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The Collapse: The Accidental Opening of the Berlin Wall

The Collapse: The Accidental Opening of the Berlin Wall


Book Overview: The Collapse: The Accidental Opening of the Berlin Wall

On the night of November 9, 1989, massive crowds surged toward the Berlin Wall, drawn by an announcement that caught the world by surprise: East Germans could now move freely to the West. The Wall -- infamous symbol of divided Cold War Europe -- seemed to be falling. But the opening of the gates that night was not planned by the East German ruling regime -- nor was it the result of a bargain between either Ronald Reagan or George H.W. Bush and Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev.

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 GÃ1/4Schabowski, mistakenly suggesting that the Wall is open to a press conference full of foreign journalists, including NBC's Tom Brokaw; and Stasi officer Harald Jär, 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.

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PublisherBasic Books
Publication Date2015-09-29
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Weight lbs

"This is easily the best book on the fall of the Berlin Wall." — Fareed Zakaria, CNN GPS Book of the Week

"Sarotte is a superb historian. She's ferociously intelligent, but what really separates her from her colleagues is her acute sensitivity to human drama." — Washington Post

"A blow-by-blow account of the birth of modern Germany on November 9th 1989, when, at an otherwise dull press conference in East Berlin, a government spokesman said that a new law permitting East Germans more freedom to travel would go into effect immediately. It changed Europe forever." — Economist Best Books of 2014

"This is history writing at its very best, full of drama and pathos, yet immaculately researched and elegantly written." — BBC History Magazine 2014 Books of the Year

"The Collapse challenges our narrative of the Soviet Union's collapse, 25 years after the Wall's fall. Sarotte deftly balances individual human agency and contingency with larger political forces to show that the Berlin Wall coming down was neither inevitable nor the result of global power shifts alone." — Zócalo Public Square 10 Best Books of 2014

"Sarotte has produced a skillful, scrupulously documented, nuanced reconstruction of how a series of mistakes by East German leaders and officials...turned what was meant to be a carefully managed process of controlled opening...into the world's most celebrated festival of popular liberation." — Guardian (UK)

"A fast-paced, fascinating account of the final weeks, days and hours of the wall." — Telegraph (UK)

"Sarotte's lively and engaging book scrupulously details the events of November 9, 1989, when the world watched in shock as the Berlin Wall came down. — Foreign Affairs

"[A]n authoritative and fast-moving account of the events that led up to the collapse of East Germany." — FinancialTimes, Best Books of2014: History

"Brief, intense, and gripping.... Sarotte's effort is magnificent.... This is history at its best." — Winnipeg Free Press

"The book that will haunt Vladimir Putin as long as he's in power." — Washington Post's Post Everything Blog

"Sarotte's wonderfully written book--backed up with reams of research and interviews--explains the factors that led to one of the most important moments in the twentieth century." — H-Diplo

"An inspiring and often thrilling account." — Booklist, starred review

"This gripping, important account of a long-misinterpreted event is one of the most surprising books about the Cold War." — Publishers Weekly

"A rigorous sifting of evidence surrounding the final toppling of the sclerotic East German state. With extensive use of Stasi files, Sarotte finds that accident, rather than planning, caused the collapse of the Berlin Wall.... [T]his account amply conveys the universal amazement and excitement of the time." — Kirkus

"The Collapse is a riveting and important account of the political chaos in East Germany that led to the fall of the Berlin Wall. Mary Elise Sarotte is a distinguished historian with a playwright's eye who gives us fresh insights and telling anecdotes about one of the most important nights of the late twentieth century." — Tom Brokaw

"Sarotte runs a fine-tooth comb through the archives and gathers an impressive range of stories from the ordinary people at the heart of these extraordinary events. She is keen to dispel the kind of convenient 'hindsight bias' which claims that the peaceful fall of the Wall was inevitable or engineered by bigger forces than human beings who wanted a different life." — Wall Street Journal

"The most definitive account to date of the events that led to the demise of the German Democratic Republic, the reunification of Germany, and the end of the Cold War." — Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

Mary Elise Sarotte is an eminent author and historian, lauded internationally for her profound contributions to understanding the Cold War and its epoch-defining terminus. Born and raised in the United States, Sarotte traversed the realms of academia, earning her PhD in Government from Harvard University and triumphantly merging political science with history in her scholarly pursuits. She has proved herself not just as a historian but also as an educator, holding marquee positions in numerous universities such as the University of Southern California and the Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies. With her primary research interests firmly rooted in international relations, Sarotte has written poignantly about the end of the Cold War, its strategically intricate aftermath, German history, and transatlantic relations. Her book 'The Collapse: The Accidental Opening of the Berlin Wall' received accolades for its meticulous analysis and riveting narrative of a defining moment in history. This work and more have earned Sarotte fellowships from illustrious institutions like the Guggenheim Foundation and the American Academy in Berlin. In addition to being a celebrated author, Sarotte enjoys a notable reputation as an editorial contributor, her pieces having graced the pages of the New York Times, Foreign Affairs, and many other prestigious publications. Her ability to distill complex historical phenomena into digestible information has enabled a broader audience to engage with the pivotal events and epochs she studies. Sarotte continues to enrich academia with her insights, serving as the Marie-Josée and Henry R. Kravis Distinguished Professor of Historical Studies at Johns Hopkins University.

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