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The Year that Changed the World: The Untold Story Behind the Fall of the Berlin Wall 1St Edition Edition

4.1 out of 5 stars 32 customer reviews
ISBN-13: 978-1416558453
ISBN-10: 1416558454
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--This text refers to the Audio CD edition.

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Editorial Reviews


"The twentieth century ended with a bang in 1989 and Michael Meyer has vividly captured the drama, import and energy of that fascinating year....This is a riveting, rollicking [book]." ---Fareed Zakaria, author of The Post-American World --This text refers to the Audio CD edition.

About the Author

Michael Meyer is currently  Director of Communications for the United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon. Between 1988 and 1992, he was Newsweek's Bureau Chief for Germany, Central Europe and the Balkans, writing more than twenty cover stories on the break-up of communist Europe and German unification. He is the winner of two Overseas Press Club Awards and appears regularly as a commentator for MSNBC, CNN, Fox News, C-Span, NPR and other broadcast network. He previously worked at the Washington Post and Congressional Quarterly. He is the author of the Alexander Complex (Times Books, 1989), an examination of the psychology of American empire builders.  He lives in New York City.

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 272 pages
  • Publisher: Scribner; 1St Edition edition (September 8, 2009)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1416558454
  • ISBN-13: 978-1416558453
  • Product Dimensions: 9.3 x 6.3 x 1 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 15.5 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 4.1 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (32 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #909,527 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

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Format: Hardcover
More than anything else, Michael Meyer seeks to challenge the perception that the Berlin Wall fell in November 1989 primarily due to the policies of the United States and Ronald Reagan. Meyer, a former Newsweek correspondent who reported on the demise of Communism throughout the late 1980s and early 1990s, concentrates on the domestic resistance movements that blossomed behind the Iron Curtain. As a result, dissidents such as Vaclav Havel and Lech Walesa feature prominently in his account. However, no one receives more credit for the destruction of the Eastern bloc than Miklos Nemeth.

Nemeth, the Communist prime minister of Hungary who inaugurated a wave of reforms after coming to office in November 1988, made the fateful decision to remove the fence between his country and Austria in the summer of 1989. This move -- which is fittingly characterized by Meyer as pulling the plug out of a sink of water -- facilitated the movement of thousands of East Germans from their country to freedom in the West. Indeed, the discussion of Nemeth is one of the great strengths of the book. Meyer explains how the prime minister and several of his closest associates hoped to make Hungary the first of the eastern bloc nations to remove the Communist Party from power. This, these reformers believed, would allow Hungary to benefit from generous subsidies, credits, and other aid from the West. This plan, of course, did not proceed quite the way these men intended, since Communism collapsed so quickly and completely in only a few months. Thus, Hungary's "head-start" into the West was nullified, and instead the West focused most of its attention on the much more dramatic events of East Germany.
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
If you weren't paying close attention, the fall of the Berlin Wall in November 1989 came as a complete surprise. If you weren't paying close attention, you'd believe it came as the result of Ronald Reagan's famous exhortation when visiting Berlin in 1987, "Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall!" If you weren't paying close attention, you'd believe American resoluteness brought the Soviet Union to its knees and ended the Cold War. That was not the case, it turns out.

Newsweek correspondent Michael Meyer WAS paying close attention: he was in Eastern Europe during the Summer and Fall leading up to the collapse of the Iron Curtain. His behind-the-scenes reporting of what actually took place makes for an illuminating story.

Meyer couldn't believe his good fortune when Newsweek asked him to cover Eastern Europe in the summer of 1988. He sensed change was afoot and was stunned like everyone else when change--huge change--came a year later at lightning speed. From the outside, it appeared Eastern Europe's long-repressed citizens, deeply frustrated by poverty, lack of freedom, and corrupt leadership, rose up en masse and overthrew their communist overlords. It makes for an inspiring story, but like many inspiring stories, it's not entirely accurate. Change would not have been possible had not Mikhail Gorbachev become general secretary of the communist party in 1985, and relaxed the Soviet grip on Eastern Bloc countries. When that happened, the Cold War thaw began.

The thaw was felt first in Hungary, by a small band of party leaders (East European buccaneers, Meyer calls them) who saw their chance to end communism and free their fellow countrymen, not only in Hungary but across the East bloc.
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Format: Hardcover
Meyer begins the book (after a rather rambling section in which he tries, unsuccessfully, to connect his subject to America's current problems) with a description of Reagan's famous speech at the Brandenburg Gate. As someone who was living in Berlin at the time and attended the speech, I can tell you that Meyer makes several errors. For starters, he claims that Reagan was standing in front of the Gate with the Wall visible a hundred yards in the background. Reagan wasn't even a hundred yards from the Gate -- *I* wasn't a hundred yards from the Gate where I was watching from -- and the Wall was between us and the Gate. In fact, the Wall bulged into the West around the Gate, making it much, much closer than the Gate.

Next, Meyer makes the claim that the American flags waved by the crowd had been "planted" by the US embassy. "Planted" is a loaded word. Imagine you're going to a big Fourth of July celebration -- a concert in the park followed by fireworks -- and on your way in you pass a table where people are giving away miniature American flags. Would you say they're planting the flags? Of course not. But that's exactly how the flags were distributed on that day in Berlin.

Then there's Meyer's claim that Berliners were strongly anti-American. Now, I lived in Panama in the early '80s, so I have some idea what it's like when people aren't keen to have Americans around. There was none of that in Berlin. If Meyer wanted to say that Berliners weren't fond of Reagan, that'd be one thing -- though even that, I think, was more pronounced in West Germany proper than Berlin -- but the anti-American claim is over the top.

Finally, I'd like to say something about Meyer's reasoning.
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