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Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

How can humankind avoid another century like the 20th? Blind devotion to obscene ideologies--Communism, Nazism--made the final hundred years of the millennium the bloodiest in human history. As Robert Conquest, author of Reflections on a Ravaged Century, notes, "Over this century the human race has survived experiences that, to put it mildly, should have been instructive. Scores of millions have been slaughtered, and it cannot be said that the avoidance of the even worse catastrophe of nuclear war was foreordained." Might it happen again? As Conquest is the author of The Great Terror, a devastating account of Stalin's crimes (and widely regarded as one of the 20th century's most important and influential works of history), any reflections he may have are worth noting. He's clearly worried, quoting, for example, the astonishing statement by Marxist historian Eric Hobsbawm in 1994 that the construction of a Communist utopia can justify the murder of 20 million people.

Reflections on a Ravaged Century is primarily focused on the rise and fall of the Soviet Union, but he remains consistently forward-looking. "The power of fanaticism and of misunderstanding is by no means extinct," warns Conquest. The 20th century will be a prelude to even greater evils unless intellectuals engage in "a careful consideration of what needs to be learned, and unlearned." This book, both wise and accessible, is a good start. --John J. Miller --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

From Publishers Weekly

In a book that is as cantankerous as it is insightful, historian Conquest (The Great Terror, etc.) takes grim stock of the bloody fruit of 20th-century political ideology. "We cannot do without ideas; but we should not make ideas into Ideas. We should note the catastrophes due to fascination with fantasy, addiction or absolutes." Accordingly, he offers withering critiques of Marx, Lenin and anybody who took seriously the idea that the complexities of human social life could be adequately explained by any one theory. With great passion and a formidably wide array of references, he describes the intellectual mediocrity of Marxism and Marx: "outside his sect few serious philosophers accepted his philosophy; few economists accepted his economics; few historians accepted his theories of history." To the extent that his target is not just communism but the very notion that any theory could explain and predict human social behavior, Conquest aspires to the same kind of humanistic perspective championed by Isaiah Berlin or Hannah Arendt, and, like Berlin, he celebrates pluralism and civil society as the sane antidotes to ideological purity. But both Arendt and Berlin took account of the idealism that led so many people who should have known better into complicity with evil regimes. These authors understood that the road to hell could be paved with the best of intentions, and they managed to honor those intentions while still calling hell, hell. They were thus able to convey the moral tragedy of the 20th-century romance with ideology. In these pages, Conquest often writes with such contempt for those who seized on Ideas that, in the end, he doesn't so much analyze history as scold it. (Oct.)
Copyright 1999 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 336 pages
  • Publisher: W. W. Norton & Company; Reprint edition (March 17, 2001)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0393320863
  • ISBN-13: 978-0393320862
  • Product Dimensions: 0.6 x 0.1 x 0.8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 2.4 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (34 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,044,821 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

