. This book told of many things I personally experienced, confirmed many things I had long suspected and informed me of many things I never knew.
It is an excellent, accurate look at a country and a system that have passed into oblivion but left many scars on many people.
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Format: Hardcover
It reads like a spy-thriller, but Timothy Garton Ash's book 'The File' is based on research and personal experience. Garton Ash's language is compassionate, gripping, and educated. An exciting look into the effect the Stasi had on the people of the GDR and the effect that the opening of the secret police files is having now, this book will make good reading for both scholars and laypersons alike.
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Format: Hardcover
Get ready to read a book that won't let you go. Reporter Ash opens his STASI (East German Secret Police) file and finds old friends were really spies, living in an Orwellian world turned real.

He tracks them down and asks why they betrayed him. One cause is the cynical, fear-based totalitarianism they lived under. Another is a common trait among the "old friends" themselves: The lack of fatherly love. Their fathers were either away at war or lost in the Holocaust, or were distanced from their families by professional obligations.

The story comes full circle, when Garton Ash takes a lesson in this discovery, turns off his computer and goes to be with his sons. Hmmm.
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Format: Paperback
This well written book describes the author's encounter with the Stasi, the East German Secret Police. In the late 70s, Garton Ash worked, and for a short period of time, lived in East Berlin. Not surprisingly, he was under surveillance by the Stasi. At this time, East Germany had the most elaborate internal secret police system in the world. The Stasi itself had thousands of employees and an estimated 2% of the population of East Germany were informants for the Stasi. After re-unification, most of the Stasi files became available for review by the former subjects of Stasi surveillance. Garton Ash obtained his file, over 300 pages in length, and compares it with his recollection of events and the apparently extensive diaries he kept during this period of his life. He also sought out and interviewed several of the individuals listed in the file as informants for the Stasi, and the Stasi officers overseeing the informants. The result is an revealing look at the nature of life in a totalitarian state. The discussions of, and interviews with the former Stasi informants and Stasi officers are the most interesting parts of the book. These sections show well the mixture of intimidation, appeal to careerism, and even residual idealism about socialism that underlay the whole system. Even these revealing anecdotes fail to convey the extent of moral corruption that pervaded East Germany. As Garton Ash points out, he did not really suffer from the Stasi and as a Westerner, he could leave or be expelled. The unfortunate citizens of East Germany were trapped in failing society shored up by implied violence, systematic undermining of family and professional ties, and hypocritical lip service to Communist ideals.
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