It was an accident.
In The Collapse, prize-winning historian Mary Elise Sarotte reveals how a perfect storm of decisions made by daring underground revolutionaries, disgruntled Stasi officers, and dictatorial party bosses sparked an unexpected series of events culminating in the chaotic fall of the Wall. With a novelist's eye for character and detail, she brings to vivid life a story that sweeps across Budapest, Prague, Dresden, and Leipzig and up to the armed checkpoints in Berlin.
We meet the revolutionaries Roland Jahn, Aram Radomski, and Siggi Schefke, risking it all to smuggle the truth across the Iron Curtain; the hapless Politburo member Gunter Schabowski, mistakenly suggesting that the Wall is open to a press conference full of foreign journalists, including NBC's Tom Brokaw; and Stasi officer Harald Jager, holding the fort at the crucial border crossing that night. Soon, Brokaw starts broadcasting live from Berlin's Brandenburg Gate, where the crowds are exulting in the euphoria of newfound freedom--and the dictators are plotting to restore control.
Drawing on new archival sources and dozens of interviews, The Collapse offers the definitive account of the night that brought down the Berlin Wall.
Publishers Weekly® Reviews
- Reviewed in: Publishers Weekly, page .
- Review Date: 2014-08-25
- Reviewer: Staff
The Soviet Union suffered the most significant symbolic defeat in the Cold War with the fall of the Berlin Wall, but Serotte, professor of government and history at Harvard University, thinks that is only half of the story. What emerges from this detailed account is that, contrary to popular belief, neither secret plans by German officials nor behind-the-scenes agreements between U.S. President Reagan and Soviet leader Gorbachev caused the barrier between East and West Berlin to crumble; the political breech occurred via a series of miscues by short-sighted Communist-bloc authorities. With growing mass protests in East Germany, an inept statement delivered at a press conference by a functionary from SED (the country’s ruling party) on Nov. 9, 1989, sparked a battle between dissidents and East German security forces that led the Wall to come down much sooner than expected by either side. Serotte carefully etches his narrative of the momentous shattering of the Wall, coloring it with social, political, and personal details, including anecdotes about the death of young Chris Gueffroy, the last East German shot before the barrier came down, and about Harald Jager, the senior officer giving the order to open a key crossing. This gripping, important account of a long-misinterpreted event is one of the most surprising books about the Cold War. (Oct.)