Excerpt from Iron Curtain by Anne Applebaum, plus links to reviews, author biography & more

Summary |  Excerpt |  Reviews |  Beyond the Book |  Readalikes |  Genres & Themes |  Author Bio

Iron Curtain

The Crushing of Eastern Europe, 1944-1956

By Anne Applebaum

Iron Curtain
  • Critics' Opinion:

    Readers' Opinion:

     Not Yet Rated
  • Hardcover: Oct 2012,
    608 pages.
    Paperback: Aug 2013,
    640 pages.

    Publication Information

  • Rate this book

Book Reviewed by:
Kim Kovacs

Buy This Book

About this Book

Print Excerpt

Five years had passed. In those five years, the Polish Women's League and countless organizations like it had undergone a total transformation. What had happened? Who had caused the changes? Why did anyone go along with them? The answers to those questions are the subject of this book. Although it has been most often used to describe Nazi Germany and Stalin's Soviet Union, the word 'totalitarian' – totalitarismo – was first used in the context of Italian fascism. Invented by one of his critics, Benito Mussolini adopted the term with enthusiasm, and in one of his speeches offered what is still the best definition of the term: Everything within the state, nothing outside the state, nothing against the state. Strictly defined, a totalitarian regime is one which bans all institutions apart from those it has officially approved. A totalitarian regime thus has one political party, one educational system, one artistic creed, one centrally planned economy, one unified media and one moral code. In a totalitarian state there are no independent schools, no private businesses, no grassroots organizations and no critical thought. Mussolini and his favourite philosopher, Giovanni Gentile, once wrote of a 'conception of the State' which is 'all-embracing; outside of it no human or spiritual values can exist, much less have value'.

From Italian, the word 'totalitarianism' spread into all the languages of Europe and the world. After Mussolini's demise the concept had few open advocates, however, and the word eventually came to be defined by its critics, many of whom number among the twentieth century's greatest thinkers. 5 Friedrich Hayek's Road to Serfdom is a philosophical response to the challenge of totalitarianism, as is Karl Popper's The Open Society and Its Enemies, George Orwell's Nineteen Eighty-Four is a dystopian vision of a world entirely dominated by totalitarian regimes.

Probably the greatest student of totalitarian politics was Hannah Arendt, who defined totalitarianism in her 1949 book, The Origins of Totalitarianism, as a 'novel form of government' made possible by the onset of modernity. The destruction of traditional societies and ways of life had, she argued, created the conditions for the evolution of the 'totalitarian personality', men and women whose identities were entirely dependent on the state.

Famously, Arendt argued that Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union were both totalitarian regimes, and as such were more similar than different. Carl J. Friedrich and Zbigniew Brzezinski pushed that argument further in Totalitarian Dictatorship and Autocracy, published in 1956 , and also sought a more operational definition. Totalitarian regimes, they declared, all had at least five things in common: a dominant ideology, a single ruling party, a secret police force prepared to use terror, a monopoly on information and a planned economy. By those criteria, the Soviet and Nazi regimes were not the only totalitarian states. Others – Mao's China, for example – qualified too.

But in the late 1940 s and early 1950 s, 'totalitarianism' was more than just a theoretical concept. During the early years of the Cold War, the term acquired concrete political associations as well. In a pivotal speech in 1947 , President Harry Truman declared that Americans must be 'willing to help free peoples to maintain their free institutions and their national integrity against aggressive movements that seek to impose upon them totalitarian regimes'. This idea became known as 'the Truman Doctrine'. President Dwight Eisenhower also used the term during his 1952 presidential campaign, when he declared his intention to go to Korea and bring an end to the war there: 'I know something of this totalitarian mind. Through the years of World War II , I carried a heavy burden of decision in the free world's crusade against the tyranny then threatening us all.'

Excerpted from Iron Curtain by Anne Applebaum. Copyright © 2012 by Anne Applebaum. Excerpted by permission of Doubleday. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.

Membership Advantages
  • Reviews
  • "Beyond the Book" backstories
  • Free books to read and review (US only)
  • Find books by time period, setting & theme
  • Read-alike suggestions by book and author
  • Book club discussions
  • and much more!
  • Just $10 for 3 months or $35 for a year
  • More about membership!

Beyond the Book:
  The Tenets of Communism

Member Benefits

Join Now!

Check the advantages!
Just $10 for 3 months or $35 for a year

    • FREE
    • MEMBER
    • Range of media reviews for each book
    • Excerpts of all featured books
    • Author bios, interviews and pronunciations
    • Browse by genre
    • Book club discussions
    • Book club advice and reading guides
    • BookBrowse reviews and "beyond the book" back-stories
    • Reviews of notable books ahead of publication
    • Free books to read and review (US Only)
    • Browse for the best books by time period, setting & theme
    • Read-alike suggestions for thousands of books and authors
    • 'My Reading List" to keep track of your books
Sign up, win books!

Editor's Choice

  • Book Jacket: A Man Called Ove
    A Man Called Ove
    by Fredrik Backman
    Reading A Man Called Ove was like having Christmas arrive early. Set in Sweden, this debut novel is ...
  • Book Jacket
    The Search
    by Geoff Dyer
    All hail the independent publisher! In May 2014, Graywolf Press brought two of long-revered British ...
  • Book Jacket
    Mrs. Hemingway
    by Naomi Wood
    Naomi Wood's latest novel, Mrs. Hemingway, is a fictionalized biography covering in turn writer...

First Impressions

Members read and review books ahead
of publication. See what they think
in First Impressions!

Books that
expand your

Visitors can view a lot of BookBrowse for free. Full access is for members only

Find out more.

Book Discussions
Book Jacket

The City
by Dean Koontz

Published Jul. 2014

Join the discussion!

  1.  43The Arsonist:
    Sue Miller
  2.  119Tomlinson Hill:
    Chris Tomlinson

All Discussions

Win this book!
Win The Angel of Losses

The Angel of Losses

"Family saga, mystery, and myth intersect in Feldman's debut novel." - Booklist


Word Play

Solve this clue:

E C H A Silver L

and be entered to win..

Books thatinspire you.Handpicked.

Books you'll stay up all night reading; books that will whisk you to faraway places and times, books that will expand your mind and inspire you -- the kinds of books you just can't wait to tell your friends about.