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The Magic Lantern: The Revolution of '89 Witnessed in Warsaw, Budapest, Berlin and Prague
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The Magic Lantern: The Revolution of '89 Witnessed in Warsaw, Budapest, Berlin and Prague

3.77  ·  Rating details ·  908 ratings  ·  74 reviews
The Magic Lantern is one of those rare books that define a historic moment, written by a brilliant witness who was also a participant in epochal events. Whether covering Poland's first free parliamentary elections -- in which Solidarity found itself in the position of trying to limit the scope of its victory -- or sitting in at the meetings of an unlikely coalition of bohe ...more
Hardcover, 156 pages
Published June 2nd 1990 by Random House (first published March 19th 1990)
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Average rating 3.77  · 
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Jul 13, 2017 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Having watched all this happen on TV back in the day, it was interesting to get more perspective from someone more on the ground. I do think the Prague chapter got bogged down in details and felt pretty clunky, but it was a good read on the whole. I'd like to see another edition, presuming there isn't one already, for what happened in the next years after the update at the back. Kind of changes things.
Oct 22, 2014 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
It’s amazing to me that we weren’t taught in history classes in high school about the fall of the Soviet Union and the end of the Cold War—a period we lived through as children. I have a vague memory of a T.V. being wheeled into our classroom to watch the news of the fall of the Berlin wall when I was eight.

It’s not until reading The Magic Lantern that I’ve ever learned anything about the subject, really. As a “witness account,” this read is very emotional. At times the sentences come short and
Manuel Menezes de Sequeira
Great book. To the author's insight one must add the fact that he witnessed the events firsthand and that he writes wonderfully. The result is a book that must be read, if possible followed by The File: a Personal History (I read them in the wrong order). Knowing the past helps you understand better the present, it is said. That's exactly how I feel, having just finished the book. The importance of people such as Václav Havel and even Václav Klaus, the current president of the Czech Republic, is ...more
Lorenzo Berardi
Despite of my high expectations, this one turned out to be the less interesting book by Timothy Garton Ash I read so far.

Clever title and well researched accounts all right, but dry journalism/essayism with very little captivating insight on Poland and Hungary. Garton Ash does know much about the rise of Solidarnosc and yet he didn't manage to engage me about that in 'The Magic Lantern'.

