Stephen Kotkin’s Uncivil Society earned rave reviews when it debuted last year in hardback; this week Modern Library releases the trade paperback version. Uncivil Society is a revisionist history that dispels the romantic myth that a “civil society” of dissenting citizens orchestrated the fall of Eastern European Communism (and its symbol, the Berlin Wall). Rather, Kotkin (along with colleague Jan T. Gross) concisely and methodically shows that the Eastern Bloc’s demise resulted from the corruption and incompetence of the ruling class of bureaucrats and ideologues–the “uncivil society” who borrowed massively from the West to buy consumer goods they could not afford. Kotkin finds case studies in East Germany, Romania, and Poland, but his analysis extends beyond these countries to indict the Soviet model.
Kotkin’s writing is direct and precise, stuffed with concrete facts and political analysis without sacrificing narrative integrity. In other words, he takes a murky subject and illuminates it. The narrative proper is slim at under 150 pages, making the book a quick and ideal survey of a widely misunderstood time. Students and politics of history will wish to take note of Uncivil Society, a straightforward and agile read.