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Uncivil Society: 1989 and the Implosion of the Communist Establishment (Modern Library Chronicles #32)

3.83  ·  Rating Details ·  102 Ratings  ·  19 Reviews
Twenty years ago, the Berlin Wall fell. In one of modern history’s most miraculous occurrences, communism imploded–and not with a bang, but with a whimper. Now two of the foremost scholars of East European and Soviet affairs, Stephen Kotkin and Jan T. Gross, drawing upon two decades of reflection, revisit this crash. In a crisp, concise, unsentimental narrative, they emplo ...more
Paperback, 256 pages
Published October 12th 2010 by Modern Library (first published 2009)
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Lauren Albert
In this look at the revolutionary events of 1989, Kotkin reviews the causes of what unfolded in three countries--East Germany, Romania and Poland. It is a revisionist text in that he disagrees with what has become a predominant argument that the arms race is what lead to the fall of the Soviet Union. Economics played a large role but it was debt, he thinks, more than spending on weaponry, that did in the communist regime. For instance, Eastern European countries thought they could produce inexpe ...more
John David
Apr 25, 2011 John David rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: modern-history
In the west, we are often regaled with unquestioned stories of the fall of communism, most often the one in which the triad of Margaret Thatcher, John Paul II, and Reagan collectively conjure the World-Spirit of neoliberalism and capitalism to defeat the Reds. It’s an account that speaks to our need for heroism. Stephen Kotkin’s account, however, is a revisionist one in that he claims the downfall of the Soviet Union (especially the bloc states in Eastern Europe) was much less exciting than we’v ...more
Chase Parsley
Jan 02, 2017 Chase Parsley rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Author Stephen Kotkin writes a decent book about the end of the Cold War in three Eastern bloc countries: East Germany, Romania, and Poland. It was enlightening to learn about how different each country's version of communist life was, and also how quickly everything collapsed. I liked the section on Romania the best. The author repeatedly points out that there was a "civil" society (the in crowd government workers who had all of the perks) and the "uncivil" society (everyone else). It reminds m ...more
Jay Hinman
Aug 13, 2012 Jay Hinman rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
It’s been said so many times (particularly in conservative circles) that it has ceased to lose its sense of moral outrage, but the most “underreported” story of the twentieth century was the misery, economic destruction and mass death caused by Communism - both as an idea, and certainly far more so in practice. Underreported, you ask? I’d say so. It’s not difficult to find books, articles and speeches decrying 20th-century communism’s crimes, from Stalin and Mao to famines and entire generations ...more
Marcus Wolfe
Jan 18, 2017 Marcus Wolfe rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This book presented a convincing argument for economics as the cause for the collapse of communism. He covers many communist countries but focuses on East Germany, Romania, and Hungary. He also shows the role of the church in the fall of communism.
Read for a class, enjoyed it... ish. Full of really important information but a little dry for my tastes.
Apr 04, 2010 Jason rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Uncivil Society: 1989 and the Implosion of the Communist Establishment by Stephen Kotkin

The narrative held by most Americans about the fall of the Eastern Bloc is almost entirely false. It goes something like this. Ronald Reagan is elected. He calls the Soviet Union an evil empire. He decides to build Star Wars. The Soviets can't keep up. He tells Gorby to tear down that wall, and they have no choice. We win. USA! USA! USA!

Well, I lived through enough of this to know that narrative was bunk at
Daniel Hammer
Mar 30, 2011 Daniel Hammer rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: non-fiction
This is a good addition to the large body of scholarship on the collapse of socialism. Kotkin focuses on three cases; the former GDR, Romania, and Poland. He basic argument is that the collapse of the system was brought about by the economic mismanagement of the regimes, coupled with their delusional sense of stability and control in each country and regionally. He refers to socialist regimes as "uncivil society," a term meant to deliberately discount the argument of other scholars that citizen ...more
May 11, 2010 Wm rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Very readable and an important read not only to correct perceptions on how everything went down in 1989, but also to shed some light on where capitalism can make the same mistakes. There are important differences, of course, but it really was a combination of the creation of an uncivil society (that is Communist officials that received special perks and entrenched their positions and grew out of touch) and the taking on of major amounts of debt from Western countries in order to pay for increase ...more
H Wesselius
Brilliant. Traces the fall of the various regimes to implosion of the uncivil groups. With the exception of Poland, there were no mass civil society to topple the regimes so logically the cause of the demise is elsewhere. A disastrous economic performance, massive debt, and consumer shortages forced the elites to consider changes and these changes had unforeseen repercussions. Allowing these repercussions to play themselves out is Gorbachev and his policy of non-intervention. Unsaid by the autho ...more
Mar 25, 2015 Claire rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
I've used Kotkin as a source for more than one HIS424 essay, that's for sure.
This is the book to cite when talking about the events leading to the dissolution of the Soviet Union.

My fond memories of the subject reflect in the overall conclusion. (The other day I sang to mother the History of the Soviet Union to the Tune of Tetris - you know that song? To Moscow I came seeking fortune... but they're making me work 'til I'm dead... the bourgeoisie have it so easy... the tsar's putting gold on his
May 28, 2014 Simon rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This is a brilliant anlaysis of the collapse of the Soviet bloc in 1989. It dispels some of the myths and less-than-educated guesses surrounding this momentous period of history.
Nov 09, 2012 Becky rated it did not like it
Shelves: school-books
This book was boring. Maybe it's because I find Eastern European history/ Communism history extremely boring. Soooo dry.
Jul 17, 2013 Brittany rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Fascinating, fast-moving, and insightful. This was an interesting perspective on why communism ultimately fails as well thoroughly reflective on how we view civility.
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Stephen Mark Kotkin is Professor of History and director of the Program in Russian Studies at Princeton University. He specializes in the history of the Soviet Union and has recently begun to research Eurasia more generally.
More about Stephen Kotkin...

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