- Hardcover: 368 pages
- Publisher: W. W. Norton & Company; First Edition edition (August 17, 2009)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 0393069257
- ISBN-13: 978-0393069259
- Product Dimensions: 6.5 x 1.3 x 9.5 inches
- Shipping Weight: 1 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
- Average Customer Review: 4.2 out of 5 stars See all reviews (16 customer reviews)
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #128,971 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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The Anti-Communist Manifestos: Four Books That Shaped the Cold War Hardcover – August 17, 2009
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About the Author
John V. Fleming, a Fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, taught humanistic studies at Princeton University for forty years. He is the author of The Anti-Communist Manifestos: Four Books That Shaped the Cold War. He lives in Princeton, New Jersey.
From The Washington Post
From The Washington Post's Book World/washingtonpost.com Reviewed by Matthew Shaer a staff writer at the Christian Science Monitor In 1946, a Ukrainian defector named Victor Kravchenko published for American audiences a visceral account of the failings of the Soviet system. "I Chose Freedom" was received happily by critics here and rapturously in France, where the tale of slave labor, starvation and collectivization sold by the tens of thousands. Proof that he had struck a nerve came from a series of vicious and sustained attacks from the Parisian liberal press; in 1948 Kravchenko decided to sue the journal Les Lettres françaises for libel. He won, and he returned to the United States a vindicated man. As John V. Fleming notes in his expansive new book, "The Anti-Communist Manifestos," in many ways Kravchenko's life story is also the story of a widespread shift in political sentiment. "I Chose Freedom" presented the "clearest possible dichotomy between the suffering millions and the small clique of Communist tyrants who torture them," Fleming writes. Thus were the horrors of the Soviet experiment brought to the world's attention. "The Anti-Communist Manifestos" takes as its subject "I Chose Freedom" and three other titles that altered the course of the Cold War: "Out of the Night," by Jan Valtin; "Witness," by Whittaker Chambers; and "Darkness at Noon," by Arthur Koestler. Each of these authors had first-hand experience of the Soviet system, and each attracted a sizable -- and influential -- readership. (None of the men, however, was particularly likable.) Fleming, a medievalist by trade, splits his book into quarters, analyzing both the text in question and the historical background. There is something a little forced about the grouping -- after all, the Cold War was a sprawling conflict, and its course was influenced by thousands of variables. But Fleming is a strong writer and a generous guide, and he emerges with a spectacularly nuanced portrait of a pivotal period in world history.
Copyright 2009, The Washington Post. All Rights Reserved.
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Top Customer Reviews
Arthur Koestler's novel, "Darkness at Noon" (1941), is one of the most important books of the 20th Century, while Whittaker Chambers's memoir, "Witness" (1952), remains famous for its detail regarding the author's accusations against Alger Hiss. The other two memoirs discussed are by a former thug / "organizer" of the German Communist Party, "Jan Valtin" (Richard Krebs), and by Victor Kravchenko, the first Soviet official to defect to the United States. Valtin's "Out of the Night" (1941) detailed the growth of the German Communist Party in the 20's and its destruction following the Nazi's seizure of power in the 1930's, along with lurid personal stories involving sex and violence. Kravchenko's "I Chose Freedom" (1946) triggered a pair of libel suits in France, which led to survivors of Stalin's slave labor camps testifying in open court. It was their testimony, that of the living victims of Stalinism, which became impossible to deny.
"The Anti-Communist Manifestos" successfully navigates through history, literature, and politics, and a reader opening to any random page is likely to become immediately engrossed. I personally enjoyed the elegance of Fleming's comments on memoir, that "subjective objective" form of writing, and his persuasive argument that "Witness" has a literary importance that has been overlooked by those whose interests have been limited to the factual.
Easy to understand why historians Tony Judt and Sean Wilentz have praised this book so enthusiastically.
The author's recounting of the works of Koestler, Valtin (Krebs), Kravchenko, and Chambers should induce, in the very least, a curiosity to explore the writings themselves. Telling the tales from the perspective of one who is familiar with the texts that, in turn, influenced these men, Fleming offers invaluable insights.
Because Marxist thought and its varieties of socialist offspring are by no means simply things of the past, the writings examined by Fleming retain much relevance. His essay on Whittaker Chambers' masterpiece "Witness" is itself worthy of multiple reads and reflection; for Chambers identified a war between two worldviews - that of unfettered idealism and that of fractured reality. The former perspective leads to a kind of phantasmic irrationality necessitating absurd apologias; the other can lead either to unwholesome despair or informed action. And, there is a third way, that of profound neglect. The majority, those who follow the third path, currently imperil civilization.
In the war of the worldviews, it may not be overstatement to declare Chambers' "Witness" and Solzhenitsyn's "Gulag Archipelago" the most important books of the 20th century. Thankfully, their courageous efforts inspired action.
Professor Fleming has written a very impressive book. Once you commence reading, you will not put it aside. When you have finished, you will be motivated to read (or, re-read) the subject authors' writings, as well others who have sought to inform regarding the dangers of the collectivist fixation that still obsesses the cognoscenti.