Review: “The Berlin Wall” by Frederick Taylor

The Berlin Wall: A World Divided, 1961-1989. Frederick Taylor. Harper Perennial. 486 pages.

This is one of those books that I finished and then hesitated, wondering exactly how I was going to review it. One one side, it did do what it said it was going to do: that is, talk about the history of the Berlin Wall, that wall that divided free from Communist Germany (specifically Berlin) for 28 years. On the other side, it was actually about the entire history of East Germany and probably provided much more material than I was looking for.

I picked up the book for two reasons. First, I had the opportunity to visit the Berlin Wall while it still existed when I was a student in Europe 1972-73. I crossed from West Berlin to East Berlin at the famous Checkpoint Charlie, saw the graffiti that was written on the walls calling for East Germany to set its people free, and visited the museum at Checkpoint Charlie filled with devices used by many people to escape from the Communist captors. Second, I plan on writing (probably later this year) a book based in the timeframe of the rise and fall of the Berlin Wall. In that sense, reading this book was research for me.

Taylor provided a lot of substantive information that I will be able to use in my book. But it took me half the book to get to them actually building the wall. The first half was devoted to talking about the politics between East and West Germany. Much of it I found relatively boring, although one might argue that it was necessary to truly understand the whys behind the Wall.

When the author got to talking about the Wall, especially the part when people were trying to escape over, under and through it, the story became fascinating. This is where I wished he would have spent more time. I know the author can’t meet the needs of every individual reader, but to me, the experiences of the everyday person living in this experience is a lot more interesting than the politics behind it all.

All it all, I’m glad I read the book, although a lot of it was dry. I don’t know if I would recommend it for entertaining reading.

I give it three of five stars.