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The Berlin Wall: 13 August 1961 - 9 November 1989

3.98  ·  Rating Details  ·  859 Ratings  ·  91 Reviews

On the morning of August 13, 1961, the residents of East Berlin found themselves cut off from family, friends and jobs in the West by a tangle of barbed wire that ruthlessly cut a city of four million in two. Within days the barbed-wire entanglement would undergo an extraordinary metamorphosis: it became an imposing 103-mile-long wall guarded by three hundred watchtowers.

Hardcover, First Edition (U.K.), 512 pages
Published October 16th 2006 by Bloomsbury Publishing PLC (first published October 2006)
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Stasiland by Anna FunderThe Spy Who Came In from the Cold by John le CarréThe Berlin Book of Lists by Max HofstetterBerlin Noir by Philip KerrThe Berlin Stories by Christopher Isherwood
66th out of 270 books — 137 voters
The Triumph of Improvisation by James Graham WilsonThe Valley of Unknowing by Philip SingtonStasiland by Anna FunderThe Spy Who Came In from the Cold by John le Carré1989 The Berlin Wall by Peter Millar
The Former East Germany, GDR, DDR
98th out of 161 books — 50 voters

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Community Reviews

(showing 1-30 of 2,151)
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At its best this book is entertaining. At its worst it is over extended, sloppy and a rag-bag of whatever the author felt was interesting with no consistent focus.

With 449 pages of text about half actually deals with the Berlin Wall and then only about a six or seven-year period around the wall's construction and then again the last few years down to 1989. The rest is filled up with a run through of Berlin/German history that is irrelevant, patchy and occasionally inaccurate and some general col
Oct 03, 2007 Zepp rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: berliner
Fun to read, but I'm not sure The Wall deserves it's own history. The author uses it as an excuse to tell only selective stories (the most exciting and sexy ones of course) of the Cold War, but these snippets are not really unified by the concept of the Wall itself. He does a good job of explaining why we Westerners were relieved by the Wall's erection and how we continued to love it as a symbol, but this isn't new revisionist work deserving of an entire volume; this story was not one that had t ...more
Apr 15, 2013 Laura rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Mr. Taylor takes a Noah and the Flood approach to his subject, which is to say he examines the beginning of Germany, the effects of Bismarck, the Emperors Wilhelm, and the aftermath of WWI, before glossing over the rise of Hitler and most of WWII and diving in for a fascinating examination of the foundation of East Germany and the relationship between the leaders of East Germany and the Soviet Union. Particularly vivid and meaningful for me is his recounting of the months leading up to the fall ...more
What a tome.

I had no idea when I picked this up that it would take me so long, or so much effort, to get through.

I have recently become fascinated by the Berlin Wall, mainly thanks to Philip Kerr's Bernie Gunther novels. I found it unacceptable that I, a student of history, who had studied the world wars from more than one perspective, and Germany specifically, had never actually known what the Wall was, or how it came to be, or how it came to collapse. It was just one of those things I was con
Jesper Jorgensen
I really enjoyed reading this book. Taylor has a good 'flow' in his account and just the right dose - in my humble opinion - of personal remarks. If I had had the time I would have read it continuously

So, if you feel an irresistible urge to read about The Wall, this book is a very good choice. Go ahead and enjoy
Jan 13, 2015 Bob rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: history, germany
The first part of this book had a broad explanation of German history, which I appreciated. German history is so complicated it is hard to put together; the few pages from this book provided a summary that I translated into an Excel file to serve as a reference outline.

