An appealing, lively cultural history worth reading in an era of corporate punk nostalgia.

BURNING DOWN THE HAUS

PUNK ROCK, REVOLUTION, AND THE FALL OF THE BERLIN WALL

How a forbidden punk-rock underground fomented rebellion against totalitarian East Germany.

A translator and former Playboy staff editor and club DJ in Berlin, Mohr carefully documents a rousing, little-known Cold War story, showing how alternative culture developed in the Eastern Bloc in a similarly grass-roots fashion as elsewhere but for greater stakes. “The ethos of East Berlin punk,” he writes, “infused the city with a radical egalitarianism and a DIY approach to maintaining independence.” But during the 1980s, homegrown punks were seen as both a nuisance and threat, worthy of repression. Based in part on interviews with survivors, Mohr ably documents how regional small-scale punk scenes grew and connected nonetheless. From the start, he notes, “groups of punks started to attract attention from security forces everywhere they went.” East Germany provides a vivid backdrop to the narrative. Conformity to state-supervised existence was enforced by surveillance and informants, so punks’ embrace of abrasive music and fashion was inherently political. As the author memorializes one uncompromising early punk, “he had always hated the way his whole life was predetermined by the state.” Despite Stasi harassment and harsh prison sentences for “antisocial” acts including graffiti and subversive lyrics, punks made common cause with socially conscious churches and developed illicit performance and taping networks. Despite the state’s hostility, the punk movement was thus well-positioned to contribute to the civil unrest that fueled the Eastern Bloc’s unexpected collapse. Mohr closes by documenting how the initial punk squatters blossomed into a mass movement that helped preserve East Berlin’s dilapidated architecture. “Eastern bands,” he writes, “died off quickly after the fall of the Wall….For Eastern punks, the original enemy had been vanquished.” The author dives deep into a chronology of the ferocious early bands and committed scenesters whose rebellion carried steep risks. His writing focuses on their experiences and stays attuned to the punk ethos, only occasionally becoming rant-y or rambling.

An appealing, lively cultural history worth reading in an era of corporate punk nostalgia.

Pub Date: Sept. 11, 2018

ISBN: 978-1-61620-843-1

Page Count: 384

Publisher: Algonquin

Review Posted Online: June 27, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 2018

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

NIGHT

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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The value of this book is the context it provides, in a style aimed at a concerned citizenry rather than fellow academics,...

HOW DEMOCRACIES DIE

A provocative analysis of the parallels between Donald Trump’s ascent and the fall of other democracies.

Following the last presidential election, Levitsky (Transforming Labor-Based Parties in Latin America, 2003, etc.) and Ziblatt (Conservative Parties and the Birth of Democracy, 2017, etc.), both professors of government at Harvard, wrote an op-ed column titled, “Is Donald Trump a Threat to Democracy?” The answer here is a resounding yes, though, as in that column, the authors underscore their belief that the crisis extends well beyond the power won by an outsider whom they consider a demagogue and a liar. “Donald Trump may have accelerated the process, but he didn’t cause it,” they write of the politics-as-warfare mentality. “The weakening of our democratic norms is rooted in extreme partisan polarization—one that extends beyond policy differences into an existential conflict over race and culture.” The authors fault the Republican establishment for failing to stand up to Trump, even if that meant electing his opponent, and they seem almost wistfully nostalgic for the days when power brokers in smoke-filled rooms kept candidacies restricted to a club whose members knew how to play by the rules. Those supporting the candidacy of Bernie Sanders might take as much issue with their prescriptions as Trump followers will. However, the comparisons they draw to how democratic populism paved the way toward tyranny in Peru, Venezuela, Chile, and elsewhere are chilling. Among the warning signs they highlight are the Republican Senate’s refusal to consider Barack Obama’s Supreme Court nominee as well as Trump’s demonization of political opponents, minorities, and the media. As disturbing as they find the dismantling of Democratic safeguards, Levitsky and Ziblatt suggest that “a broad opposition coalition would have important benefits,” though such a coalition would strike some as a move to the center, a return to politics as usual, and even a pragmatic betrayal of principles.

The value of this book is the context it provides, in a style aimed at a concerned citizenry rather than fellow academics, rather than in the consensus it is not likely to build.

Pub Date: Jan. 16, 2018

ISBN: 978-1-5247-6293-3

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Crown

Review Posted Online: Nov. 13, 2017

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 1, 2017

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