On a side note, I've found it odd and cheeky that the author emphasizes the role he himself had in the '89 pro
The Magic Lantern is a journalist's reflections and personal observations of the 1989 revolutions in Poland, Czechoslovakia, Hungary and Germany as opposed to being a complete historical account. It gives the reader a quick overall reminder of how these revolutions came about with some violence in Poland and almost none in the other countries. It's kind of like a close up behind the scenes view. The Magic Lantern in the title refers to a theater in Prague where decision makers met to form the ne ...more
Geoffrey Rose
Sep 11, 2011 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Timothy Garton Ash, one of our greatest chroniclers of contemporary Europe, is at his best in this eyewitness account of the velvet revolutions in Central Europe in 1989. More journalistic than interpretative history but that works here...and it's a riveting, exciting read. His accounts of the personalities involved (Walesa, Havel, Michnik, others) are detailed and interesting for a 167 page book! Highly recommended.
Brendan Blom
Dec 26, 2011 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
A good eye-witness record of the fall of Communism in eastern Europe in 1989. Not too much analysis - one step up from journalism - so is a good companion piece to something like Tony Judt's "Postwar." Interesting to read in-the-moment descriptions of individuals like Lech Walesa and Vaclav Havel, and how they are able to guide world history-changing events through their own words and behaviour.
Kim Collmer
Mar 04, 2013 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I really enjoyed this book, though as the writer says at the beginning, it is all written so quickly after the fact that is reads almost like a very long magazine article. The writer comes across initially as a bit full of himself and his role in the changes that took place (sorry) but once I got past that, he has very informative insider information that brings you right into "history."
Avi Grundner
I wish I'd had a little more time to read this, the rushed school aspect of it didn't really help. But it's a solid book, really clear and evocative writing. It's clear that the author is a trained journalist. I found the perspective particularly interesting, as it was written only a year or so after the events described.
Oregon Expat
Aug 28, 2018 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Riveting read on the development of democratic movements in central and eastern Europe (Poland, Hungary, Germany, and Czech Republic) at the end of the Cold War.
Aug 22, 2010 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: history
This is the author's brief reflections on his experience of the 1989 Revolutions in Poland, Hungary, and Czechoslovakia. The essays are entirely readable, and make several good points: a comparison of the various political entities (noting that Poland was "professional" in its political protest movement, in comparison to Czechoslovakia) and the shocking "ordinary" steps taken by people in protest of Communism. (Indeed, a theme in the book is the actions of regular people, like an elderly person ...more
Nov 14, 2009 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
A good, quick refresher on the significant events that rocked Europe 20 years ago.
This short book (156 pages) provides vivid, on-the-ground accounts of pivotal activities in five cities (Warsaw, Budapest, Berlin, Leipzig, and Prague) during the collapse of the totalitarian regimes in Central Europe in 1989.
The author warns us, in the very first chapter: "I cannot emphasize too strongly that this is not a comprehensive history of the events of 1989 in Eastern Europe." This is certainly true. He
Kev D'Olivo
Nov 02, 2011 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
A very interesting and very insightful contemporary account of the Revolutions of 1989 in Poland, Hungary, Czech Republic and East Germany. Garton Ash wears his biases on his sleeve and tends to give great historical weight to what he saw, but to be fair what happened in 1989 in these countries is one of the defining moments of the 20th Century. I found his writing exceptional and his treatment of the people and events for the most part fair. I do tend to disagree with his conception of what hap ...more
Jan 18, 2010 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: Everyone who cares about humanity
Amazing account of the end of communism in Eastern Europe! This book kind of blurs the line between primary and secondary historical sources because it was written just one year after the events, and it was written by an eyewitness. This book practically had me on the edge of my seat waiting for the glorious revolutions that occurred when people who had suffered the oppression of communism for decades were suddenly liberated, and many of them experienced freedom for the first time in their lives ...more
Jan 28, 2014 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Slim, amusing book of collected articles on the '89 Revolutions as witnessed by a British reporter. Ash spent the most time, and was closest to events in Prague, so that's the story that takes up the bulk of the book. And the Czech revolution seems like a gas - a hilarious bunch of students, academics, and poets all of a sudden bringing down a government without any violence. Ash: Damage had been done that could never be repaired. but if a land has to have a revolution, then it would be difficul ...more
Brendan Steinhauser
"The Magic Lantern" is a first-hand account of the peaceful revolutions that swept East Central Europe in 1989. The author spent time with many of the protagonists and was a witness to the momentous events that liberated this region from Soviet-backed communism.

