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The File : A Personal History

3.8 of 5 stars 3.80  ·  rating details  ·  479 ratings  ·  52 reviews
When Timothy Garton Ash graduated from Oxford in 1978, he went to live in Berlin, ostensibly to research and write about Nazism. But once there, he gradually immersed himself in a study of the repressive political culture of East Germany. As if to return the favor, that culture--in the form of the dreaded East German secret police, the "Stasi"--secretly began studying him. ...more
Paperback, 256 pages
Published September 29th 1998 by Vintage Books (first published July 1st 1997)
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Community Reviews

(showing 1-30 of 1,097)
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Natalia Pì
A terrific read for anyone who likes history, especially that of the Cold War, and does not mind a different sort of narration of it.
In this book, Garton Ash examines the file that the Stasi built on him between 1978 and 1989, which he was able to access after the fall of East Germany. I loved this book, because it is not only a (very good) history book, but it's also a reflection about memory and about human nature.
The author meets most of the people who either informed the Stasi on him during
Neil Pierson
Not that any of us wants to be watched by secret police... but if you were, wouldn't you want to read the file they kept?

After Germany was reunified, the files of the East German Stasi (secret police) were made available to the file subjects. Timothy Garton Ash is a Briton who lived in East Germany as a student and journalist. He wasn't a spy but managed to make the Stasi nervous enough to open a file.

When the records were opened, he obtained his Stasi file and compared it to his fairly detailed
Timothy Garton Ash's The File: A Personal History is an exploration of the author's own file that was kept on him by the East German secret police, the State Security Service, "the Stasi." Mr. Ash lived in East Berlin for a few years in the late 70s and early 80s, ostensibly to finish his Ph.D. thesis on the German Communist resistance to the Nazis (Mr. Ash, a British citizen, was getting his doctorate from St. Antony's College at Oxford), but actually to report, as a journalist, on the East Ger ...more
a classic for anyone interested in the cold war, east germany, stasi, polish solidarity, spies and intrigue, AND what it means to write history. match with "stasiland" by anna funder for a very insightful look into western madness.
Jun 11, 2008 Marie rated it 2 of 5 stars
Recommends it for: anyone with academic interest in East Germany
Well, I made it to page 87, not quite halfway through, and decided to stop. I found myself wanting to be done with the book, which is never a good sign. I have too many books on my "to read" list to waste time on a book I'm not enjoying or finding interesting at least.

The book's premise was interesting: an English journalist and researcher who spent time in East and West Germany and Poland gets hold of his Stasi file after the Berlin Wall comes down. He compares the file to his own personal diar
Fantastic personal account of what it is like to read your Stasi file. Beautifully written, and a compelling mix of memoires and history, which brought me to tears during more then one passage.

"I place a compact disc in the computer's CD-drive, and click the 'play' button on screen. From a loudspeaker somewhere behind the text I have just typed there comes the voice of Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau, recorded in 1958, at the height of the Cold War, singing Schubert's great dark song. Can any father h
- Confusing start with timeline, terms, names, places
- Improved when he talked about each person he went back to visit
- Thought I was educated and well-read, but some of the terms and references in the book made me feel quite ignorant - I felt like an intellectual light-weight
- Although it did not captivate me, it did help me understand why the informants did what they did and how ordinary people could get manipulated/corrupted and by extension how they could have their good intentions perverte
A pretty good book by Ash about his research into his own Stasi file. He had spent time during the Cold War in East Germany, ostensibly researching Nazism. The first part of the book is mainly a memoire, his own recounting of his life at the time from his diary, notes, and memory. By the second half of the book he really gets into his topic (his Stasi file), as he tracks down those who informed on him and their handlers within the Stasi. He doesn't break any startling new ground, but he does put ...more
Duncan Mchale
After the reunification of Germany Timothy Garton Ash got to read the Stasi file that had been compiled on him while he was doing research in East Germany. He then contacted the people who had informed on him and also the former intelligence officers who had managed his case. This is a totally creepy story, all the more disturbing because you can't find any really monstrous villains, even though East Germany under the Stasi was Hell.
I suffered through 100 pages of this 1997 Cold War memoir. Was it the dated subject matter, the writer's confusing shuffle of personal diaries and East Germany Secret Police files and later recall, or the writer's self-important speculations and observations then (1980) and and 15 years later that made it a plodding, uninteresting read?
This memoir, of one individual's personal experience with the Stasi and attempts to find out more about it after the fall of the Wall, started off really slow for me, despite my interest in the topic. I bought this at a second hand book store in a tiny town in the middle of Texas, and have been looking forward to reading it since. The slow start was a disappointment, because I expected to immediately be swept up in the story.

