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28 of 29 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Interesting Look At The Stasi Through One File
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...
Published on January 11, 2005 by Beth Fox

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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Disappointing but interesting none the less.
While my experiences were not nearly as extensive as the author's, I too had some contact with East Germans in the 1980s and from what I'm told, I had a Stasi file. So I was interested in reading this book. Unfortunately, the book is a bit of a difficult read. Garton Ash's style is a bit unwieldy at times and the book can tend to wander off subject a bit as well as...
Published on July 15, 2011 by Amazon Customer


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28 of 29 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Interesting Look At The Stasi Through One File, January 11, 2005
By 
This review is from: The File: A Personal History (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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22 of 24 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Excellent Book about a sensitive subject., April 19, 2003
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This review is from: The File: A Personal History (Paperback)
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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13 of 13 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Thrilling introduction to a very topical subject in Germany, August 22, 1998
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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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8 of 8 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A frightening look at Orwell's 1984 come true!, September 14, 1997
By A Customer
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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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars interesting Memoir, May 13, 2007
By 
R. Albin (Ann Arbor, Michigan United States) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: The File: A Personal History (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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12 of 15 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Interesting look at Orwellian Stasi Service, October 29, 1998
This review is from: The File: A Personal History (Paperback)
this story is exceptional, ans depcits the horrifying lengths that the Stasi went to in order to secure their state. Ash's account delivers a candid look at the East German Secret Polic and then an open look a Intelligence Organizations in today's society. Excellent story with real accoutns
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16 of 21 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The kind of book that slaps you in the back of the head., June 11, 2002
By 
Katherine Keirns (North Carolina, USA) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: The File: A Personal History (Paperback)
I did not read this book for the reasons I ended up enjoying it.
Timothy Garton Ash's delving into his Stasi file is a peek into the madness and organized obsurdity of the East German State. The reader is presented with a wonderful feel for what it was like to live in East Berlin as well as the motives and workings of both Stasi IMs and the Federal Authority which now oversees the administration of the Stasi files.
On another level it is a book about a middle aged man looking back on his Romantic youth, on a man he can not remember well, and sees again through the eyes of the slightly paranoid and slightly inaccurate secret police.
In the end though, this is a frightening book that leaves the reader wondering what are in the secret intelligence files of the Western style democracies.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Disappointing but interesting none the less., July 15, 2011
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This review is from: The File: A Personal History (Paperback)
While my experiences were not nearly as extensive as the author's, I too had some contact with East Germans in the 1980s and from what I'm told, I had a Stasi file. So I was interested in reading this book. Unfortunately, the book is a bit of a difficult read. Garton Ash's style is a bit unwieldy at times and the book can tend to wander off subject a bit as well as present some prose that is not easily readable. If you are looking for a book on the Stasi, this one only partially fits the bill. There is indeed a good deal of information on the Stasi and what became of them after the wall fell, and there are some good stories from the author's time in East Germany. However, the author seems to be just as hung up on things like memory, his own personal history and public acceptance. He is obviously highly critical of the process of informing and highly protective of personal privacy, but he never quite explains clearly why he feels so strongly about it, beyond the obvious opposition anyone would have to the prying eyes of the secret police. This is one of those books in which you have to get past a whole bunch of other things, including the author's personal hangups to get to what you really want out of the reading experience. Since there are very few other books on this topic available, this one is worth checking out. It will be just good enough to hold your interest, but not as great as it could have been.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars an interesting read!, November 14, 2010
By 
shahram (CA, United States) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: The File: A Personal History (Paperback)
This memoir or "personal history" as the author puts it, is an interesting and provocative story about how any government can potentially turn against its own people under the national security justification. The East Germany was well known for its notorious intelligent service called "Stasi". They were recruiting, and most of the time, intimidating citizens to report their fellow citizens, literaly they were turning erverybody against everybody. They were the most extreme example of Orvell's "1984". Everybody in East Germany had a file.
In the US there was McCarthy era and post September 11 which government was authorized to wiretap its citizens and interrogate them without court order.
The author conducts an investigation of Stasi's investigation on him. Suspicion was in the air they breathed. He (author) was even a foreigner working, on and off, in East Germany as a correspondent and yet to be reported.

The hallmark of the book is the last chapter: "This is so obvious in postwar Germany. There is the absent father: away at the war, killed on active service, or somewhere in a prison-of-war camp. There is the father who was a Nazi or the father who was a victim of the Nazis. The psychological legacy of Nazism and war prepares the candidates for the next round of dictatorship."
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11 of 15 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Quick start that trails off, January 17, 2000
By A Customer
This review is from: The File: A Personal History (Paperback)
Mr. Garton Ash writes very well and his idea of tracking down those who informed on him to the East German state very clever. The book starts with several dramatic scenes and the powers of the State Security police are well delineated. It is simply incredible to reflect on the resources that this police state invested in surveillance and tracking of a student. However the actual confrontations with the informers are somehow disappointing - perhaps it is just the author's matter-of-factness. One has the impression of a padded out magazine article (although less than in the author's "Magic Lantern"). Personally I would have preferred to have had more experiences of other victims of the Stasi recounted and a more comprehensive overview added.
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The File: A Personal History
The File: A Personal History by Timothy Garton Ash (Paperback - September 29, 1998)
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