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10 December 2018

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There is No Freedom Without Bread!

The 20th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall this November is sure to witness a multitude of new books, republications, retrospective news stories and countless replays of Ronald Reagan’s stirring 1987 Berlin speech (“Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall!”).

But what we can be sure of is that there will be few in-depth news reports, and many of the same tired, superficial conclusions about Cold War winners and losers. (In the end, it was not Gorbachev who tore down the wall, but masses of young Germans, after a confused, weakened East German leader misspoke.)

And so a book like Pleshakov’s is a breath of fresh air. Delving deep into the events leading to the collapse of the Soviet empire, Pleshakov portrays them in the context of domestic imperatives. Within each regime were those for and against the status quo, and most times events were the result of these two groupings clashing with one another in some guise, independent of larger, international forces. The 1989 revolutions were less battles of Germans or Romanians against occupying Russians, than Germans versus Germans, Romanians versus Romanians.

Chock full of revelatory details, There is No Freedom Without Bread! offers invaluable context for anyone interested in understanding how, and why, the world fundamentally changed two decades ago.

— Paul E. Richardson

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Reviewed in Russian Life: Nov/Dec 2009