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Modern Times: The World from the Twenties to the Nineties, Revised Edition 1st Edition

156 customer reviews
ISBN-13: 978-0060922832
ISBN-10: 0060922834
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Editorial Reviews Review

The history of the 20th century is marked by two great narratives: nations locked in savage wars over ideology and territory, and scientists overturning the received wisdom of preceding generations. For Paul Johnson, the modern era begins with one of the second types of revolutions, in 1919, when English astronomer Sir Arthur Eddington translated observations from a solar eclipse into proof of Albert Einstein's general theory of relativity, which turned Newtonian physics on its head. Eddington's research became an international cause célèbre: "No exercise in scientific verification, before or since, has ever attracted so many headlines or become a topic of universal conversation," Johnson writes, and it made Einstein into science's first real folk hero.

Einstein looms large over Johnson's narrative, as do others who sought to harness the forces of nature and society: men like Mao Zedong, "a big, brutal, earthy and ruthless peasant," and Adolf Hitler, creator of "a brutal, secure, conscience-less, successful, and, for most Germans, popular regime." Johnson takes a contentious conservative viewpoint throughout: he calls the 1960s "America's suicide attempt," deems the Watergate affair "a witch-hunt ... run by liberals in the media," and deems the rise of Margaret Thatcher a critical element in Western civilization's "recovery of freedom"--arguable propositions all, but ones advanced in a stimulating and well-written narrative that provides much food for thought in the course of its more than 800 pages. --Gregory McNamee


"A marvelously incisive and synthesizing account." -- -- David Gress, Commentary

"A work of intellect and imagination." -- -- Stephen Spender, The Atlantic

"Johnson's insights are often briliant and of value in their startling freshness." -- -- Peter Loewenberg, Los Angeles Times

"A marvelously incisive and synthesizing account." -- David Gress, Commentary

"A work of intellect and imagination." -- Stephen Spender, The Atlantic

"Frequently surprises, even startles us with new views ofd past events and fresh looks at the characters of the chief world movers and shakers, in politics, the military, economics, science, religion, and philosophy of six decades." -- Edmund Fuller, Wall Street Journal

"Johnson's insights are often briliant and of value in their startling freshness." -- Peter Loewenberg, Los Angeles Times

"Truly a distinguished work of history...Modern Times unites historical and critical consciousness. It is far from being a simple chronicle, though a vast wealth of events and personages and historical changes fill it....We can take a great deal of intellectual pleasure in this book." -- Robert A. Nisbet,New York Times Book Review

"Wide-ranging and quirky, this history of our times (since World War I) hits all the highlights and hot spots: the Russian Revolution, the rise of Hitler, World War II, and the 1980s...A letter-day Mencken, Johnson is witty, gritty, and compulsively readable." -- Foreign Affairs


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Product Details

  • Paperback: 870 pages
  • Publisher: HarperPerennial; 1st edition (June 1992)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0060922834
  • ISBN-13: 978-0060922832
  • Product Dimensions: 2 x 5.2 x 8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.6 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (156 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,828,636 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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More About the Author

Beginning with Modern Times (1985), Paul Johnson's books are acknowledged masterpieces of historical analysis. He is a regular columnist for Forbes and The Spectator, and his work has also appeared in The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, and many other publications.

Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

173 of 183 people found the following review helpful By Smallchief on August 26, 2005
Format: Paperback
Paul Johnson is opinionated and a good writer and this history is very readable. "National Review" named it one of the top 100 books of the century and, although I'm not a political conservative, I found myself in agreement with much of what Johnson says.

"Modern Times" begins with the end of World War I and focuses on the personality of actors on history rather than impersonal trends or philosophies of history. Johnson sums up his own philosophy with a quote from Alexander Pope: "The proper study of mankind is man." His opinion of the 20th century cast of characters is scathing more often than not.

He trashes Woodrow Wilson -- a sound judgment in my opinion -- defends Harding, claims Coolidge was a good President, is lukewarm toward Hoover, considers Roosevelt frivolous and empty-headed, favors Truman, and adores Eisenhower. Churchill is his great hero. The totalitarians -- Lenin, Stalin, and Hitler -- are depicted as venal gangsters. Johnson is unflinchingly anti-Communist throughout, an opinion that proved sound when the rot of the Soviet Union and its satellites became obvious in the late 1980s. (The first edition of this book was published in 1983.) Nehru, Gandhi and many other third world personalities get tossed into the category of lawyer/politicians with little to recommend them as leaders of countries.

