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Heaven on Earth: The Rise and Fall of Socialism Hardcover – April 25, 2002

4.3 out of 5 stars 60 customer reviews

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Just a few generations ago, socialism was regarded as the wave of the future by millions of "enlightened" thinkers across the world; the promise of socialism motivated hard-line Marxists, Western-educated men of the Third World who fought for political independence, and Americans and Europeans repelled by the inequalities of capitalism. Now, of course, socialism is widely discredited; even former Communists in Eastern Europe proclaim allegiance to a market economy. This engrossing history of various socialist movements is told through portraits of the leaders who provided the intellectual and political support for those movements. With eloquence, skepticism, and even sympathy, Muravchik examines the careers of figures as varied as Friedrich Engels, Clement Atlee, and Julius Nyerere. Although each had a somewhat different interpretation of socialism, they all shared the fatal assumption that they could use the coercive power of the state to "improve" human nature. This is an important work and an object lesson showing great harm is frequently done by those with the purest motives. Jay Freeman
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved


"In this sweeping and accessible survey, Muravchik places his focus on the personalities who determined the shifting fortunes of socialism."

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 391 pages
  • Publisher: Encounter Books (April 25, 2002)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1893554457
  • ISBN-13: 978-1893554450
  • Product Dimensions: 6.5 x 1.6 x 9.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.6 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (60 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,150,488 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

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By Craig Kennedy on June 7, 2002
Format: Hardcover
Heaven on Earth is a captivating intellectual history of the first rank. When I first heard about this book, I imagined 450 dense pages devoted to socialism's political splits, rivalries and intellectual schisms over the past two centuries. Not a very inviting prospect. The reality is much different. Josh Muravchik tells the story of the socialist idea and of the socialist movement(s) through a series of fascinating vignettes and brief biographies. Starting with the French revolutionary Babeuf and taking the story through the fall of the Soviet Union (and the troubled current state of the Israeli kibbutz movement), Muravchik uses this format to highlight the central philosophical and political issues addressed by the key figures in a particular historical setting.
It is a very effective approach. The biographical portraits provide a very human dimension to his larger task of telling the story of socialism. By attaching political developments and ideas to the lives of real people, he also manages to create a real sense of drama in examining each historical period. Even though you know how the story will end, you become caught up in each personal narrative.
The entire book is first rate, but several chapters are especially notable. The first portrait of Babeuf and his contemporaries give you a historical footing in the development of socialism as an economic and political ideal that few of us have. A later chapter on Clement Atlee and the British Labor Party in the post-World War II era does a great job of describing how this patrician figure became the champion of democratic socialism. However, my favorite segment is the one on the American labor movement that features Samuel Gompers and George Meany.
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By A Customer on December 5, 2002
Format: Hardcover
Socialism is a wonderful idea. It is only as a reality that it has been disastrous. Among people of every race, color, and creed, all around the world, socialism has led to hunger in countries that used to have surplus food to export.
Its economic disasters have afflicted virtually every industry. In its Communist version, it killed far more innocent civilians in peacetime than Hitler killed in his death camps during World War II.
Nevertheless, for many of those who deal primarily in ideas, socialism remains an attractive idea -- in fact, seductive. Its every failure is explained away as due to the inadequacies of particular leaders.
Many of the intelligentsia remain convinced that if only there had been better leaders -- people like themselves, for example -- it would all have worked out fine, according to plan.
A remarkable new book makes the history of socialism come alive. Its title is "Heaven on Earth: The Rise and Fall of Socialism." Its author, Joshua Muravchik, is a scholar at the American Enterprise Institute, a leading think tank in Washington. It is hard to find a book on the history of socialism that is either readable or accurate, so it is especially remarkable to find one that is both. The story told in "Heaven on Earth" is so dramatic and compelling that the author finds no need to gild the lily with rhetoric or hype. It is a great read.
This history of socialism begins more than two centuries ago, at the time of the French Revolution, with the radical conspirator Babeuf, who wanted to carry the revolutionary ideas of the times even farther, to a communist society.
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Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
This book provides a one-stop history of socialist ideology from the French Revolution through the Blair government from the perspective of a self-described original red-diaper baby who has since rejected socialism. Although it is probably impossible to get an objective discussion of the intellectual history of socialism, this probably comes as close as anyone could get. If there were one flaw in the book, it would be the neglect of the Scandinavian experience with socialism, including its ultimate rejection by the voters in those countries (rejection? Yes. Ikea, Nokia, and Saab aren't state-owned, are they?)

I originally saw it in a bookstore and was especially surprised by the chapter on Mussolini. Apparently, Benito grew up in a socialist household, rose through the ranks of the socialist party, and broke from them in the aftermath of WWI. His father - a member of the International - named him after four different famous socialists, read Marxist texts at the dinner table every night. Young Benito was a rising star in the Italian Socialist party, edited their magazine, and eventually became a party leader. On the outbreak of WWI, Benito had the same reaction as his hero, Lenin: they both saw that the workers in various countries rejected Marx's internationalist philosophy and rushed to arms and exclaimed, "the international is dead". Benito, however, began to develop a new variation on Marxism: he believed that stronger countries oppressed weaker countries like Italy in the same way they believe that capitalists oppress workers. He believed that the entire country must rise up against the stronger nations in order to allow the workers to rise up as predicted by Marxist dogma.
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