139 of 149 people found the following review helpful By The Sanity Inspector on January 14, 2000
Format: Hardcover
Now that the Soviet parenthesis has closed, the historian Robert Conquest has been soundly vindicated. It was he, and a very few band of fellows, who _completely_ rejected the progresive aura that Soviet Communism inveigled so many other academics with. His books dealing with specific incidents and epochs of Soviet rule--sometimes for the first time in English--were resented by leftist professors as being "reactionary". Now, those books may be seen as bold testaments to the truth about Communism, published in times and places where that truth was most unwelcome, though undeniable. If you can find them, read some intellectual journals' reviews of the first edition of _The Great Terror_, to see the psychic indigestion Conquest's work caused them.
This book is a fairly concise summary of his opinions about how so much evil came upon this century, why so many otherwise good and intelligent people were taken in, and What It All Means. Familiarity with his previous work is assumed, so if you are new to Conquest, read something like _The Great Terror_ first. The book is arranged in thematic chapters. Each chapter consists of brief, numbered essays--"reflections"--somewhat like a less aphoristic Eric Hoffer, though this book is very quotable. Conquest is very old, astonishingly widely read, multi-lingual, and is an altogether trustworthy and admirable figure. It is important to remember this, because much of the book is tough sledding for less well-educated readers. Because he hates cant and sweeping generalizations, his sentences are sometimes over-stuffed with qualifiers and conditional phrases, making them precise, but a bit hard to unpack on first reading. And he's not ashamed of the impressive vocabulary he's amassed, either.
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60 of 65 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on March 6, 2000
Format: Hardcover
Far anyone interested more than casually in 20th Century history, Robert Conquest's reflection on the century will teach and illuminate. The most interesting part of this excellent book was Conquest's review of the history of Soviet Communism and his skewering of those who spent long and supposedly distinguished careers arguing that Marxism is a benign way to build a new and better world. As Conquest points out, the facts have always led to the opposite conclusion and these "fellow-travellers" knew it and ignored them. In fact, what Marxism has left behind in Russia is a devastated industrial base, the absence of individual iniative, and a population psychically damaged. In the guise of building a worker's state, communism built a monument to everything that is anti-human, anti-compassion, and anti-freedom.
Conquest has never shied from his views, even when they were unpopular. We owe him a lot for his unstinting criticism of one of mankind's worst historical aberrations.
His warnings about the future should be carefully considered by all of us.
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65 of 74 people found the following review helpful By James Versluys on July 14, 2000
Format: Hardcover
Every time I read Conquest, I think how fortunate it is that we have had this excellent a man ponder the large questions of the twentieth century. Every page of Conquest reads like somethign you wish you had written: thoughts unconsidered, points missed, sublime ideas brought to life.
And of course, there is this book- the century he got right from the very beginning. And the century to which we in the rest of the world are just now beginning to catch up with how correct Conqeust was. And we all need to be aware- Conquest figured out the important questions of communism right before anyone else did.
Chris Hitchens in his blurb got this one right- you learn more from Conquest just in a glance than you learn from streams of discourse from others. I don't aways agree with Conqeust, but even I must give the man his due: when people are asked "what was the twentieth century?", one of the first books given will be thoughts by its best commentator- Robert Conquest. When we are all dead and buried, this man will live in the minds of students.
Buy this book. Heck, buy any book by Conquest. It's hard to go wrong with the man. The man introduces the effects of ideology in the most convincing way possible.
The trenchant conservative Florence King once said of Chris Hitchens, "If Chris Hitchens is a communist, I wanna be a communist too". I remember a rant about Conquest by some radical or another, and had a thought: if Robert Conquest is a McCarthyite right wing zealot, I wanna be a McCarthyite right wing zealot too.
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18 of 19 people found the following review helpful By "ewilliamsywam" on July 8, 2001
Format: Hardcover
Robert Conquest is one of the true Heroes of the twentieth century. In books like ''Harvest of Sorrow'' and the''Great terror'' He exposed the murderous evil of stalinism which for sheer numbers causes Hitler's holocaust to pale by comparison. Yet for all His trouble Conquest was denounced by the international media establishment and the Apostles of political correctness for ''overreaching''. His allegations against the ''Workers Paradise'' could not possibly be true. Well now the Evil Empire has fallen and the archives are open and the accuracy of Conquest's work is proven beyond all doubt.No man on earth has a better right to say ''I told you so''! This book is a series of essays about the twentieth century and the ideas that turned it into a slaughterhouse; Communism, Fascism and Utopianism. All of these ideologies are rooted in the idea that the state knows better than the Individual about how to solve society's problems.And that the state should have whatever power
necessary to solve those problems. Conquest shows us what the twentieth century should have shown us that this type of thinking is the slippery slope to Auschwitz and the Gulag.Sadly Conquest shows us that mankind appears not to have learned it's lesson. This is an excellent book which provides more than sufficient armor for the continuing culture wars of the 21st century. I highly reccomend it
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