Fault can be found with Johnson; minor errors of fact and questionable statements dot the book -- and he rushes breathlessly on without defending many of his opinions. However, if he argued them all out the book would be 10,000 pages long and dull as an airline steak knife. It is perhaps his tendency to be provocative that makes this history interesting -- as so many others are not.
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61 of 64 people found the following review helpful By Gaston Yalonetzky on April 22, 2000
Format: Paperback
Johnson's Modern times is a must read: full of interesting information and reasonings, entertaining, and highly controversial. Since History is told from a conservative perspective in this book, many will find it provocative, maybe even unfair. And, these kind of critics might be correct in some aspects. Yet Johnson's book deserves to be read because it provides very bright ideas which must be taken into account when discussing about the history of the 20th century. For example, it is very interesting Johnson's analysis on why the allies threw the bomb on Japanese cities and what was the real dimension of the tragedy beneath this. Moreover, Johnson helps us understand difficult periods of the century like the rise of the nazi regime and the success of Khomeini in Iran. Finally, though it is true that some won't like the way Johnson treats popular personalities like Gandhi or Freud, He deserves to be recognized for his effort to bring ethical considerations when thinking about the lessons of history. Ah, by the way, this book must be read closely after or before reading Hobsbawm's book on the same subject! (because Hobsbawm provides the left-wing point of view).
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163 of 184 people found the following review helpful By Avid Reader on November 10, 2002
Format: Paperback
The liberal view of history is so widespread that any deviation is subject to immediate criticism. Johnson goes after modern cultural icons with vigor, examining and reassessing all the way. He has perfected a writing style that is highly readable and entertaining with common components: Broad assumptions, intricate details supporting his idea and unique, incredibly interesting biographies of those that made a difference - known or unknown.
The 20th century IS the collectivist century. Every variant of collectivism from communism, fascism, tribalism, socialism and religious classism has been tried with catastrophic results. The eagerness with which "leaders" (most from academia) experimented on whole populations is truly horrific. Glowing theories always gave way to human suffering. Millions have been sacrificed in the name of collectivism just this century - USSR, China, Germany, Cambodia, Turkey, Africa...
Oddly, speaking ill of this most anti-democratic "theory" is seen as somehow impolite. Johnson records the fight and the fighters (on both sides) of this battle. Naturally the US and Britain emerge with glowing marks - and why not? Those two have saved the world many times. Germany would have won WWI and WWII without US intervention. Europe would be one vast socialist graveyard without the opposition of Truman. Korea, Japan and parts of South America would be "Peoples States" without our help. Relativism has spread to almost all facets of human existence with perhaps the most dangerous one being that all cultures are morally equivalent. This book aptly demonstrates that this has not - and is not - true.
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58 of 64 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on October 20, 2003
Format: Paperback
I am an historian, with nearly a Ph.D in the subject. I teach history at the community college level. I have 100's of history books, many of the 20th century. Johnson's book is highly moralistic and interpretive, more so than most history books, and frankly, more so than professional historians (which Johnson is not) would prefer. But it is a brilliant interpretation of the 20th century, one with guts. But it's not the popular interpretation because historians are affected by ideology just like everyone else.
There are some tremendous anecdotes in the book, some information that mainstream histories do not, and never will, provide. That, in itself, makes the book unique and worthwhile. Every chapter is rich, full of interesting data, and intelligent interpretation. I don't agree with all of Johnson's interpretations; but he is always provocative and he makes the reader think. That, along with his emphasis on the decline of moral responsibility, is why a number of people don't like the book.
Americans need to read the chapter "America's Suicide Attempt"--the history of the '60s we still don't get. "The Collectivist Seventies" explains a lot to those of us who lived through the malaise of that decade. "Caliban's Kingdoms" and the "Bandung Generation" are masterful exegeses of non-Western history. Again, I don't agree with everything here; but I do appreciate the fact that Johnson provides information and ideas that are never found in mainstream histories produced by professional historians who are writing to gain praise from their peers. They can't write this because, as Johnson argues, the 20th century (including academia) accepted that "God is dead." And to a conservative Catholic (which I'm not, but Johnson is), that propels the entire century.
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