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Thinking the Twentieth Century Paperback – January 29, 2013

4.4 out of 5 stars 43 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews


"There are so many ways that Thinking the Twentieth Century is a remarkable book. The lifetime of scholarship and intellectual engagement lying behind that verb "thinking" in the title. The way ideas crackle in the interplay between the authors. The passionate involvement with issues political and controversial. That the book could have been written at all, given the tragic circumstances surrounding it... Judt proceeds to take the reader on a wild ride through the ideological currents and shoals of 20th century thought."

An intellectual feast, learned, lucid, challenging and accessible.”

Fans will find plenty to sustain them in this poignant coda to a life marked by great feats of penmanship, scholarly insight and contemporary polemic… [Judt’s] bravery is ever-present, but rightly understated. As Mr Snyder notes in his introduction, the book is both about the life of the mind and a mindful life. Judt exemplified both.”

“Judt was a provocateur, but maybe an accidental one, and after reading this remarkable, impassioned book, it's hard to doubt his sincerity… Thinking the Twentieth Century is Judt's final salvo against what he saw as a culture of historical ignorance and political apathy, and it's every bit as brilliant, uncompromising and original as he was.”
—NPR — NPR.org

“Incandescent on every page with intellectual energy.”
—Pankaj Mishra, Prospect Magazine (UK) — Pankaj Mishra, PROSPECT MAGAZINE (UK)

"Scintillating... a lively, browsable, deeply satisfying meditation on recent history by a deservedly celebrated public intellectual."
Publisher's Weekly (starred review) — PUBLISHERS WEEKLY (starred review)

About the Author

Tony Judt (1948–2010) was the author or editor of fifteen books, including The Memory Chalet and Postwar, which was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize. He was the director and founder of the Remarque Institute and a professor at New York University.

Timothy Snyder is a professor of history at Yale University and the author of five award-winning books, most recently Bloodlands: Europe Between Hitler and Stalin. He lives in New Haven, Connecticut.


Product Details

  • Paperback: 432 pages
  • Publisher: Penguin Books; Reprint edition (January 29, 2013)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0143123041
  • ISBN-13: 978-0143123040
  • Product Dimensions: 5.5 x 1 x 8.4 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 12 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (43 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #117,589 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By LD TOP 1000 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on February 22, 2012
Format: Hardcover
I thought that "Postwar: A History of Europe Since 1945" was one of the finest behind the scenes explanations of what was really going on and what judgement errors were made by political leaders. Now this book provides an autobiography of Judt so we can see the basis of his analysis. Here are some of the things he discusses so you can figure out if the book is of interest to you. I did not find political dogma espoused but rather an attempt to show how two groups could look at the same situation and draw different conclusions and where the holes were in both sides.

Short version:
John Maynard Keynes and Friedrich Hayek were economists and political philosophers. Keynes' ideas were shaped by the pre-WW1 poverty and social programs of Britain. He saw capitalism as unstable, requiring government intervention. Hayek's were shaped by the post WW1 disorder in Austria. He saw the welfare State as the road to Hitler.

"Fascists and Nazis assumed that you could mix property-based capitalism on the one hand and government intervention on the other." P347 Communists were obsessed with power and therefore wanted the State to control the economy. All three tried to create self-sufficient economies. USSR planning failed so badly no one copied it.

Judt is a Zionist who believes that both the Israeli and US government policy is wrong.

Intellectuals write for their audience without personal experience.

The 20th century went from world war to the collapse of most of the belief systems. P.393

"The vast majority of human beings today are simply not competent to protect their own interests." P.366

"The tendency of mass democracy to produce mediocre politicians is what worries me." P.
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Format: Hardcover
When the distinguished historian of Europe, Tony Judt, was diagnosed with ALS -- or rather, when the disease robbed him of functioning hands -- another eminent historian, Timothy Snyder, proposed that they write a book together about the 20th century, a wide-ranging book that could draw on the extensive, careful research that Judt had been doing his whole career. Snyder and Judt created the book by recording a series of high-level conversations in Judt's home which were then transcribed and polished up. The result is remarkable: two of the greatest contemporary minds speaking freely about all the controversies of understanding the last century, speaking on a level of detail and sophistication that is never matched by enjoyable amateur writers like Steven Pinker or by "men-of-letters" intellectuals like Gore Vidal. These guys are the real thing.

The book has a nice personal touch -- it is partly autobiographical, with Judt talking freely about his own life, in passages that reveal Judt's deep and sometimes ambiguous connections to many of the places and events he describes. As a non-historian, what I value most about the book is that I feel it gives me something which otherwise would've taken me forty other books to get (in other words, which otherwise I would never have gotten), namely, a non-superficial overview of the twentieth century, motivated not by ideology but by knowledge. Judt and Snyder have done the hard work, and all the rest of us have to do is to read their book.
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
"For the first time I met Israelis who were chauvinistic in every meaning of the word: anti-Arab in a sense bordering on racism; quite undisturbed at the prospect of killing Arabs wherever possible..." (117). This was historian Tony Judt's observation when he served as a translator in the Israeli army in 1967. Those who have heard of professor Judt may remark that, while his statement is controversial, it is nonetheless indicative of his left-leaning positions.

It would be inaccurate, however, to reach such a conclusion after reading Tony Judt and Timothy Snyder's Thinking the Twentieth Century, a text which explores and critiques in uncensored detail the dominant ideas, leaders, and events that helped shape the twentieth century. His final testament to the world before succumbing to ALS, Judt, through his discussions with renowned Yale historian Timothy Snyder and author of Bloodlands, evinces a masterpiece that will regale those who thought his greatest feat was Postwar.

Stated in the foreword and reiterated in the afterword, Judt wants to impart to his reader his view of himself as an outsider. In each of the nine chapters, for example, he provides autobiographical information as a means of placing himself squarely in the context of the twentieth century but more as an observer rather than as active participant.

To support this image of the outsider, we learn that the origin of his name was from a relative, which is not particularly unusual, until he adds that his relative died in Auschwitz. There is the history of his family, which includes Eastern Europe and his socialist father and grandfather, but it also includes a mother who is more interested in being British than anything else.
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Format: Hardcover
This is, admittedly, one of the harder books I've had to read in a long time. The language can seem dry at points, and you'll likely feel challenged reading it. However, as Judt and Snyder take you through the last 100 years of history itself as well as exploring economic history, you will find your mind exploring and realizing how we got from 1900 to today, and all the influences that went into such a transformation. They explain this by imploring that our current problems and issues cannot be properly addressed or explained without going back to the early 1900's, around World War One. If this sounds interesting to you, and you want to know the roots of the twentieth century and their effect on today, consider buying this book. I came away enlightened with a new perspective on why things are the way they are in today's world! It's worth reading, just don't expect to blow through this. Savor and ingest every page to try and understand what the authors are saying - you'll be rewarded in the end!
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