His analysis of the grassroots revolutions against communist totalitarianism is sober, realistic, and fascinating. The author wrote the book without the benefit of historical hindsight, and provided an interesting look at what he observe
Jun 04, 2009 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: Anyone disillusioned with humanity after reading Animal Farm.
Chronicles the "velvet revolutions" that brought down totalitarian communist regimes of Eastern Europe at the end of the Cold War. What makes this book amazing is the immediacy that it conveys. You really feel the sense of infinite possibility that these revolutionaries experienced, the awareness that things were changing and that anything was possible. Moreover, it shows that it might just be possible for humanity to escape the trajectory of its own sad history; that people can fight for fundam ...more
Feb 04, 2018 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: history
Good, short account of the fall of communism in 1989 in Poland, Hungary, East Germany and Czechoslovakia by a journalist who was covering the events. This was "written in the moment", published in 1990. Longest section covers the last of the revolutions, the one in Prague; Ash was a personal friend of revolution's leader, the author and playwright, Vaclav Havel. Title refers to the theatre, the Magic Lantern, where the planning took place. Author speculates about the future for these countries . ...more
Women's Foreign Policy Group
Our intern Catie has read and recommends The Magic Lantern by Timothy Garton Ash. Catie says "This book is short and very readable, and it is one of my favorite accounts of the late 80s in Eastern Europe. Garton Ash is a journalist and it shows through in his writing, making the book both an excellent witness account as well as a well researched text. With Russia and Eastern Europe back in the news recently, I think the Magic Lantern is a great read and provides excellent insight into a region w ...more
Feb 19, 2009 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This is an eyewitness account of the behind the scenes (and mostly peaceful demonstrations) movements/negotiations that took place leading to the fall of communism in Warsaw, Berlin, Budapest and Prague. Although a, confessed one sided witness by the author, it was very enlightening and great to hear of those people who give their lives to bring freedom to their oppressed countries. We may need to take a page out of their book and fight for our freedoms here!
Mar 29, 2009 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This book is something I am reading for my european history class here at BYU. It has been pretty boring- a lot of political jargon thrown in that I felt was superfluous. The author tends to self-aggrandize, and he is really jumpy. I am surprised that the fall of communism can be told in a way that makes me hate reading the book. However, I am only 1/3 through, so hopefully it will improve by the fall of the Berlin Wall.
Joseph Serwach
Mar 05, 2010 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Good eye witness account of the historic revolutionary changes of 1989 that swept through Poland, Hungary, East Germany and the then-Czechoslavakia. Book was originally written in 1990 but has a ``10 years later'' chapter written in 1999. He argues if there was one ``beginning of the end'' that set it all in motion, it was the visit of John Paul II to Poland in June 1979, eight months after becoming Pope. Solidarity followed then the election of Reagan, the rise of Gorbachev, etc. ...more
Ruru Ghoshal
Feb 26, 2015 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Revolutions happen, Garton Ash believes, when the elites of a society lose their belief in their own imperium.

Some gangly kid with acne says to the Politburo chairmen: "You can't beat us! You don't have any right to beat us!" And the Politburo chairmen look at their hands and say: "You are right; we have no right to beat you. The ends do not justify the means. We will dismantle our government right away."
Jul 18, 2008 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: Anyone, but especially Lucy
This guy was right in the thick of it - in Vaclav Havel's underground pub, at Imre Nagy's reburial, Solidarity's triumph at the ballot box, the fall of the Berlin Wall.

I love the would-be epitaph the author gave Eastern European Communism:

Nothing in his life,
Became him like the leaving it
Jul 05, 2009 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
A brisk ride through the events leading up to the end of Soviet-sponsored dictatorships in Eastern Europe in the late 1980s. Its not a groundbreaking history. Its not a particularly detailed eyewitness account of events as they transpired. But it is a great primer on the end of the cold war in europe, a who's who of heroes, and a thought-provoking treatise on political change.
Apr 11, 2014 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Not the worst book I've ever had to read for a History course. I appreciate Garton Ash's attempt, through detailing his personal involvement in the events he describes, to make the history more dynamic. Personally, though, I don't have a great passion for the subject, so I wasn't very caught up in this book. History enthusiasts, on the other hand, might have a different opinion.
Jaro Marcin
Apr 24, 2016 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
The book is a personal account with the author's own musings on what he saw happening. It is, therefore, only natural that some events are described in greater detail while others less so. It still makes for a great read and really draws you in--at last if you already have a vested interest in this particular part of Western history.
Mary Babler
Aug 15, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: anyone who wants to learn about how communism ended in Central Europe
Recommended to Mary by: Road Scholar
very informative and enlightening! I lived through those revolutions but needed to be reminded of how it all happened, from a historic perspective. Most encouraging was Ash's premise that a revolution can happen without violence! The book reads like a newspaper account, but for me, looking for the facts of the events, the lack of literary excellence was not distracting.
Feb 04, 2008 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Collected / published essays regarding the collapse of the Iron Curtain in the Summer of 1989 as recorded by Garton Ash in four capitals, each with four distinct but interwoven relationships with Moscow and the Warsaw Pact. The book is both revealing and inspiring.
Apr 04, 2010 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 2010-books
If, like me, you are fascinated by the Velvet Revolution and Havel and Prague, then you will enjoy this well-written, in-the-moment account of 1989's four peaceful changes from communism to democracy in Central Europe.
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Timothy Garton Ash CMG FRSA is a British historian, author and commentator. He is Professor of European Studies at Oxford University. Much of his work has been concerned with the late modern and contemporary history of Central and Eastern Europe.

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