Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Review: Iron Curtain: The Crushing of Eastern Europe, 1944-1956 by Anne Applebaum

Title: Iron Curtain: The Crushing of Eastern Europe, 1944-1956
Author: Anne Applebaum
Format: Audiobook
Publisher: Doubleday
Publish Date: October 30, 2012
Source: Library

Why You're Reading This Book:

  • You're a non-fiction fan. 
  • You're a history buff
What's the Story?:

From "At the end of World War II, the Soviet Union to its surprise and delight found itself in control of a huge swath of territory in Eastern Europe. Stalin and his secret police set out to convert a dozen radically different countries to Communism, a completely new political and moral system. In Iron Curtain, Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Anne Applebaum describes how the Communist regimes of Eastern Europe were created and what daily life was like once they were complete. She draws on newly opened East European archives, interviews, and personal accounts translated for the first time to portray in devastating detail the dilemmas faced by millions of individuals trying to adjust to a way of life that challenged their every belief and took away everything they had accumulated. Today the Soviet Bloc is a lost civilization, one whose cruelty, paranoia, bizarre morality, and strange aesthetics Applebaum captures in the electrifying pages of Iron Curtain."

My Two Cents:

I am a total history nerd! I love, love, love reading the history of things that I really don't know much about. I really have not read all that much about the time period just after the end of World War II where the Soviet Union was ingraining itself into what would become almost 50 years of crushing rule over itself and the Soviet bloc countries. So much of what happened just after World War II set up some key pieces of the geopolitical structure of our world (old habits die hard and what not). In "Iron Curtain," Applebaum gives us a great history of how the Soviet Union gained so much strength in Eastern Europe (under Applebaum's definition for this book, Eastern Europe are those countries in Europe that were under the sphere of Soviet influence such as Hungary, Poland, Czechoslovakia, and East Germany).

The author focuses on different aspects of how the Soviet Union was able to gain such a strong foothold in the various Eastern European countries. It was interesting to see how things played out in each country and how the Soviet Union tweaked its operation within each country in order to get the country to do what it wanted. The book goes into a little bit about the "Little Stalins" of each country, the people who were put in place to do Stalin's bidding. I didn't know much of anything about many of them so it was interesting to learn more about who they were and why Stalin trusted them to be put into place.

There is a great chapter on Soviet architecture, which was super interesting to me. Stalin used architecture in a lot of places to create visual reminders of his rule. Even if you are not an architecture aficionado, you probably can guess what Soviet/ Stalinist architecture looks like. The style is called brutalism, which is wholly appropriate. It's not beautiful and can often look a little bit scary and definitely intimidating. Stalin brought a lot of architects into his fold and had very specific ideas of how the architecture should be done. It was interesting to see architecture used as a form of political persuasion.

I also really enjoyed the information about the various resistances that were occurring in the various countries. This book had a really interesting section on some of the youth rebels who dressed a certain way and listened to certain music (jazz, of all things) in order to try to show their distaste for Soviet rule.

The book starts out a little slowly. The author gives a lot of background on her methodology for the research of her book, which is not all that interesting, especially when you are listening to an audiobook version of the book. But the book really picks up once it starts getting into the meat of the topic at hand.

Now let me mention that I listened to this book through audiobook and I really want to go back and read it. It is a very hefty audiobook and the narrator kind of drones a little bit, which made it a little dry in some parts. Eventually, I may go back and reread the book version of this book as there are some details of the book that I would like to revisit. All in all, history fans will definitely enjoy this book.


1 comment:

  1. I haven't read this one, but Anne Applebaum is brilliant.


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