Historical writing and political analysis of the highest order.


Essential history of a multifaceted political movement that ended in tears in many places—but endures in many others.

There are few people more qualified than Brown (Seven Years that Changed the World: Perestroika in Perspective, 2007, etc.) to write authoritatively on the communist states of the world; during a 40-year career he has studied in most of the principal powers. Many of them, he notes, are no longer communist. The remaining five—China, Cuba, Laos, North Korea and Vietnam—are more different than alike in critical respects of governance. Brown charts the origins of communism to pre-Marxist millenarianism. With the work of Marx and Engels the doctrine solidified and codified, though it would be transformed in the hands of Lenin, Trotsky, Stalin and Mao Zedong. The author notes Trotsky’s famous observation that in Russia, the process of party substitutionism—whereby the party stood in for the working class, the central committee for the party and the head of the central committee for the committee itself—would inevitably lead to dictatorship. So it did, with Stalin’s police arresting nearly 1.7 million Soviet citizens in 1937–38 alone, executing at least 818,000 of them. Communists are as famous as any other ideologues for intramural squabbles, as Brown observes, such that many refuse to acknowledge that communism has ever held power—since “ ‘communism’ was to be the ultimate stage of socialism which they never claimed to have reached”—and many others claim to have the lock on the true form of the doctrine (think Kim Jong Il). Brown’s analysis of these various strains of belief is spot-on, but the best part of the book comes at the close, when he undertakes a nearly blow-by-blow account of the end of the Soviet regime behind the closed doors of the Kremlin, the subsequent fall of a dozen communist states and a host of unintended consequences—including the reunification of Germany, which “the most committed opponents of the regime in East Germany, including those who led the demonstrations in October 1989,” had not really wanted.

Historical writing and political analysis of the highest order.

Pub Date: June 1, 2009

ISBN: 978-0-06-113879-9

Page Count: 720

Publisher: Ecco/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 15, 2009

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The author's youthfulness helps to assure the inevitable comparison with the Anne Frank diary although over and above the...


Elie Wiesel spent his early years in a small Transylvanian town as one of four children. 

He was the only one of the family to survive what Francois Maurois, in his introduction, calls the "human holocaust" of the persecution of the Jews, which began with the restrictions, the singularization of the yellow star, the enclosure within the ghetto, and went on to the mass deportations to the ovens of Auschwitz and Buchenwald. There are unforgettable and horrifying scenes here in this spare and sombre memoir of this experience of the hanging of a child, of his first farewell with his father who leaves him an inheritance of a knife and a spoon, and of his last goodbye at Buchenwald his father's corpse is already cold let alone the long months of survival under unconscionable conditions. 

The author's youthfulness helps to assure the inevitable comparison with the Anne Frank diary although over and above the sphere of suffering shared, and in this case extended to the death march itself, there is no spiritual or emotional legacy here to offset any reader reluctance.

Pub Date: Jan. 16, 2006

ISBN: 0374500010

Page Count: 120

Publisher: Hill & Wang

Review Posted Online: Oct. 7, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 2006

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Occasionally wonky but overall a good case for how the dismal science can make the world less—well, dismal.


“Quality of life means more than just consumption”: Two MIT economists urge that a smarter, more politically aware economics be brought to bear on social issues.

It’s no secret, write Banerjee and Duflo (co-authors: Poor Economics: A Radical Rethinking of the Way To Fight Global Poverty, 2011), that “we seem to have fallen on hard times.” Immigration, trade, inequality, and taxation problems present themselves daily, and they seem to be intractable. Economics can be put to use in figuring out these big-issue questions. Data can be adduced, for example, to answer the question of whether immigration tends to suppress wages. The answer: “There is no evidence low-skilled migration to rich countries drives wage and employment down for the natives.” In fact, it opens up opportunities for those natives by freeing them to look for better work. The problem becomes thornier when it comes to the matter of free trade; as the authors observe, “left-behind people live in left-behind places,” which explains why regional poverty descended on Appalachia when so many manufacturing jobs left for China in the age of globalism, leaving behind not just left-behind people but also people ripe for exploitation by nationalist politicians. The authors add, interestingly, that the same thing occurred in parts of Germany, Spain, and Norway that fell victim to the “China shock.” In what they call a “slightly technical aside,” they build a case for addressing trade issues not with trade wars but with consumption taxes: “It makes no sense to ask agricultural workers to lose their jobs just so steelworkers can keep theirs, which is what tariffs accomplish.” Policymakers might want to consider such counsel, especially when it is coupled with the observation that free trade benefits workers in poor countries but punishes workers in rich ones.

Occasionally wonky but overall a good case for how the dismal science can make the world less—well, dismal.

Pub Date: Nov. 12, 2019

ISBN: 978-1-61039-950-0

Page Count: 432

Publisher: PublicAffairs

Review Posted Online: Aug. 29, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 15, 2019

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