BERLIN WITNESS

AN AMERICAN DIPLOMAT'S CHRONICLE OF EAST GERMANY'S REVOLUTION

Interesting but unexciting diary of the fall of the Berlin Wall and East Germany, by Greenwald, who at the time was the political counselor to the US embassy in East Berlin. When, in 1987, Greenwald began his assignment, conventional wisdom had it—as put by German politician Egon Bahr—that ``all this talk of reunification is crazy nonsense...It is absolutely impossible for Gorbachev to give up East Germany.'' In this reconstructed diary, Greenwald doesn't pretend to have had any greater insight into future events—though, occasionally, he quotes prescient comments by others: The head of the East German Foreign Ministry's US section, for instance, who told Greenwald that ``in two or three years, we will have the same situation as in Poland and Hungary because we have exactly the same problems.'' Indeed, the events in East Germany were partly precipitated by events elsewhere in the Eastern Bloc. But as late as August 25, 1989 (less than three months before the Wall went down), Greenwald reflected that—with East Germany's disciplined Party, world-class security apparatus, and tolerable standard of living—it was difficult to envisage collapse. But when it became apparent that the East German government lacked the will to risk a crackdown, the situation unraveled with astonishing speed. Greenwald believes that it was the determination of the East Germans that proved decisive, though he adds that Kohl, by refusing to aid the East German government, made the downfall inevitable—as did the East German leadership, ``mostly old and sick men who had long since lost their ideals and sense of reality in the pursuit and protection of power.'' Intelligent insight into what was being said and thought at the time, at least in higher political circles, makes this a useful resource for historians; but Greenwald only occasionally brings to life the passion and turbulence of those last few days. (Illustrations)

Pub Date: June 18, 1993

ISBN: 0-271-00932-2

Page Count: 392

Publisher: N/A

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 1, 1993

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A PEOPLE'S HISTORY OF THE UNITED STATES

For Howard Zinn, long-time civil rights and anti-war activist, history and ideology have a lot in common. Since he thinks that everything is in someone's interest, the historian—Zinn posits—has to figure out whose interests he or she is defining/defending/reconstructing (hence one of his previous books, The Politics of History). Zinn has no doubts about where he stands in this "people's history": "it is a history disrespectful of governments and respectful of people's movements of resistance." So what we get here, instead of the usual survey of wars, presidents, and institutions, is a survey of the usual rebellions, strikes, and protest movements. Zinn starts out by depicting the arrival of Columbus in North America from the standpoint of the Indians (which amounts to their standpoint as constructed from the observations of the Europeans); and, after easily establishing the cultural disharmony that ensued, he goes on to the importation of slaves into the colonies. Add the laborers and indentured servants that followed, plus women and later immigrants, and you have Zinn's amorphous constituency. To hear Zinn tell it, all anyone did in America at any time was to oppress or be oppressed; and so he obscures as much as his hated mainstream historical foes do—only in Zinn's case there is that absurd presumption that virtually everything that came to pass was the work of ruling-class planning: this amounts to one great indictment for conspiracy. Despite surface similarities, this is not a social history, since we get no sense of the fabric of life. Instead of negating the one-sided histories he detests, Zinn has merely reversed the image; the distortion remains.

Pub Date: Jan. 1, 1979

ISBN: 0061965588

Page Count: 772

Publisher: Harper & Row

Review Posted Online: May 26, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 1979

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Harari delivers yet another tour de force.

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21 LESSONS FOR THE 21ST CENTURY

A highly instructive exploration of “current affairs and…the immediate future of human societies.”

Having produced an international bestseller about human origins (Sapiens, 2015, etc.) and avoided the sophomore jinx writing about our destiny (Homo Deus, 2017), Harari (History/Hebrew Univ. of Jerusalem) proves that he has not lost his touch, casting a brilliantly insightful eye on today’s myriad crises, from Trump to terrorism, Brexit to big data. As the author emphasizes, “humans think in stories rather than in facts, numbers, or equations, and the simpler the story, the better. Every person, group, and nation has its own tales and myths.” Three grand stories once predicted the future. World War II eliminated the fascist story but stimulated communism for a few decades until its collapse. The liberal story—think democracy, free markets, and globalism—reigned supreme for a decade until the 20th-century nasties—dictators, populists, and nationalists—came back in style. They promote jingoism over international cooperation, vilify the opposition, demonize immigrants and rival nations, and then win elections. “A bit like the Soviet elites in the 1980s,” writes Harari, “liberals don’t understand how history deviates from its preordained course, and they lack an alternative prism through which to interpret reality.” The author certainly understands, and in 21 painfully astute essays, he delivers his take on where our increasingly “post-truth” world is headed. Human ingenuity, which enables us to control the outside world, may soon re-engineer our insides, extend life, and guide our thoughts. Science-fiction movies get the future wrong, if only because they have happy endings. Most readers will find Harari’s narrative deliciously reasonable, including his explanation of the stories (not actually true but rational) of those who elect dictators, populists, and nationalists. His remedies for wildly disruptive technology (biotech, infotech) and its consequences (climate change, mass unemployment) ring true, provided nations act with more good sense than they have shown throughout history.

Harari delivers yet another tour de force.

Pub Date: Sept. 4, 2018

ISBN: 978-0-525-51217-2

Page Count: 400

Publisher: Spiegel & Grau

Review Posted Online: June 27, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 2018

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