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Summary and book reviews of Iron Curtain by Anne Applebaum

Iron Curtain

The Crushing of Eastern Europe, 1944-1956

by Anne Applebaum

Iron Curtain
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  • First Published:
    Oct 2012, 608 pages
    Paperback:
    Aug 2013, 640 pages

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Book Reviewed by:
Kim Kovacs

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About this Book

Book Summary

In the long-awaited follow-up to her Pulitzer Prize-winning Gulag, acclaimed journalist Anne Applebaum delivers a groundbreaking history of how Communism took over Eastern Europe after World War II and transformed in frightening fashion the individuals who came under its sway.

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.

Introduction

'From Stettin in the Baltic to Trieste in the Adriatic, an iron curtain has descended across the Continent. Behind that line lie all the capitals of the ancient states of Central and Eastern Europe. Warsaw, Berlin, Prague, Vienna, Budapest, Belgrade, Bucharest and Sofia, all these famous cities and the populations around them lie in what I must call the Soviet sphere, and all are subject in one form or another, not only to Soviet influence but to a very high and, in many cases, increasing measure of control from Moscow.'
Winston Churchill, Fulton, Missouri, 5 March 1946

Among many other things, the year 1945 marked one of the most extraordinary population movements in European history. All across the continent, hundreds of thousands of people were returning from Soviet exile, from forced labour in Germany, from concentration camps and prisoner of war camps, from hiding places and refuges of all kinds. The roads, footpaths, tracks and trains were crammed full ...

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Reviews

BookBrowse Review

BookBrowse

The book is a fascinating study of how an ideology transformed millions of people's lives in a very short period of time, and Anne Applebaum does a remarkable job of comparing and contrasting each country's gradual disappearance behind the "Iron Curtain." Students of modern history will definitely want to add this one to their libraries.   (Reviewed by Kim Kovacs).

Full Review Members Only (795 words).

Media Reviews

Wall Street Journal

In this epic but intimate history, Ms. Applebaum offers us windows into the lives of the men and sometimes women who constructed the police states of Eastern Europe. She gives us a glimpse of those who resisted. But she also gives us a harrowing portrait of the rest—the majority of Eastern Europe's population, who, having been caught up in the continent's conflicts time and time again, now found themselves pawns in a global one.

Cleveland Plain Dealer

Bracing, important…Applebaum is unafraid of complexity; she traffics in exceptions. She names names.…Iron Curtain is essential reading.

The Washington Post

One of the most compelling but also serious works on Europe’s past to appear in recent memory…In her relentless quest for understanding, Applebaum shines light into forgotten worlds of human hope, suffering and dignity.

Publishers Weekly

Starred Review. Applebaum has written another masterful account of the brutality of Soviet rule.

Kirkus Reviews

Starred Review. A Pulitzer Prize–winning author returns with the story of those dark decades in Eastern Europe when the Soviet Union slammed the prison doors on people, cultures and countries...A dark but hopeful chronicle that shows how even humanity's worst can fracture and fall.

Library Journal

Applebaum not only dug into newly opened archives but conducted interviews, which should give this book a personal feel. Exciting!

Evening Standard (UK)

Iron Curtain is a superb, revisionistic, brilliantly perceptive, often witty, totally gripping history, filled with colorful character sketches of Stalinist monsters, based on Soviet and local archives, on hundreds of interviews with survivors, and on the widest reading, that tells the dramatic, unknown and terrifying story of the Stalinization of eastern Europe.

The Daily Mail (UK)

Magisterial…Anne Applebaum is exceptionally well qualified to tell [this story]. Her deep knowledge of the region, breadth of view and eye for human detail makes this as readable as her last book, on the Gulag.

Author Blurb Fareed Zakaria, author of The Post-American World
So much effort is spent trying to understand democratization these days, and so little is spent trying to understand the opposite processes. Anne Applebaum corrects that imbalance, explaining how and why societies succumb to totalitarian rule. Iron Curtain is a deeply researched and eloquent description of events which took place not long ago and in places not far away - events which contain many lessons for the present.

Author Blurb Antony Beevor, author of Stalingrad and The Second World War
Iron Curtain is an exceptionally important book which effectively challenges many of the myths of the origins of the Cold War. It is wise, perceptive, remarkably objective and brilliantly researched.

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Beyond the Book

The Tenets of Communism

Karl Marx Communism is an economic and philosophical theory that can be summed up by a phrase made popular by the "father of communism," Karl Marx: "From each, according to his ability, to each according to his need."

In its ideal form, all property is held in common; there is no private ownership. There are also no class divisions, and equal weight is given to everyone in the society regardless of gender or race. Poverty and wealth are both non-existent since all products and services are distributed equally to all. Decisions are based on what will benefit society as a whole as opposed to what will enrich just one person or group.

Although communism became an important influence beginning in the middle of the 19th century, it is not a new ...

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