One of the many strengths of this fluid and constantly captivating book is the wonderful range of voices that Mr. MacGregor has brought together. As well as American soldiers stationed in Berlin, we hear from East German guards, artists, writers, spies, journalists and a handful of successful escapees.
MacGregor brilliantly captures the events that led to the creation of the wall and the people who successfully escaped East Germany. Fans of intrigue will delight in his accounts of the military personnel and journalists who regularly crossed Checkpoint Charlie ... MacGregor captures how other countries reacted, and the care taken to ensure that this volatile situation proceeded peacefully ... A fascinating take on the importance of level-headed people and international agreements working together to manage tense geopolitical situations.
MacGregor naturally gives a lot of space to spies and spooks ... Rightly, MacGregor sets the limited sufferings of the western garrisons against the 140 men and women known to have lost their lives at the Berlin Wall ( rightly, too, he adds the names of the eight East German border soldiers who were killed on duty). The misery of the many thousands of families divided by the wall comes out in many of his interviews. Yet there were other Berlins beyond the city heroised by John F Kennedy in 1963. Many Berliners never even saw the wall...They don’t form part of MacGregor’s story ... MacGregor isn’t always good on history...But the voices he has saved, and the richly researched skill of his narrative at big moments, rescue an echo of one of the many lost Berlins.
There were plenty of other edgy moments as the superpowers jostled for position. Most have been recorded, but Iain MacGregor makes them vivid again with lengthy interviews and a fund of anecdotes. His narrative follows a tidy arc from the construction of the wall, starting in August 1961, to its fall in November 1989, yet there has never been anything neat about Berlin, neither its division nor its unification ... That is the strength of this often captivating book; it is political history told through the eyes of men in uniform ... MacGregor should have interviewed more spies ... There’s plenty that could have been said too about the moral ambiguity of the professional people-smugglers. And although it was technically out of the scope of a book that ends in November 1989, MacGregor could have said something about the precarious state of the Russian garrisons stranded in East Germany after the collapse of the Soviet Union ... However, these are quibbles. MacGregor has put together a lively, evocative account of the life and death of the world’s most notorious wall. In capturing the essence of the old Cold War he may just have helped us to understand a bit more about the new one.
Briton MacGregor details the significance of this history-laden fulcrum as part of the larger story of Berlin ... MacGregor chronicles the tragic stories of those who died trying to escape the suffocating East German regime. Includes maps, illustrations, and a bibliography.
MacGregor does not write a spy novel, but an engrossing read built on solid documentation and witnesses to when Berlin became the center of a Cold War on the verge of a nuclear holocaust. It would make a great gift for anyone who lived in and served in that place and time ... The book has annotation, a bibliography, and some photographs but only one map and it is only of Cold War Germany.
MacGregor brings a useful perspective to his study of divided Berlin by reminding American readers that the Cold War was fought not just by the U.S. and the Soviet Union, but by many allies on both sides—especially, among the occupying powers, the U.K. and France ... There is little of the gripping thriller in MacGregor’s sober account, with its specific details of such things as the exact configuration of the no-man’s land between East and West ... Yet there are plenty of human-interest stories as well ... Cold War Berlin is already well documented, but MacGregor writes with depth and precision of events that still reverberate.
MacGregor delivers a colorful, kaleidoscopic history of the Berlin Wall from the perspectives of soldiers, military police, journalists, spies, and citizens from England, America, and West and East Germany ... The book’s strongest sections are set during and immediately after the wall’s construction and in the years leading up to its fall. MacGregor’s dramatic reconstruction of the night the wall fell features the enlightening viewpoint of Maj. Gen. Robert Corbett, commandant of Berlin’s British sector. This is a readable yet cursory account; those seeking a more comprehensive picture will find it in Frederick Taylor’s The Berlin Wall.