Review of 1989 by Sarotte

1989: The Struggle to Create Post-Cold War Europe

Analysis: The book’s author, Sarotte, is a professor (of History and International Relations) at the University of Southern California. She’s also a member of the Council of Foreign Relations and author of a few other books. The body of the book is just over 200 pages long, and is well worth a look for anything from a casual to an academic read.

I took this book out as a loan from a library for an essay, and considered it such a great resource that I ended up buying it on Amazon. It was the Financial Times’ ‘Book of the Year’, and not without reason. The book gave a lot of insights into a very important year without losing sight of what could’ve happened, and the context behind everything.

1989 shows interest in Russia’s part, and why Russia has been left on the sidelines of Europe since the end of the Cold War – something which is often left out of books about the events surrounding the fall of the Berlin Wall.


Sources: Let’s start with this – the book is incredibly well-sourced. There is a bibliography of over 20 pages, including interviews that the author herself made with some of the important figures of the time. Sarotte makes good use of this, and uses a good variety of sources in the body of her work; which is very useful for someone trying to write something themselves. Very quickly we understand that the author is well-read on the subject and is sharing not only what she has learnt, but where she learnt it.
Writing: The book makes both provocative and thought-provoking conclusions; and expands upon them by exploring in detail the routes that were taken, as well as those that weren’t. Detail and concision are two different sides that are balanced, and the ‘Notes’ section is worth a look for someone who wants to see more. The book is about a very eventful period, and for that concision is even more important than usual.

Accessibility: The book is made up of six chapters, following a general narrative in the book; going from ‘What Changes in Summer and Autumn 1989?’ to ‘Heroic Aspirations in 1990’. This splits it up into fairly simple terms, and you get a general idea of the section whilst maintaining interest. In fact, the book is very good at maintaining interest – even to a casual reader.
Relevance: On the back cover there is a quote from a review – “Sarotte’s [1989] … will no doubt take its place as the classical overview of this period.” – Andrew Moravesik, Foreign Affairs. In my mind it has.

Negatives: The book is ridiculously expensive, and though it looks nice you could buy a lot of other decent books for the same price. Also it doesn’t clearly mark where its conclusions or introductions are, which can be frustrating if you’re skim-reading for an overall view on a subject. To see her overall view you have to get it yourself from the text as her conclusions say too much about what happened and not enough about why, how etc.

Sarotte, probably because she spent time interviewing the people, puts a personal emphasis on the figures. This could be a good/bad point. My biggest problem though, is that it skips between reading like a history book and an editorial. The writing style is great in my opinion, but sometimes I’m not sure if by trying to make the book more accessible she made it less academic.

Amazon link. 

Note: this was adapted from something I wrote on Reddit.

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