80 of 87 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars An autobiography plus his view of the 20th century
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...
Published 21 months ago by LD
8 of 13 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Good book but BORING narrator voice!!!
I bought this audio book in order to listen to it in long car trips or on my way to work. I thought I would find the actual records of the interviews (which would be great) but found instead a narration with a really boring voice.
I could not get myself to pay attention to it on my car or iPod, and had to listen to the book in quietness at my home: I wish I had...
Published 18 months ago by Adelina Vaca
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80 of 87 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars An autobiography plus his view of the 20th century,
This review is from: Thinking the Twentieth Century (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.
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.309
The long version:
He believes that the pre-WWI generation was the first to reject religion and thus based their values on secular values. His Jewish family originated in Russia and Eastern Europe and were Socialists and Communists. They moved to Western Europe before the Russian Revolution. Judt explains why Jews were so receptive to Marxism. That was something I always wondered about but could not find an explanation.
He says that those who accept Marx believe that the "ends justify the means"- it is the utopian dream that matters (including the destruction of the present order) and how civilization gets there is of little concern. Thus the excuse is provided for mass murder and violating all the "rights" Communists say they are fighting for. There are "good" Communists (Trotsky) and "bad" Communists (Stalin). Between the world wars Fascism (not democracy) was viewed as the alternative to Communism.
P.26 " It took until the mid-1970s for even the core economies of prosperous Western Europe to get back to where they had been in 1914."
P.28 "Both the Nazis and the Soviets were consumed by the attraction of scale as the condition of well-being." And they wanted a self-sufficient State to go it alone if need be.
Tony observed that Communism had way more followers in Catholic countries than Protestant ones. Britain is Anglican but that religion is much closer to Catholic than Protestant and he says that is why Britain was such a fertile place for Soviet spies. France and Germany have areas where Catholics dominate and Communist enclaves exist. There was an intense feeling of community among the believers. P.83
Although he spent time at an Israeli Kibbutz in the 1960s, Tony was never a religious person. He says that he is a Zionist but thinks the Israeli government and the US have used the Holocaust as an excuse to push too far. He faults American Jews and Liberals for encouraging others to "fight the good fight" while sitting back and waiting for the opportunity to step in as governing bureaucrats. P.118
As with the other reviewers, I found Judt's discussion of the differences of Fascists from Communists in his first attempt was convoluted and confusing. It might be clear to him but it does not come across that way in the text. This is what I got out of it: both groups are composed of angry minorities with their own causes but united by power obsessed leaders who unite them in common cause. The Fascists emphasize procedures (such as coordinating with business) to reach their goal while the Communists just want to get there by any means (such as taking over business to force change). The primary Fascists were Italy and Germany who really had their separate agendas to empower the State while Communists were internationalists pushing world revolution. Later in the book he is very clear about the differences.
He notes that many Communists felt betrayed when the USSR invaded Hungary and then Czechoslovakia. P.222 And Communism shifted from exploited workers to exploited peasants after WWII which was contrary to Marx's vision of the disintegration of Capitalism. When Judt taught at Berkeley the students wanted him to explain how the beliefs had gotten off track. And he notes that students have a difficult time understanding the difference between "activism" and "Marxism".
The European Union concept was initially opposed because many thought it was a Vatican plot or a German plan to reassert its dominance.
Keynes and Judt attended the same college. What Judt writes about Keynes are things I have never read anywhere else.
"Hayek's argument for the unrestricted market was never primarily about economics. It was a political case drawing on his experience of Austrian authoritarianism and the impossibility of distinguishing between varieties of freedom. From a Hayekian perspective, you cannot preserve right A by sacrificing or compromising right B however much you gain by so doing. Sooner or later you will lose both rights. This buttressed the Reagan-Thatcher view that the right to make any amount of money unhindered by the State is part of an unbroken continuum with the right to free speech. It is perhaps worth reminding ourselves that this is not what Adam Smith thought." P.247
"Historians tend to be intrigued by arguments which either confirm what they think anyway or in some provocative way dismantle what a lot of other people think." P.261 He personally saw that tenure is based on parroting what other professors have written, not on competency, and thinks the US system is pathetic.
"The 20th century is the century of the intellectuals, with all of the accompanying treasons and accommodations and compromises. The problem is that we live today in an age when the illusions, disillusions, and hatreds take front and center. So it requires a conscious effort to both identify and save the core of what was good about intellectual life in the 20th century." P.285
From about page 300 Judt is looking back over the 20th century to draw some conclusions. Like me, you will probably disagree on some points but the value of his writing is to make you think and come up with your own reasons so I took no offense. I think you will like the comparisons between the state of the US compared to Europe or China.
