'Mr Gorbachev, tear down this wall!' This declamation by president Ronald Reagan when visiting Berlin in 1987 is widely cited as the clarion call that brought the Cold War to an end. The West had won, so this version of events goes, because the West had stood firm. American and Western European resoluteness had brought an evil empire to its knees.
Michael Meyer, in this extraordinarily compelling account of the revolutions that roiled Eastern Europe in 1989, begs to differ. Drawing together breathtakingly vivid, on-the-ground accounts of the rise of Solidarity in Poland, the stealth opening of the Hungarian border, the Velvet Revolution in Prague, and the collapse of the infamous wall in Berlin, Meyer shows that western intransigence was only one of the many factors that provoked such world-shaking change.
More important, Meyer contends, were the stands taken by individuals in the thick of the struggle, leaders such as poet and playwright Vaclav Havel in Prague; Lech Walesa; the quiet and determined reform prime minister in Budapest, Miklos Nemeth; and the man who realized his empire was already lost and decided, with courage and intelligence, to let it go in peace, Soviet president Mikhail Gorbachev.
Michael Meyer captures these heady days in all their rich drama and unpredictability. In doing so he provides not just a thrilling chronicle of perhaps the most important year of the 20th century but also a crucial refutation of American mythology and a misunderstanding of history that was deliberately employed to lead the United States into some of the intractable conflicts it faces today.
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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