Then this book explained how Germany went from the strong control of Bismarck, who knew better than to get mired in needless wars, to the absurd direction of Kaiser Wilhelm. Who must rank as one of the world's most colossal idiot
Mary Warnement
Oct 18, 2014 Mary Warnement rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: subway, history, berlin
Frederick Taylor's history of the Berlin Wall starts with a summary of German history from the beginning. I enjoyed this and wouldn't recommend skipping the first several chapters. I would advise to be patient, the background information is necessary. This history combined stories of individuals, the type of people who can live and die without appearing in textbooks if not for the intervention of events, with political history. Fast-paced and easy to read, the kind you gobble up. I read it on th ...more
Jan 29, 2011 Erik rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
For a comprehensive overview of the events that shaped the building, maintenance, and ultimate dismantling of the notorious Berlin Wall, look no further than this. Taylor’s sweeping narrative of the post-WWII/Cold War political happenings that resulted in this great, divisive eye-sore being constructed through the center of the former capital of Germany and the vanquished NAZI government is a tightly written page-turner. Taylor begins his book by detailing the one party rule put into place by th ...more
Sep 05, 2007 Laura rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: History buffs, Germanophiles
Even though I visited the Wall in 1987 and then lived within a few miles of it a few years later (on the East side), I realized I knew precious little about the history of the Wall. When I saw this book at the library, I snatched it up. Taylor's prose are engaging (I believe another reviewer called it "gossipy") and I find the overall history interesting. The most fascinating parts of the book are the personal accounts of Berliners affected personally by the construction of the Wall; they ring t ...more
Jul 09, 2009 Glorious rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Starting with a history of the Germanic and Prussian land and its development, it moves efficiently through to the first half of the 20th century, showing how the men who would control the DDR and its citizens for the next forty years would rise to power. The creation of the Wall is mentioned in detail as Berlin awoke to find itself divided by barbed-wire.

Ruling by fear, Honecker, Ulbricht and Mielke keep the population under intense scrutiny with the surveillance techniques of the Stasi, turni
May 10, 2011 Joshua rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: read-in-2011
Kind of disappointing non-fiction, exhaustive [and rather exhausting!] history of the Berlin Wall. I got this wanting to read about escapes and desperate people trying to get across the barbed wire and later the wall--there was some of that, but not nearly enough. Taylor is way more concerned about discussing every possible facet of whatever government involved in the wall's creation [West Germany, East Germany, Soviet Union, United States] than covering the "fun" stuff. If there was a politicia ...more
Jan 02, 2014 Sander rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: germany
Since I am a sucker for history novels and for German history in particular, I have to admit this review is biased.
The title does not really cover the scope of this non-fiction account, which actually delivers about a thousand years' worth of Berliner history in a mere 600 pages. Taylor attempts (and in my opinion, succeeds) in painting a picture of a city which finds itself in the centre of European history a few times too often.
The story of the wall itself is narrated chronologically and find
Karen Mardahl
Jun 13, 2012 Karen Mardahl rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I enjoyed this book and would recommend it to others. The first part of the book provides the historical background - how did the Wall appear in anyone's mind, let alone be constructed. The history is what makes this interesting. My own knowledge was weak in this area, so I liked getting history delivered this way. I saw a criticism on Amazon that decried the lack of many escape stories. They didn't realize it was about the history of the Wall - up to and during. There were escape stories, but t ...more
Aug 16, 2016 George rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Great book. Since I listened on Audible it was especially good. As I spent 2.5 years in Berlin from April 1962 until October 1964 it was easy for me to follow the events that took place during much of the time covered in this book. I witnessed hearing machine gun fire across the canal where I lived for 4 months and could always know if they escaped or were gunned down in their attempt to swim across to freedom. I they failed, we would hear sirens from the ambulances on the other side to hurry th ...more
Oct 26, 2010 Linda rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: nonfiction
After reading this account, I realized how little I knew about the Wall even though I lived through most of the period of its existence as an adult, one who considers herself reasonably informed about European affairs. The only time I visited Berlin was ten years after the Wall came down, but staying at the corner of Unter den Linden and Friedrichstrasse, offered me a perspective on Berlin's history that caused me to wish I had read this book before the visit.
Jan 11, 2008 Eric is currently reading it  ·  review of another edition
I read a little and put it down. Fascinating history, but the book itself is drier than sawdust and so heavy that I can't take it on the subway. Meticulously detailed, though, if that's your thing.
Tough one to rate. It was all very interesting, but also sloppy in it's writing and structure. It isn't helped by the Kindle edition which contains way too much errors. There was a stretch where every 'but' was spelled 'bur'. Halfway through i was thinking i should have marked all these errors so i could count them and ask my money back. Couldn't be bothered in the end.
There's a lot of history of the Cold War and the GDR in general and while i found that interesting i was expecting more about th
Feb 20, 2015 Aryaa rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
A wonderful book! History, trivia, fun facts, this book has it all. The book simply does not talk about the Berlin Wall alone or the politics that kept it strong for 28 long years. The book, also, very vividly describes the misery of the people who stood witness to this crude act of cowardliness. Opens with an apt situation and closes with an equally interesting thought, and every point just as relevant as the other to the context. A trip to Berlin (even if it weren't your first one!) is complet ...more
Maria Kramer
For a book about the Berlin Wall, I felt like this book didn't spend a huge amount of time on the actual wall itself. A lot of time was spent on the situation leading to its creation - which was helpful for understanding how such a drastic situation could have emerged - but I wanted to learn more about the personal element of life in divided Berlin. Also, the author describes events in a slightly anachronic order that's a little confusing at times. Still, a very informative book and a great read ...more
The definitive account
FINALLY finished this beast. Such mixed feelings. The subject matter at hand is basically the plot of every spy novel ever except reallife, so it can't possibly be THAT boring. But the author made some interesting decisions. Like the entire first chapter, which was mostly a surface level skim of ALL of German history. There's a lot of it. I remember nothing except that the Prussians are scary dudes.

