Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Review: The Rise and Fall of Communism, by Archie Brown (Unfinished)

 I can’t do a full review of this book, obviously, because I never finished reading it, nor do I intend to. I spotted this book last summer in England when I was there on vacation and was very interested in it. But rather than picking up the cheap mass market paperback at the time, I waited until I got back to Canada and found out that it was available only in hardback here.

I should have saved my money. While Brown’s examination of the history of international communism has its obvious model—William Shirer’s far superior The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich—it possesses none of the narrative drive and small details that make the geopolitics in that previous tome come to life. Instead of sharing what the real impacts of communism were (and still are) on real people, Brown mires us in page after page of pointless backroom dealings and back-stabbings that defined various communist regimes. He relies too heavily on the long lens, the bird’s-eye view of history, rather than the nitty gritty. He’s crafted a relentlessly dull narrative as a result. Reading this book, I found myself wanting to know such things as: What did Chairman Mao eat during his visit to Moscow in 1949? What was children’s television programming like in Poland in 1972? What was typical day in the life of a North Korean in 1985? I gave up when it became clear the book was not going to provide that kind of detail.

Regardless of whatever long-tail approach a work of popular history takes on its subject matter, it still needs to be filled with engaging people living through the clear and minute realities of that history. Brown’s book—at least the first 274 pages I managed to get through—was severely lacking. I wish I had my $39.95 back.

Side note:
Sorry it’s been so quiet on the blog over the last few weeks, especially since the announcement last month of my big news. All I can say is things have been quite (but wonderfully) busy around here, especially with the new book coming out and with all the awesome plans for the wedding later this summer. But I'll try to post more often - I promise!

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