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Reappraisals: Reflections on the Forgotten Twentieth Century Reprint Edition

4.2 out of 5 stars 33 customer reviews
ISBN-13: 978-1594201363
ISBN-10: 1594201366
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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Starred Review. Historian and political commentator Judt warns against the temptation to look back upon the twentieth century as an age of political extremes, of tragic mistakes and wrongheaded choices; an age of delusion from which we have now, thankfully, emerged. In this collection of 24 previously printed essays (nearly all from the New York Review of Books and the New Republic), Judt, whose recent book Postwar was a Pulitzer finalist, pleads with readers to remember that the past never completely disappears and that the coming century is as fraught with dangers as the last. Buttressing his argument, Judt draws upon an impressively broad array of subjects. He begins by describing the eclipse of intellectuals as a public force (for instance, the steep decline in Arthur Koestler's reputation) before reminding his audience of the immense power of ideas by discussing the now inexplicable attractions of Marxism in the 20th century. In the book's penultimate section, Judt examines the rise of the state in the politics and economics of Western nations before finally tackling the United States, its foreign policy and the fate of liberalism. As a fascinating exploration of the world we have recently lost—for good or bad, or both—this collection, despite its lack of new content, cannot be bested. (Apr. 21)
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From Booklist

A collection of book reviews with a sprinkling of essays, this volume collects the praises and pans of historian Judt (Postwar: A History of Europe since 1945, 2005). Reprised largely from the New York Review of Books and the London Review of Books and including lengthy treatments addressed to a highbrow audience, they cover works and biographies related to twentieth-century history that were published in the past decade. A dozen and a half in all, they encompass the spate of titles about Communists (historian Eric Hobsbawm), ex-Communists (Arthur Koestler and Whittaker Chambers), and the cold war. A decidedly declarative writer, Judt advances his views like an experienced intellectual fencer, although his palpable sense of proprietorship over the subjects tends to reduce the author in question to a launching platform for Judt’s opinions. These include negative perspectives on Tony Blair, U.S. foreign policy, and Israel. Whether lauding or loathing, Judt proves provocative. --Gilbert Taylor
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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 464 pages
  • Publisher: Penguin Press HC, The; Reprint edition (April 17, 2008)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1594201366
  • ISBN-13: 978-1594201363
  • Product Dimensions: 6.4 x 1.5 x 9.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.5 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (33 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #260,089 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover
I give this book 5 stars, not because I agree with everything its author says but because it's such a good read. The book is comprised of essays published between 1997 - 2006. The first two sections contain a series of portraits of some of the most influential people of the 20th century; Koestler, Arendt, Camus and others. Tony Judt, who Christopher Hitchens calls a former 'kibbutznik', also writes a sympathetic piece on Edward Said. This is one of the reasons why he's not so kindly received in some quarters. Even though Said apparently didn't advocate political violence (in contrast with for example Sartre), he is sometimes referred to by his adversaries as the 'Professor of Terror'. Judt is also highly critical of modern-day Israel. This is sure-fire way to lower the ratings. We all know that you should not judge a book on your own political preferences but there you go.
These are the actual reappraisals, I suppose, and the remainder of the book reflects on Europe, the United States and Israel since WW II. In an essay called 'The Silence of the Lambs: On the Strange Death of Liberal America', Judt laments the tacit consent by leading liberals of President Bush's 'catastrophic foreign policy'. Some intellectuals even trip over each other in order to praise the war in Iraq in particular and the GWOT (Global War On Terror) in general. The Left, as represented by Tony Blair, has lost its credibility, perhaps even its raison d'être. In order to survive, it has to shoulder its responsibility for the failures of the 20th century and reassess many of its central themes. In absence of a clear vision the Left will simply stagnate and wither away. As Judt acutely observes: 'to be on the left is to be a conservative'.
I highly recommend 'Reappraisals' to anyone interested in recent history - and in the future, however gloomy it might appear.
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Format: Hardcover
This is a collection of essays from the historian most famous for " Postwar" a history of Europe from 1945 to the present. Judt's earlier book was very good and explained the establishment of the European welfare state as a reaction to the Second World War. Politicians of both sides wanted to ensure that the underlying causes which led to Fascism and Communism never arose in their countries so that they tried to establish mechanisms to ensure that a decent life was available for all. One of the points Judt made was the key role of conservative and Christian democratic parties in the creation of modern Europe.

In this book he is not a historian but an essayist strongly arguing for the left. He covers a number of topics but his key message is that the end of utopian models of government does not mean a end to the role of government in society. Government still has the power to solve problems and to shape societies to so that breakdown and dislocation do not occur. He is clearly a supporter of the welfare state although his intelligence is such that any of his positions are hedged rather than dogmatic. In facing problems there are no simple answers.

Some of the essays are rather strident attacks on Israel. He appears to have some first hand experience living in Israel in his youth. His attacks are rather simple. He says that Israel is a strong modern state which keeps large numbers of Arabs living in Bantustans. It uses collective punishments and violates international law. Whilst doing these things it trumpets a ideology that it is a state facing extinction and its actions are simply in self defence. It is also the only democracy in an area in which autocracy is the norm.
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Let me first dispense with the weakness of this book: It is a collection of 23 articles by Tony Judt that were published between 1994 and 2006 in several journals -- many in the form of expanded book reviews and the vast majority being in either "The New York Review of Books" or "The New Republic". Although Judt makes an effort to bring them all together under one tent as, to quote the sub-title, "Reflections on the Forgotten Twentieth Century", that's a pretty lame and generally unsuccessful effort. The book has the usual weaknesses of virtually any collection of essays on wide-ranging topics published over a dozen years: there is, inevitably, a measure of disjointedness, and the stronger essays lose some of their punch and distinctiveness from having to rub shoulders with the weaker or more esoteric ones.

But this weakness is, for me, more than offset by the strengths of the book. Tony Judt is an independent, clear-headed thinker, who writes knowledgeably and lucidly on a wide range of contemporary subjects of an historical/political nature. Few -- correction, probably no one -- will agree with him on every point. His views on Israel are particularly likely to raise hackles, at least here in the U.S. (They led "The New Republic" to treat him as persona non grata.) But his opinions are well-grounded in history and well thought out. They are not, most emphatically, the received strictures of an ideologue -- which, of course, is what irritates so many who fancy themselves liberals about Judt. Then again, what George Orwell said about nationalists is equally applicable to ideologues: "If one harbors anywhere in one's mind a nationalistic loyalty or hatred, certain facts, though in a sense known to be true, are inadmissble.
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