The best part was the political stuff. I wish Taylor were a better character writer because hot da
Martin Samuels
May 14, 2016 Martin Samuels rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Taylor provides a readable account of the context within which the Wall became deemed necessary, the events around its construction, and it final breaching. After a helpful setting of the historical context of Berlin and Prussia, the book really starts with the end of the Second World War and the establishment of Communist control over Berlin and what became the GDR. Taylor'a ccount gives an excellent sense of the deeply political intrigues carried out by the new Soviet authorities and their Ger ...more
Aug 17, 2015 Jaimie rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
While I generally prefer memoirs or character-driven narratives for non-fiction subjects, I still found this book to be quite a good read. The author's narrow focus on Berlin provides us with an in-depth view of this historical city and the tumultuous time period that separated East and West Berlin. The language is clear and concise, so chronological events are presented in an orderly and easy to understand manner. It would have been useful to have a chronology and cast of characters though pres ...more
This book was tough for me to rate--on the one hand, the subject is fascinating and the book is an incredibly detailed, often moving account of the impact the Berlin Wall had on Germans living on both sides. On the other hand, I found the writing difficult or awkward at times--I almost felt like the book was a somewhat stilted translation from a foreign-language original, although the author is British and I assume writes in English. Whatever the case, to me it was a book about a very interestin ...more
Feb 16, 2015 Jerome rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
An excellent and well-paced if journalistic history of the Berlin Wall, covering all of the important events from the actual building of the wall and its collapse, with great coverage of all the relevant issues. Taylor successfully shows both the big-picture significance of all of these events and how they affected ordinary people on both sides of the wall.

Taylor’s writing is engaging and flows well, and he does a great job telling the wall’s compelling story. Taylor describes the conference at
Perhaps there is simply not enough to say about the Berlin Wall itself to justify an entire book. Taylor does a good job of telling the stories related to it, both the overreaching history as well as many individual and particular ones. However, there is a lot of material that has little to do with the wall, and is only tangentially related. There are a few chapters to go through that are about the history of Berlin and Germany, and while good for those seeking a wider introduction, it does stra ...more
The Berlin Wall by Frederick Taylor seeks to show the Berlin Wall in a biographical format and does an excellent job of framing the role the wall played in not only world politics but the daily lives of Berliners who were changed forever by its presence. The Wall was an operation that for the average citizen came out of nowhere and in many cases initially trapped people from one side or the other on the opposite side as they visited friends and families. Those who worked on the other side of Ber ...more
Oct 03, 2012 Leah rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: non-fiction, history
I really enjoyed this. I've read some reviews that suggested that the Berlin wall itself wasn't enough to merit a whole book. Having read the book, though, I disagree. This was a really engaging discussion of the events before, during, and after the Berlin wall's presence in the center of Berlin.

The book starts with a long discussion of the history of Germany, which gets a little dry, but it's all very interesting. The book is full of stories about the people who ordered the wall built (party of
I remember where I was when I heard The Wall was coming down. Do you? It was unbelievable - I still get goose-bumps when I see the footage; David Hasselhoff in the light-bulb jacket excluded.

Even more unbelievable then The Wall coming down, was it going up at all in the first place!!! I was born about 10 years later, and as a child I never really gave it any thought. I knew there was “a wall in Germany” but that was about it. When I was a teenager and learned it was built in 1961 I was astounde
Apr 16, 2013 Byron rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Having read several books about World War II and the conquest of Hitler, I recently shifted my attention, at least momentarily to the period after the war. I read a book about Trumann and Eisenhower and a book about the Brown vs. the Board of Education case and its aftermath, things that helped me better understand the world as it was when I dropped in for my visit. This book about the Berlin Wall caught my eye as a continuation of the theme, and it did not disappoint.

The story of the Berlin Wal
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