52 of 56 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A rare chance to hear two great historians talking frankly,
This review is from: Thinking the Twentieth Century (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.
26 of 28 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Thinking Beyond Political Labels,
This review is from: Thinking the Twentieth Century (Hardcover)"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. In his youth, which he characterizes primarily as lonely, his teachers praise his intellectual prowess in history, politics, and literature, but at the same time he has to contend with a public whose anti-Semitic attitudes cast blame for the deaths of British soldiers on "those Jews."
In college, his professors recognized his intellectual abilities, but at the same time he was aware that privilege had allowed students entrance into an elite institution that they had not earned. Considering himself a Marxist at Cambridge, he never really participated in student protests with the exception of the Vietnam War. Finishing his Ph.D. at 24, he was always the youngest member of college faculty members and often in disagreement with their historiography and academic political correctness. He married and divorced twice before falling in love and marrying one of his graduate students, Jenny.
While teaching in Atlanta, he struggled adapting to its climate and southern culture. He finally found his niche in New York, only to alienate himself from members of the history department, whose neo-liberal approach to history irritated him. Finally, he antagonized much of the elite media when he was a vocal opponent of the Iraq War, calling their journalism habitually reckless. Saying that one is an outsider is merely lip-service; in the case of Tony Judt, his personal life mirrored his approach to intellectual pursuits: that one should be honest enough to view reality for what it is regardless if it may hurt the sensibilities of those deemed "insiders."
And in his discussions with Timothy Snyder, Judt does not hesitate espousing what he believes to be the truth on a variety of twentieth century topics. In chapter one, for example, he states that the Jewish question was never his focus in academia, even though it certainly spills over when he writes about a "general history."
He criticizes both Jews and non-Jews for isolating themselves culturally, which unfortunately leads to stereotypes that would have disastrous human consequences. Even in the Jewish community, he expressed that there was a pecking order (common in all ethnic groups) where those of German stock were revered more than those who were Polish. He explores why Jews were overrepresented in socialist and communist groups, concluding that European democracy lowered their standing and naturally lent a stronger voice to anti-Semitism.
Not only Jews but other groups found Communism alluring because it proselytized salvation to those who joined provided that they follow the dialectics of history. He even indicted those such as Jean Paul Sartre, who, even though they knew that Communism was a complete failure, still followed the party line as their "comrades" shot and tortured innocents.
In chapters two, three, and four, there are many stimulating intellectual topics, but two that stand out are their discussions of Marxism and the state of Israel. Judt goes so far to suggest that the logic of Marxism and Christianity are quite similar, which explains its popularity in countries dominated by rigid religious orthodoxy. There is also his insight that Marx to him was a historical commentator rather than revolutionary agitator.
Indeed, in England Marx was popular among the upper middle class, and it was the foundation of left thinking. However, he criticizes those who refused to see to its conclusion the detrimental impact of Marxist ideology upon Eastern Europe and the Soviet Union. This was one of the recurring traits of the twentieth century: the willingness to believe in an ideology even though it was painfully obvious that it enslaved rather than liberated.
Chapter four, by far the most controversial, contains Judt's excoriating views of the state of Israel. A former Zionist and Israeli soldier, Judt attacks Israel in ways that only a "Jew could" (his words) since any non-Jew who were to argue these points would automatically be called anti-Semitic. His position is that Israel is immoral for using the Holocaust to excuse its brutish behavior, and that he sees no real purpose for its existence since the Holocaust is no longer likely and because it has created greater instability in the region. There are points in chapter four where one will ask: Can he really get away with saying that? Even near his death, Judt maintains his principle that history must be told, even if it makes him a loathed outsider in his community.
Chapters five, six, and seven may not be as salacious as chapter four, but Snyder and Judt address historical topics that most of us would not care to venture: fascist intellectuals, political correctness in American universities, his disagreement with multi-cultural history, and his condemnation of previous American presidents.
Of particular insight on fascist intellectuals is his definition of the fascist Italian model. Not until the early 1930s did it take on a racial component, and its origins he suggests comes from those born a generation before World War I, who witnessed the destruction of their world and were looking for a new order that could help them reclaim their greatness. Fascist intellectuals were likely to be critics of modern culture, with its loose morals and its rampant focus on materialism. Part of its popularity was that many viewed it as the only alternative to Communism, which was spreading from east to west and whose followers were trying to use elections to their advantage. By no means does Judt support fascism; his brilliance is that he shows how one extreme naturally leads to another.
