The People's State


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East German Society from Hitler to Honecker

Mary Fulbrook

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An insight into the experience of life within the East German dictatorship

What was life really like for East Germans, effectively imprisoned behind the Iron Curtain? The headline stories of Cold War spies and surveillance by the secret police, of political repression and corruption, do not tell the whole story. After the unification of Germany in 1990 many East Germans remembered their lives as interesting, varied, and full of educational, career, and leisure opportunities: in many ways “perfectly ordinary lives.”

Using the rich resources of the newly-opened GDR archives, Mary Fulbrook investigates these conflicting narratives. She explores the transformation of East German society from the ruins of Hitler’s Third Reich to a modernizing industrial state. She examines changing conceptions of normality within an authoritarian political system, and provides extraordinary insights into the ways in which individuals perceived their rights and actively sought to shape their own lives.

Replacing the simplistic black-and-white concept of “totalitarianism” by the notion of a “participatory dictatorship,” this book seeks to reinstate the East German people as actors in their own history.

MARY FULBROOK is professor of German history at University College London. Among her books is the best-selling A Concise History of Germany.

"[Fulbrook] is a meticulous scholar who blows away the monochromatic image of a society where some still yearn for the certainty of 'those closed years of 1961-1989'"---Camden New Journal 

"An extremely comprehensive account of how East Germans viewed and participated in their government and society between the end of WWII and the fall of the Berlin Wall. [Fulbrook] effectively debunks the overly schematic denunciations of the GDR as a Stasi-controlled totalitarian state. . . . This important book provides many intelligent insights into the nature of not only East German history and society but also humanity in its widest sense. Essential."—Choice

'...a fresh, flowing, thoughtful immensely readable book...a humane history... Above all, this empathetic account puts East Germans back into their own history. As such, it will surely act not only as a standard work on GDR society, but also as a model for the emerging social history of post-war Europe.' - Josie McLellan, Reviews in History / History in Focus

"This work, by the professor of German History at University College, London, is of the greatest importance and value to students and others interested in twentieth-century German history or in the style of life under Communism—an excellent answer to the traditional German historian's cry 'Wie war es eigentlich? What was it really like?' And Fulbrook's account, meticulously researched, collated and analyzed, presents a different view to the generally held but simplistic view of repression."—Antony Clayton, Journal of Military History

"This book is a pleasure to read. The reason is not the content—the history of a dictatorship is never pleasant—but the way it is written .The text is ordered, easily understandable, and contains a good mixture of vivid description, including concrete examples. . . . Fulbrook has written an inspiring and creative introduction to GDR history. It should rank high on the list of syntheses on this topic."—Adelheid von Saldern, American Historical Review

"Compelling. . . . Offers both the senior scholar and the advanced undergraduate of German history much to ponder and struggle with. . . . A refreshing bottom-up approach to understanding the intricacies of East German society. [Fulbrook] is meticulous in her research here."—Benita Blessing, H-Net Reviews

"One does applaud Mary Fulbrook for writing a book that is extremely rich in detail and one that is certainly different from other works on the German Democratic Republic.  It provides an excellent framework for further debate on the pros and cons of the first socialist experiment on German soil." ---Peter Hylarides, Contemporary Review

"This interesting book is written in an engaging style and would be useful for advanced undergraduate and graduate courses as well as for anyone wanting a deeper understanding of life in the GDR. The rich source base includes archival documents, interviews, and secondary literature."—Hope M. Harrison, Slavic Review

"Compelling and highly readable. . . . It will provide both the experienced academic and the interested undergraduate with ample food for thought. . . . The People's State will undoubtedly become a key text for students and scholars of East Germany, providing for lively discussion on the subject of GDR society and setting the tone for future historical debates."—Anna Saunders, Journal of Modern History

"This book is eminently well-researched.  The writing is bright and attractive.  In the judgments made about his subject the author is objective and fair.  The volume deserves a special place on the shelf of American religious history." —Michael Gannon, The St. Augustine Record
ISBN: 9780300144246
Publication Date: December 2, 2008
352 pages, 6 1/8 x 9 1/4
12 b/w illus.