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Tear Down This Wall


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Ratnesar (deputy managing editor, Time) captures the full historical context and bricks-and-mortar development of Ronald Reagan's memorable yet controversial1987 speech at the Berlin Wall. His presentation of the recollections of residents of East and West Berlin at the time vividly show how controlling the East German Communist government and its secret police were in monitoring East Germans and trying (yet often failing) to shield them from Western political and cultural influence. Ratnesar does a very good job of exploring Reagan's life, showing how the Berlin speech integrated Reagan's personal beliefs and public persona. The author gives due credit to the speechwriters, particularly Peter Robinson. Ratnesar's portrayal of Gorbachev is also first rate. This book, in effect, builds on James Mann's insightful The Rebellion of Ronald Reagan in showing why Reagan's Berlin speech is seen as historically significant. VERDICT This book may be read with pleasure by many, from trained historians to curious general readers. Generally objective in its approach, it will yet lead readers to understand why Reagan is remembered fondly by many and why both he and Gorbachev were key figures in this significant element of 20th-century history.-Rob Langenderfer, Brown Mackie Coll. Lib. Ft. Mitchell, KY Copyright 2009 Reed Business Information.

Standing before Berlin's Brandenburg Gate in 1987, President Reagan delivered his famous challenge to Soviet Premier Gorbachev: to tear down the wall dividing East and West Berlin. Within two years, the wall crumbled, and the U.S.S.R. soon followed. Time magazine deputy managing editor Ratnesar has mined American and East German archives to produce a lively, impressively detailed history of the iconic speech. Despite impeccable conservative credentials, Reagan considered avoiding nuclear war more important than defeating communism. This only became obvious in 1985, when Gorbachev assumed the Soviet leadership. Over the course of several meetings, the two leaders developed a rapport and announced disarmament agreements that distressed Reagan's hard-line supporters. In early 1987, speechwriter Peter Robinson produced a draft containing the "tear down this wall" statement, followed by a tortuous four months of innumerable drafts and quarrels with high officials who considered it unnecessarily offensive. In the end, Reagan liked the phrase, so it stayed. Being the world's sole superpower has brought America little satisfaction, so readers should enjoy this slim, lucid account of a time when events turned out brilliantly. (Nov.) Copyright 2009 Reed Business Information.

"Romesh Ratnesar has produced a riveting account of one of the greatest speeches in modern times, which would have been enough. But along the way he has also written a brilliant and incisive history of the end of the Reagan Presidency and the Cold War. Tear Down this Wall affirms the power of words."

--David Grann, Author of The Lost City of Z

"Fast-moving and splendidly written. . . a remarkable re-creation of the last days of the Soviet empire, with East Germany as the culmination of the Marxist dialectic, and the wall the perfect symbol for that strange alternate universe."

-John R. Coyne, Jr., Washington Times

"Romesh Ratnesar has told the story with narrative verve, brilliant political and personal insight, and a combination of concision and pithiness worthy of the Great Communicator himself."

--Strobe Talbott, author of The Great Experiment: Ancient Empires, Modern States, and the Quest for a Global Nation

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