In chapters eight and nine, Judt and Snyder tackle more current topics, such as 9/11, the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, the growing age of insecurity, the fragility of American democracy, the welfare verses the warfare states, economic theory, the impact of privatization, the unfair distribution of resources, and the remaking of capitalism into a Chinese model.
Much of these ideas can be found in Judt's Ill Fares the Land, but nonetheless Judt is likely to have offended several people--i.e. he called Bill Clinton "smug" and George Bush "disastrous" when it came to foreign policy; he said that Republican politicians such as Newt Gingrich and Sarah Palin purvey a national fascism that has damaged the political climate; he argues that feminism advanced "privatized politics" which worked to solidify the privatization model of American life; he contends most politicians today are "mediocre at best" and lack the expertise to fully understand the issues that confront us; and surprising even social democrats, he agrees with free market proponents in that guaranteeing loans is a threat to capitalism.
There is much that I have left out, partly so as not to reveal every "hot topic" that is discussed in detail, but also because there is not enough space in a review to categorize them. Certainly, Thinking the Twentieth Century is nor for the faint of heart, but then again the title should serve as a warning to those who would approach this 400 page text as historical laymen. As Judt has done in all of his books, he forces the reader to think critically about everything that transpired in the twentieth century.
Having read his books, I truly understand that his goal is to provide us with a general history that can serve as clarification for those who lived through it and as a springboard for future discussion for those who want to make the twenty-first century better than it has started. The brilliance of Judt's accomplishment is that it displays what thinking looks and sounds like beyond political labels.
78 of 94 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Challenging read, but you'll be all the smarter afterwards,
This review is from: Thinking the Twentieth Century (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!
12 of 13 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars History and its Ideas,
This review is from: Thinking the Twentieth Century (Hardcover)Other reviewers better describe the singular situation, giving rise to this extraordinary work. But, and I will only venture to begin the conversation, what makes this contribution instantly recognizable as a truly Great Book, even by Judt's incomparable standards, is ideas. Now, what I mean by this needs to be heavily qualified and debated. There are philosophers of history, historians of ideas, historians that minimize ideas ... and there is what Judt and Snyder achieve here, which is that most rare thing, namely, capturing a balance of their political formation, influence-operation and, often, extinction (Fascism and Marxism) and resurrection (Neo-Liberalism and, now, perhaps, Neo-Marxism); but they never let universalism subsume the contingencies, complexities and particularities of embedded history. Somehow, they pluralize, letting ideas illuminate, instead of smother history.
Amazing,I will read this again; and its significance can only grow, both for historians and philosophers still attuned to an historical ground.
6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Good But Mixed,
This review is from: Thinking the Twentieth Century (Hardcover)This is an interesting book with an unusual format. The late Tony Judt died prematurely in 2010 from ALS. His illness truncated the life of an unusually talented historian at the height of his powers. His friend and junior colleague, Timothy Snyder, performed a series of interviews with Judt in the months prior to his death. The result is a series of chapters combining chronologically arranged autobiographical sections and dialogues covering many of the topics that preoccupied Judt. The autobiographical sections are relatively brief and the discussions between Snyder and Judt dominated by Judt's thoughtful expositions. Major historical themes are the roles of Jewish intellectuals and their relationship to the modern world, central Europe as a cradle of modernity, French intellectual history, the course of Leftist, particularly Marxist, thought over the 20th century, the fate of social democratic states, the nature of authoritarianism, and relative success of post-war European reconstruction. Judt was also a "public intellectual" involved in controversies about the state of Israel, the nature of Zionism, American foreign policy, and the decay of the American liberal and European welfare states in the last generation. These topics are discussed as well, particularly in the second half of the book.
Even if you don't agree with Judt, all of these discussions are interesting and uniformly thoughtful. A great deal of what he has to say makes a good deal of sense and some analyses, such as his comments about who benefited the most from the welfare state, are really insightful. Some discussions also reveal some modest weaknesses, such as his apparent lack of interest in history of science or his over-rating the influence of Hayek. The major defect of this book is that it reveals nothing new. If you're familiar with Judt's prior work, either his monographs or his series of essays in the New York Review of Books, you won't find anything you haven't read before. For those unfamiliar with Judt's work, this book will be very rewarding but if you've followed Judt's work, its a moderately enjoyable repetition.
