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Twelve Days: The Story of the 1956 Hungarian Revolution Paperback – November 6, 2007

4.4 out of 5 stars 31 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From Booklist

Fifty years ago one of the most heroic but saddest episodes of the cold war unfolded. The Hungarians, led by the Fascist sympathizer Admiral Horthy, were allied with Germany during World War II. After the Red Army "liberated" Hungary, the Soviets imposed an especially brutal, oppressive regime upon the Hungarian people. In October 1956, spontaneous resistance against both the Hungarian government and their Soviet masters exploded. Once a hesitant Soviet government acted decisively, the rebels were crushed. Using newly available resources, Sebestyen tells this story with a fast-paced narrative that shows the heroism of many Hungarians and the venality of others. As always, historical tumult created some unlikely martyrs and villains. For example, Hungarian prime minister Imre Nagy, viewed by many as a typical Soviet stooge, bravely resisted Soviet demands, ensuring his eventual doom. The American government encouraged Hungarian opposition to the Soviets but, for reasons of realpolitik, refused to provide assistance when the revolution broke out. This is an excellent recounting of an inspiring but tragic struggle for freedom against insurmountable odds. Jay Freeman
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.


“This is a vivid, heartbreaking account of the brutal crushing of the first armed insurrection against Soviet occupation. Twelve Days is essential reading for understanding the great risks people will take for freedom.”

–Kati Marton, author of The Great Escape: Nine Hungarians Who Fled Hitler and Changed the World

“On the anniversary of 1956, wielding a vast array of newly released archives and completely new eyewitness testimony, Victor Sebestyen has written a magisterial but also totally gripping and fresh account of the noble, violent, and doomed Hungarian revolution: a tale of murder and battles on the streets of Budapest and in the dungeons of the KGB, and of high-level intrigue from the White House to the Kremlin. Above all, it is a story of courage and decency among ordinary Hungarians. The result is a tour de force.”

–Simon Sebag Montefiore, author of Stalin: The Court of the Red Tsar

From the Hardcover edition.

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 384 pages
  • Publisher: Vintage; Reprint edition (November 6, 2007)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 030727795X
  • ISBN-13: 978-0307277954
  • Product Dimensions: 5.2 x 0.8 x 8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 11.2 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (31 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #352,235 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By Lonya VINE VOICE on October 31, 2006
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
October 20, 2006 marked the fiftieth anniversary of the Hungarian Revolution, the seemingly spontaneous (at least to those outside Hungary) set of demonstrations that quickly morphed into a full-fledged revolution that almost freed Hungary from Soviet hegemony. Twelve days after it began the revolution was crushed under the tread of Red Army tanks. Victor Sebestyen's "Twelve Days: The Story of the 1956 Hungarian Revolution" is an informative and well-written examination of the revolution, its causes and its consequences.

Twelve Days is divided into three parts: "Prelude", "Revolution" and "Aftermath". In the Prelude Sebestyen provides a concise history of Hungary in the first half of the twentieth century. This is an invaluable introduction for readers, such as this reviewer, who have not previously immersed themselves in Hungarian history. After the First World War and the subsequent Treaty of Versailles, Hungary came to be ruled by a fascist regime led by Admiral Horthy. Hungary under Horthy became an ally of Hitler's Germany and found itself at war with the Allied Powers, most importantly the USSR. Toward the end of the Second World War, the German Army occupied Hungary and fought a desperate battle against the Red Army. The 100 day siege and conquest of Budapest was brutal and the damage to Budapest was exceeded only by the damage done to Leningrad, Stalingrad, and Warsaw. (Krisztian Ungvary's "The Siege of Budapest" makes an excellent companion volume to Twelve Days). Sebestyen then takes the reader through the immediate post-World War II years in which the Hungarian Communist Party, under the leadership of Matyas Rakosi gradually seized total control of the reins of power.
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Format: Hardcover
This is the story of one of the most heroic, and yet, saddest episodes of the Cold War. Unfortunately, it was apparently published in haste, and therefore the excellent historical research is almost negated by the factual errors. Although Mr. Sebestyen apparently was there as a baby, and then taken to England, he has no idea of Hungarian geography and spelling. He liberally uses the "accent marks" - which in Hungarian don't indicate accent, they indicate a different-sounding vowel from the one without the mark - unfortunately more often in the wrong places than in the right ones. To anyone who actually reads Hungarian, this alone makes the book appear like an amateurish effort by a careless and ill-informed foreigner. He consistently puts geographical places almost consistently in the wrong directions from Budapest (often the opposite of reality) - consulting a map of Hungary would have been useful. Some of his numbers are wrong - for example, the US did not take 150,000 Hungarian refugees. By an Executive Order of President Eisenhower, 35,000 were admitted as "parole residents" ("white card"), which was converted to permanent resident status backdated to their entry by Congress after some time.

Ultimately, although he reminds us of this event with some detail, this is a flawed historical work. This one is flawed not because of political expediency - that is it did not yield to political pressures of re-writing history as so many historical works do. It simply lacks in good execution. With that understanding, I would recommend buying it because the literature is rather limited on this historical event - but Caveat Emptor!
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Format: Hardcover
This is a story about betrayal.

First from the West. Ike and Dulles wanted a "rollback" of communism and led the people (through Radio Free Europe) to believe the US would be there to help them. But when the Suez Crises arouse, Hungarians were forgotten. The last pleas from Imre Nagy to the UN were not even read for 2 hours, then debates over the minutia of what "assembly" Nagy was referring to. All leading to nothing being done, while thousands of Soviet tanks and troops were tightening the noose around Budapest. The next day the UN Secretary General when went to Egypt the next day.

Imre Nagy was a man who being a lifelong communist was the only leader available but was unable and unwilling to do what needed to be done. While not betrayal in the true sense of the word, Hungarians deserved better. While the Soviets were sending tanks and troops into Hungary, Nagy did nothing. Not mobilize the army, warn the people, nothing. He did believe that the Soviets would stick to their word about troop withdrawals even as the noose tightened. Only when Budapest shook under tank and air bombardment did he realize, too late, than the Soviets had lied to him. He was hanged after being promised that his life would be spared if he came out from hiding and recognized the Soviet puppet government with the Judas Kadar in the Presidency.

The worst acts were committed by the workers paradise, the USSR. Strangely the Soviets were at first confused and shocked by the revolution happening in Hungary. After the initial revolution the Soviets promised that they would withdraw. After much discussion and politics in the Kremlin, Khrushchev decided to crush the revolution to keep it from spreading to the other occupied satellites.
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