Tuesday, 20 May 2014

Anne Applebaum, "Iron Curtain" (2013)

The subtitle for this book is: "The Crushing of Eastern Europe, 1945-1956."

Applebaum is the author of the critically-acclaimed Gulag, and the spouse of Poland's Foreign Minister.

Applebaum's scholarship is impressive. She has mined a voluminous and multi-language body of archival material that has only become available in the last few decades. She has also, apparently, conducted interviews with an abundance of former Communist Party workers, members of the Communist youth associations, etc. She manages to tell a compelling story clearly, making the relationships between the Central/East European countries and their overseers in the Soviet Union clear.

Essentially, Applebaum divides the Soviet era into two periods, that running from 1944 through to 1949 (the consolidation of Soviet power), and the period of 1949 to 1956 (the period she describes as "High Stalinism", as well as the immediate aftermath of Stalin's reign).

Notes of relevance to possibly no one but me (page numbers correspond to my digital edition):
p. 193 – “In the eighteenth century, Edmund Burke wrote admiringly of the ‘little platoons,’ the small social organizations from which, he believed, public spirit arose (and which he thought were threatened by the French Revolution). In the nineteenth century, Alexander de Tocqueville wrote equally enthusiastically of the ‘associations’ that ‘Americans of all ages, all conditions, and all dispositions constantly form.’ He concluded that they helped ward off dictatorship: ‘If men are to be remain civilized or to become so, the art of associating together must grow and improve.’

p. 406 - Jakub Berman was both culture minister, as well as head of secret police. Noted from Toranska, Oni: Stalin’s Polish Puppets. 1988.

p. 516 – Noting that some Poles actually sought to bring their factories closer to Marxist-oriented worker-management, Applebaum quotes Hungarian intellectual E├Ârsi: “That is the common trap of all quasi-revolutionary systems: the people begin to take seriously the real message of the officially declared ideology and the nationalized heroes of the system.” (From: page 110. Hegedus, “The Petofi Circle…” Journal of Communist Studies and Transition Politics 113,2, pp. 108-122.

Tuesday, 6 May 2014

Max Boot, "Savage Wars of Peace" (2002)

Subtitled: "Small Wars and the Rise of American Power."

This book is eminently readable. Not only does Boot use a wide-ranging vocabulary, but his narrative style is light and fresh. He turns descriptions of relatively obscure 19th-century imperial battles between usually poorly balanced adversaries into informative, compelling tales.

As a scholar, I find his method of source citation frustrating. Instead of using footnotes or endnotes, he opts for that (weird) system - often employed in mass media books - that uses a set of brief quotations at the end of the book as a place to indicate what the sources were, as well as to add author marginalia. I despise having to flip back and forth to this information gulag speculatively, in the hopes that the author has provided some sources. I recognize that this is my pet peeve, however, and not really a weakness on Boot's part.

His personal politics are fairly obvious, thought not off-putting (at least to this reader). He is clearly an apologist for American imperial power, though certainly not blind to the risks and negative outcomes that application and extension of that power has produced in developing or non-developed societies.

Fuller comments will follow eventually.