Adam LeBor

The Battle for Budapest

Twelve Days: Revolution 1956 – How the Hungarians Tried To Topple Their Soviet Masters


Weidenfeld & Nicolson 336pp £20 order from our bookshop

Of all the capitals of Central Europe, Budapest exudes the most powerful sense of history. Take a stroll through the Belvaros – the downtown area – at night, and it’s easy to imagine the rumble of tanks, or the ghosts of sharpshooters and street-fighters from 1956 flitting across the roofs. Fine old Habsburg apartment buildings are still spattered with bullet holes and shrapnel marks, their doorsteps worn smooth by generations of invaders. For those in the West, the revolution is encapsulated by the grainy black-and-white pictures of teenage street-fighters hurling Molotov cocktails at Soviet tanks. It is unfortunate, although probably inevitable in a country as polarised as Hungary, that the legacy of 1956 remains so controversial. The nationalist Right has tried to appropriate 1956 as an uprising against both the Soviets and any kind of left-wing government. But historians now agree that many of the revolutionaries, and Hungary’s leader Imre Nagy, wanted to reform Communism and build a new kind of Socialist regime with a human face. They definitely did not want a return to the pre-1939 era of landlords and aristocrats, writes Victor Sebestyen in his masterly history of the 1956 revolution. 

Sign Up to our newsletter

Receive free articles, highlights from the archive, news, details of prizes, and much more.

Follow Literary Review on Twitter

  • Last Tweets

    • 'Full of invention which, at its most pedestrian, is eminently Victorian, and at its most unrestrained wildly imagi… ,
    • 'What in other hands could have been a dry, pedantic account of Christianity’s birth and evolution becomes in Holla… ,
    • RT : One of my favourite literary magazines is celebrating 40 years this year. Here is the September edition of… ,
    • 'Now that the Thames is too fast-flowing to freeze, its spirit’s devotees ... have found other climes for their pri… ,
    • 'Bythell glowers past his till at a world in slow free fall.' on the travails of a second-hand book… ,
    • 'It is a scent of animal wrath, of instinctive need, of brutal life which affects the cultured nostrils of our civi… ,
    • 'The day produced countless stories of chance, of people taking one route or another without realising that the dec… ,