4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars great thinker looks over his life and career-long interests,
This review is from: Thinking the Twentieth Century (Hardcover)This book is a mix of memoires and a critical introduction to 20th C. history. As a historian specializing in contemporary issues, he brings a unique perspective to the major political problems that we have faced in our lifetimes, reviewing them for the basics but also adding his unique interpretation. Indeed, as a "major" in international relations in France, I studied every single issue that he covers in this wonderfully interesting and challenging book.
Starting off in a working class family, Judt outlines how he got into Cambridge, entering an intellectual elite that he never left. It was a combination of brains and extremely hard work, plus a bit of luck in the teachers who encouraged him. He laments that the path that led him to Cambridge is rapidly vanishing as the power of money and privilege is renewing itself as he was writing.
As I see it, there are 3 large issues that he attacked during his career. First, there was the French intellectual tradition, starting in about the 1930s and up to the 1980s. That was the era of Sartre, Camus, and Aron, men that I studied as a student in Paris. Though I have long since left them behind, it was an absolute delight to get his read on them, a journey that I made in a far less scholarly way than he. Second, starting as a young Zionist, he recapitulates his long journey from ardent Kibbutzim to the disillusioned critic, who saw Israel as a colonial power of questionable legitimacy. Agree with him or not, the case he makes - based on personal experience as a participant in the 1967 war that transformed Israel from a defensive power to an aggressively militaristic one - deserves consideration. Third, he covered the communist idea, from its origins in the 19C up to its end and the aftermath in Eastern Europe. This went beyond what had occurred during my studies and so was a great eye opener for me, truly new content that created an agenda of study that I wil undertake over the next decade. Again, an intellectual delight.
Throughout the book, Judt offers details from his personal life, which paralleled his intellectual undertakings. It is a candid and self-critical view, from his divorces to the environment at the New York Review of Books that opened new vistas for him as a writer. He even took up Czech in his mid-30s, to complete his study of the collapse of communism. He is wonderfully candid, to the point that I am not sure I would have liked to work with the man. For example, he cheerfully admits that New York University - his career home base - is mediocre. He also calls Thomas Friedman of the NYT "execrable" as a thinker, which I admit is exactly how I perceive him. Judt was a difficult guy, never wastes time on false modesty, and displays a refreshingly biting cynicism about the pretentions of his milieu. Now that is fun!
The book was written as a kind of dialogue with another historian. I can't say that I particularly liked this style, but it offers a very fun overview of a life's work. The co-author is no sycophant, but he doesn't add much in my view and occasionally disrupts the unity of voice. While rigorous, it also lacks the tightness of a fully academic work, offering generalizations rather than a finely honed original thesis.
Recommended as an introduction to a great thinker and a delightful summary of a life's work. Judt will be missed.
4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Judt's competence,
This review is from: Thinking the Twentieth Century (Hardcover)Tony Judt never ceases to amaze with his wealth of historical knowledge and balanced judgment. He holds out a model for us all of what scholarly erudition in a field - - whether this be history, literature, psychology, art - - should be. In this book and in his "Postwar," one profits immensely from his knowledge and perspective. Especially topical, I thought, are the pages at the end where he exposes the short-sightedness of present-day assumptions and thinking in American pubic life.
The co-author, Timothy Snyder, is a very worthy interlocutor, and we owe him a great deal for initiating and contributing to this end-of-life dialogue.
10 of 13 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A master's summation of his life's work,
This review is from: Thinking the Twentieth Century (Hardcover)Toward the end of his life, ALS, which eventually killed Tony Judt, prevented him from writing. But he was interviewed for this book by a younger historian--Tim Snyder. In the protracted interview, Judt was able to sum up what he had learned over a life of researching the intellectual history of French leftists, 20th century Eastern Europeans and others. He also shared his most mature views on the on-going issue of what is the best model for a modern western nation's economic and social policies and what Zionism has wrought in the contemporary Middle East. The final work of one of the most brilliant historians of his generation. It is not to be missed.
5.0 out of 5 stars To think and Understand,
This review is from: Thinking the Twentieth Century (Hardcover)It is an indispensable book to understand the twentieth century. The section on Hannah Ardent is illuminating and Tim plays well his part
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Thinking the Twentieth Century by Tony Judt (Hardcover - February 2, 2012)