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The Rise and Fall of Communism Hardcover – June 9, 2009

4.0 out of 5 stars 24 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews


“Ranging wisely and lucidly across the decades and around the world, this is a splendid book.” (William Taubman, Pulitzer Prize-winning author of Khrushchev: The Man and His Era)

“This book requires and deserves space on all important book shelves for decades to come.” (Gary Hart, United States Senator (Ret.))

“[Brown’s] account is studded with delightfully pertinent and pithy personal observations and anecdotes...It is easy to be polemical about communism. Mr. Brown strives to be fair-minded...As a single-volume account of mankind’s biggest mistake, Mr. Brown’s book is hard to beat.” (The Economist)

“A sweeping, engrossing history. . . . Brown does a fine job of describing the social and political conditions that led people to embrace communism. And how, when the charms of the system wore off, these people found themselves ensnared by a totalitarianism that gave them no way to opt out.” (Dallas Morning News)

“Historical writing and political analysis of the highest order.” (Kirkus Reviews (starred review))

“A riveting and magisterial work.” (Strobe Talbott, president of the Brookings Institution and author of THE GREAT EXPERIMENT)

“For decades this volume will remain a definitive study of communism.” (Literary Review (UK))

“Readable and judicious...both controversial and commonsensical…‘The Rise and Fall of Communism’ is a work of considerable delicacy and nuance.” (Salon.com)

“Condensed with information that is both well-researched and well-placed within textbook history, [Brown’s] book is a rewarding read. It is an important book for the time—a sober reflection on the physical, objective results of ideological thought.” (Sacramento Book Review)

“Consistently superb” (Dwight Garner, New York Times)

“Archie Brown’s The Rise and Fall of Communsm is a rare thing, meticulously researched history that is immensely readable and, even better, a disinterested overview of the most deeply divisive topic of the past 100 years that has been highly praised by critics on the Right and Left”. (Australian Nonfiction Books of the Year)

From the Back Cover

From the internationally acclaimed Oxford authority on Communism comes a definitive history that examines the origins of the ideology, its development in different nations, its collapse in many of those countries following perestroika, and its current incarnations around the globe. The Rise and Fall of Communism explores how and why Communists came to power; how they were able, in a variety of countries on different continents, to hold on to power for so long; and what brought about the downfall of so many Communist systems.

For this comprehensive and illuminating work, Brown draws on more than forty years of research and on a wealth of new sources. Tracing the story of Communism from its nineteenth-century roots, Brown explains both its expansion and its decline in the twentieth century. Even today, although Communism has been widely discredited in the West, more than a fifth of humanity still lives under its rule.


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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 736 pages
  • Publisher: Ecco; First U S Edition edition (June 9, 2009)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0061138797
  • ISBN-13: 978-0061138799
  • Product Dimensions: 6 x 1.6 x 9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 2.3 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (24 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,165,132 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By A Customer on June 10, 2009
Format: Hardcover
Mr. Brown puts together a deep perspective on the Communist phenomena touching on the writings of Marx and Engles in the nineteenth century and those who were precursors of the "founding fathers"; loosely like Locke's influence on America's "Founding Fathers". Obviously the prime focus is in the twentieth century but also somewhat in this past decade. Although the author looks at the final five survivors of Communism (Cuba, China, North Korea, Viet Nam and Laos) and their attempts for footholds in Africa and the Caribbean, the tome mostly focuses on the Soviet Union and the Eastern Europe Bloc behind the Iron Curtain, which Mr. Brown admits has been his major area of study. The insight into the Gorbachev-Yeltsin transition period is especially powerful and enlightening as Mr. Brown insists that Gorbachev's reforms led to unintended consequences for the party and the empire. In every case except for the rather short Prague Spring, Trotsky's theory of the party substituting for the workers always led to harsh dictatorships and usually to internal power struggles especially when change at the top occurred. Well written throughout the large volume, the conclusions are profound based on solid arguments; for instance the surviving nations all claim the purest form of communism, as each governs differently and that the utopian socialist workers' state has never been attained. However, once again it is the fall of the Iron Curtain that is the most insightful section of a fascinating look at THE RISE AND FALL OF COMMUNISM.

Harriet Klausner
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Format: Paperback
This is a tough, but rewarding read. Brown's history of communism is as much of world history as it is a history of an ideology. He covers nearly every part of the globe in a way that is complete but never boring. His chapters on the Soviet Union and China are incredibly complete (frankly, there is still no great biography of Brezhnev or on some of the Chinese leaders after Mao) while his insights into Cuba and eastern Europe also are fully illuminating.

The paragraphs are packed with dense text and complex arguments that build upon one another so that a reader looking for a single answer as to why communism succeeded or failed probably isn't going to be satisfied. Rather, he shows how key leaders, intellectuals, freedom of information, economic growth (or not) all played important roles in how societies developed.

One final critique, while this is primarily a history, Brown does a nice job of bringing theory into both the beginning of the book and the ending so that a reader seeking to explore broader questions about communism and its role in history can ponder them long after the final page.
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Format: Paperback
Archie Brown's "The Rise and Fall of Communism" represents the best in anti-Communist scholarship on the history of Communism as a political movement. Brown, a long-standing specialist in Soviet history at Oxford University and a specialist on Gorbachov, wrote this book to explain how Communism could become such a powerful political movement on the global scene in such a short time, how it remained in power, and how it eventually fell apart and lost most of its hold over world politics. He does so from a decidedly liberal point of view, having little sympathy with Communism's aims or methods, but in an intelligent and relatively nuanced way. While he is clearly not a sympathizer, he is not an inveterate Cold Warrior like Robert Service either, and he attempts (especially early on in the book) to give Communist politicians and governments their due in terms of their accomplishments. While I certainly do not think that he has in any way presented the best historical case for Communism one could make, it is nonetheless a breath of fresh air compared to most historiography on the subject.

"The Rise and Fall of Communism" is organized in a chronological way, with some geographical excursions. It begins with a very brief overview of the rise of Marxism as a body of thought in the context of the 19th century and as distinguished from anarchism and utopian socialism, and then very quickly moves on to the Russian Revolution. By far most of the book is concerned with Soviet history, which is after all Brown's field of research, and he deals with the Russian civil war, the NEP period, Stalin and Stalinism, and the postwar period in due order, with much political detail.
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Format: Hardcover
One of the current debates is what ended the cold war. American's have suggested that Ronald Reagan played a decisive role by accelerating the arms race. The inefficient Soviet economy could not keep up and the Soviet leaders had to divert an increasing share of production to military spending. This eventually lead to the collapse of the Soviet Economy. This book discusses the rise and the fall of communism and the reasons for them both.

Brown takes the opposite approach from that of American triumphalism. He suggests that intensification of the cold war generally entrenched the position of communist hard liners in the Soviet Union. It turned attention away from the question of whether things were working. Also the collapse of the economy is not itself sufficient to lead to the collapse of a communist state. Look at North Korea an economic basket case but one in which the regime is currently rock solid. This due to the huge amount of state resources invested in the security organs and very tight controls over the flow of information to the population as a whole.

What led to the collapse of communism in Europe was one thing and that was the role of Gorbachev. He decided to reform the political structure of the Soviet State. One this happened and the party was not kept in power by force the old structures melted away. The communist regimes in Eastern Europe had been kept in place by the threat of invasion from the Soviets as had happened in Hungary and Czechoslovakia. One Gorbachev signalled that this was not going to happen those regimes fell quickly. Market reform followed on from political change. Brown points out that one of the major success of communist regimes was the huge spread of literacy and the increase in the numbers of people who received tertiary education.
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