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Facing The Extreme: Moral Life in the Concentration Camps Paperback – April 15, 1997

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Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

It is an understatement to call the Nazi and Soviet death camps "outposts of hell on earth," as we know from the testimony of a powerful body of witnesses. Todorov looks inside these camps, and there he finds hope for all humankind, arguing that innumerable instances of heroism, self-sacrifice, and caring show that "moral reactions are spontaneous, omnipresent, and eradicable only with the greatest violence" and that "morality cannot disappear without a radical mutation of the human species." Even in a regime of terror and depersonalization, the ordinary virtues survived and sometimes even flourished, Todorov maintains. His wide-ranging study bears him out, and it makes for fascinating reading.

From Publishers Weekly

The concentration camp-including the Nazi death camps and the Soviet gulag-marks a defining attribute of our century, declares Todorov (The Conquest of America), and the extreme experiences there make questions of virtue and vice more stark. In this resonant analysis, the Bulgarian-born, Paris-based critic draws on reports from Primo Levi, Victor Frankl and others, as well as on such philosophers as Sartre and Rousseau. Todorov's meditation is dense but accessible, raising a rich set of questions, even as he occasionally interjects harsh self-scrutiny about his family's life under Communism. He delves into the distinction and link between heroic virtues (courage) and ordinary ones (caring), the "banal roots" of monstrous behavior and the morality of recounting horrors (he finds Gitta Sereny's biography of Albert Speer more worthy than Claude Lanzmann's film Shoah). Though the camp experience seems to confirm that human good never expired, Todorov fears that our technological mentality has made it easier to demonize and depersonalize others. This book was first published in France. BOMC, History Book Club, Reader's Subscription alternate.
Copyright 1995 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
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Product Details

  • Paperback: 307 pages
  • Publisher: Holt Paperbacks (April 15, 1997)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0805042644
  • ISBN-13: 978-0805042641
  • Product Dimensions: 6 x 0.7 x 9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 15.2 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (8 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #368,646 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

17 of 17 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on February 18, 1999
Format: Paperback
There are no shortage of books that deal with the Holocaust, but this work by the Bulgarian writer Todorov offers a rare and sensitive insight into how we understand and cope with evil. The writer has the courage to challenge the tendency by victims to own the historical atrocities they witnessed. He worries that by allowing the victims to define the evil of the oppressors we turn past genocides into monuments that do not speak to us. He explores the nature of complicity, heroism, myth and resistence in political and moral dimensions. He uncovers the potential in all of us to be, if not camp guards, then silent accomplices to mass murder. The book explores in disturbing detail the darkness that is part of the human condition. It has been a long time since I marked up a book like this. He stands alongside writers such as Primo Levi.
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15 of 16 people found the following review helpful By Brasidas on August 11, 2000
Format: Paperback
Tzvetan Todorov's work is a must read for someone trying to understand the multiple, competing decision points for everyone trapped in the maelstrom of totalitarian genocide. Much like Hilberg's Victims, Perpetrators, Bystanders, Facing the Extreme tries to consider the mental evaluation processes of everyone during this period of history.
The most useful chapters are in the second section, entitled "Neither Monsters nor Beasts." Many aspects of personal character, coping mechanisms, and consequences are detailed in these chapters.
While Todorov's style (or the translation) are sometimes difficult to follow, the essence of what he is saying is dynamic, challenging reading. The chapter on Depersonalization is especially attention grabbing; while it focuses on life in concentration camps, in our present culture and its problems, it has many applicable lessons.
Todorov also makes many references to other salient works of Holocaust/genocide literature. For the new student of genocide, this may appear somewhat daunting, but Todorov does a fine job of quoting at length those passages that repeating, rather than leave you wondering what the stage whisper allusion was.
For anyone who teaches about genocide, this is a must read. For anyone willing to peel aside the dark curtain and look into the abyss of true dark humanity, this is a must read. Eva Fogelman's e & COurage" is a far more uplifting, positive book than Todorov's, but Todorov exposes dark thoughts that need not be kept like mushrooms, but should be brought forward for discussion and reflection.
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10 of 10 people found the following review helpful By John G. Hilliard on April 16, 2002
Format: Paperback
In the field of holocaust writing this author is probably one of the better, maybe the best. Therefore, I was interested in the book just because his name was attached to it. The concept is very interesting and a new one, examining the way the victims of the holocaust and the USSR prison camps dealt with their time in the camps and how they survived from an emotional perspective. It is a powerfully written book and the author pours a lot of himself into the pages. This book focuses on the human condition, how they survived and how they cam out in he end. It does not act as a history of the camps, numbers of imprisoned people or methods. If you are interested in the human element in this horrible time in our history then I would suggest this book.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful By Brasidas on August 11, 2000
Format: Paperback
Tzvetan Todorov's work is a must read for someone trying to understand the multiple, competing decision points for everyone trapped in the maelstrom of totalitarian genocide. Much like Hilberg's Victims, Perpetrators, Bystanders, Facing the Extreme tries to consider the mental evaluation processes of everyone during this period of history.
The most useful chapters are in the second section, entitled "Neither Monsters nor Beasts." Many aspects of personal character, coping mechanisms, and consequences are detailed in these chapters.
While Todorov's style (or the translation) are sometimes difficult to follow, the essence of what he is saying is dynamic, challenging reading. The chapter on Depersonalization is especially attention grabbing; while it focuses on life in concentration camps, in our present culture and its problems, it has many applicable lessons.
Todorov also makes many references to other salient works of Holocaust/genocide literature. For the new student of genocide, this may appear somewhat daunting, but Todorov does a fine job of quoting at length those passages that repeating, rather than leave you wondering what the stage whisper allusion was.
For anyone who teaches about genocide, this is a must read. For anyone willing to peel aside the dark curtain and look into the abyss of true dark humanity, this is a must read. Eva Fogelman's Conscience & Courage" is a far more uplifting, positive book than Todorov's, but Todorov exposes dark thoughts that need not be kept like mushrooms, but should be brought forward for discussion and reflection.
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