I do believe that one reason it took me a while to get absorbed in thi
Susannah Belcher
Considered, wise and thought provokingly moral account of actions and ethics in the GDR. Deserves multiple readings.
Margaret Sankey
Ash returns to Berlin to retrieve his Stasi file from the new German bureaucracy assigned to handle this toxic legacy of betrayals and intrusion, finding that his youthful memory of life as a student in the 1980s was not quite as the secret police documented it, and he engages in a kind of ritual tracking and confronting of former mentors, girlfriends and neighbors who contributed to the file. There may be no better cruel banality than thinking you're dressed up in 1982 finery, looking good and ...more
Nov 21, 2014 Mike rated it 4 of 5 stars
Recommends it for: people interested in the GDR and/or USSR
After the collapse of the Soviet Union, the meticulous files that the German Democratic Republic's Ministry for State Security, or Stasi, kept on many of its citizens and foreigners became open to the public. The main archive for these files, Timothy Ash tells us, is located in the same building complex that once housed the Stasi's central archive. The archive is often called the Gauck Authority, after the priest who runs it, and being vetted for a job in part by having one's name sent to the GA ...more
Mary Warnement
This look at his own Stasi file, compiled in the early 1980s when a student, did not grab me as quickly as I expected it would. (In fact, I sat it aside for a long time for other, sometimes sillier books.) Nor did I find it as compelling as Anna Funder's Stasiland. Interesting, though her book was published only a couple years ago and his in 1997, they were both there in the late 90s and thinking about what it meant to inform in the GDR. He actually lived there in the early 80s and was a subject ...more
That's right. I tagged this as "memoir" and "thriller." It's an unlikely combination, but then The File chronicles an unlikely moment in history. Not the police state of former East Germany. Police states are a dime a dozen. Nope, the unlikely bit is the moment in the mid-1990s when a newly re-unified Germany allowed everyone to apply to see the file that the East German secret police, the Stasi, kept on them.

For all that the KGB were designated by Hollywood as the Big Bad (in today's televisio
I've been scouring bookshops for more personal histories of the Stasi seen read Stasiland by Anna Funder a few years ago and i devoured this one over the course of about three days. Barton Ash's memoir begins with him receiving his OPK file from the Gauck office in Berlin and takes the reader on a journey as he confronts those people from his past who have informed on him to the East German authorities.

What I found particularly interesting about the book was the concept accountability and of be
"Whenever there has been a secret police, not just in Germany, people often protest that their files are wholly unreliable, full of distortions and fabrications. How better to test that claim than to see what they had on me? After all, I should know what I was really up to. And what did my officers and informers think they were doing? Can the files, and the men and women behind them, tell us anything more about communism, the Cold War and the sense or nonsense of spying? This systematic opening ...more
Andrew Milton
Garton-Ash was present for so much of the communist E. European history that his analyses are always interesting. The File is particularly fascinating. After the fall of communism, the Germans decide to open the secret police files and allow people to look at their own files.

Garton-Ash gives a background of spying in E. Germany by way of interviewing the folks who spied on him.

A good, if distressing, read.
Michael Macdonald
excellent book, intelligent, well-written exploration of the duplicitous world of East Germany. Garton-ASh unpicks the paranoia and motivations of a network of informers, showing compassion and sympathy for the agents who recorded trivia about him to support a repressive dictatorship. It also ends with the reflection that Britain has its own hidden spies, damaging people's lives by innuendo.
The problem is this: TGA spends the first third of the book basically saying "and yet, I wasn't doing anything interesting, so I don't really know why the Stasi were that interested in me." And he's right. The actual memoir part of the book is, at its core, just sort of a British grad student having drinks with people.
This was an interesting look at how people respond after the end of a totalitarian system, when it becomes clear that some have spied on their fellow citizens. I thought Garton Ash did a good job at not being judgmental toward people and explaining the basic situation that endured through those years.

I gave it four stars instead of five because I think the bouncing between past and present could have been better handled, but overall I was very pleased with "The File."
A skilled writer in full command of his material, and a powerful study of memory and history. A lovely book.
I was enthralled by the Oscar winning German film The Lives of Others and discovered this slim book about the Stasi and their aftermath by Timothy Garton Ash. Ash was a British student in East Germany and after the fall of communism and the making public of the Stasi records he returns to Germany to read his own file and interview those individuals who informed on him. It is a striking exploration of a police state and how individuals justify their behavior after the fact. It is well-worth readi ...more
Jon Edward
Nov 17, 2013 Jon Edward rated it 2 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommended to Jon Edward by: Günther Großer
Shelves: history
This book lacked any real tension or excitement for me. I can imagine that if you found out people you knew were talking to the authorities after you left them or even while you stayed with them, it would be upsetting, even if you understood that they told nothing important and did so with the goal of getting permission to travel abroad. Yet, it doesn't really make for good reading.

I wouldn't really recommend it. That said, if you find other reviews or comments pique your interest to pick it up,
The author uses big words and extra long sentences to try and prove how smart he is. He drops names of obscure writers and philosophers into the text assuming that everyone has heard of them. C'mon buddy. I'm reading this book to get an idea of how the Stasi worked in East Germany and how they affected your life personally. It's not to bone up on my obscure European writer trivia, that's for sure.

When he finally gets to the interviews with the former Stasi officers, I found the book very interes
A dull account of tedious snitching during a pivotal time in history. I expected more.
After the fall of the Berlin Wall and communism in Central Europe, the author gets to see the file kept on him by the East German Stasi. He proceeds to seek out and interview informers and agents who spied on him.

Very relevant in light of recent (2013) revelations about the NSA's massive electronic spying. If you don't think the US espionage conglomerate (NSA/CIA/FBI) can't mutate into a Stasi-like system, read this book. And think again.

This was a great, short read surrounding the secret East German file on the author. What an introspective and interesting look at someone's life during the Cold War. Garton Ash takes little details and confronts some of the people found therein, which i found thrilling and somewhat terrifying. Would you have the courage to confront those who spied on you? I recommend this for anyone with an interest in the Cold War, German history, or spy games.
I never expected to enjoy this so much. It's a great read - try not to read it in one sitting! The small, petty, and ultimately horrific, way that small inconsequential details could be sown together by the paranoid Stasi could, and did, ruin lives. Everyone seems to have been spied on, and extensive records were kept. Uniquely Germany has allowed people to view their secret police files (unlike Poland, Russia, etc etc).
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