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Year Zero: A History of 1945 (Ala Notable Books for Adults) Hardcover – September 26, 2013


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Product Details

  • Series: Ala Notable Books for Adults
  • Hardcover: 384 pages
  • Publisher: Penguin Press HC, The; First edition (September 26, 2013)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1594204365
  • ISBN-13: 978-1594204364
  • Product Dimensions: 6.5 x 1.2 x 9.6 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.4 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (150 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #90,314 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

From Booklist

In 1945, the war ended, but a new world began. Taken and destroyed cities were transformed; the liberated celebrated; scores were settled; people starved; justice was and was not meted out; soldiers and refugees came home; suffering ended, or continued, or began anew. An eclectic scholar who has written on religion, democracy, and war, Buruma presents a panoramic view of a global transformation and emphasizes common themes: exultation, hunger, revenge, homecoming, renewed confidence. Though there was great cause for pessimism, many of the institutions established in the immediate postwar period—the United Nations, the modern European welfare state, the international criminal-justice system—­reflected profound optimism that remains unmatched. Buruma’s facility with Asian history lends this selection a particularly internationalized perspective. But it is the story of his father—a Dutch man who returned home in 1945 after being forced into factory labor by the Nazis—that sews the various pieces together and provides a moving personal touch. --Brendan Driscoll

Review

Charles Simic, The New York Review of Books:
Year Zero…covers a great deal of history without minimizing the complexity of the events and the issues. It is well written and researched, full of little-known facts and incisive political analysis. What makes it unique among hundreds of other works written about this period is that it gives an overview of the effects of the war and liberation, not only in Europe, but also in Asia… A stirring account of the year in which the world woke up to the horror of what had just occurred and—while some new horrors were being committed—began to reflect on how to make sure that it never happens again.”

Adam Hochschild, The New York Times Book Review:
“Ian Buruma’s lively new history, Year Zero, is about the various ways in which the aftermath of the Good War turned out badly for many people, and splendidly for some who didn’t deserve it. It is enriched by his knowledge of six languages, a sense of personal connection to the era (his Dutch father was a forced laborer in Berlin) and his understanding of this period from a book he wrote two decades ago that is still worth reading, The Wages of Guilt: Memories of War in Germany and Japan.”

Wall Street Journal:
“[Buruma is] one of those rare historian-humanists who bridge East and West…Year Zero has a down-to-earth grandeur. Through an array of brief, evocative human portraits and poignant descriptions of events around the globe he hints, rather than going into numbing detail or philosophical discourse, at the dimensions of suffering, the depth of moral confusion and in the end the nascent hope that 1945 entailed…Year Zero is a remarkable book, not because it breaks new ground, but in its combination of magnificence and modesty.”

The Economist:
“[Buruma] displays a fine grasp of the war’s scope and aftermath. Little conventional wisdom survives Mr. Buruma’s astringent prose. Perhaps his most important insight is that the war was not a neat conflict between two sides. The victors included villains, and the vanquished were not all Nazis. On many fronts—notably Yugoslavia—many sides were at war…Many of the consequences of victory were grim. Normality returned in the decades that followed thanks to the grit and determination of those who pushed on past the horrors of 1945. Mr. Buruma’s book honours their efforts.”

Financial Times:
“Elegant and humane…As generations with few memories of the second world war come of age in Europe and Asia, this luminous book will remind them of the importance of what Buruma terms ‘mental surgeons’, the politicians and warriors who reconstructed two continents left in rubble.”

The New Yorker:
“[A] very human history of ‘postwar 1945.’”

Smithsonian Magazine:
"[Buruma] makes a compelling case that many of the modern triumphs and traumas yet to come took root in this fateful year of retribution, revenge, suffering and healing."

The Daily Beast:
“After total war with millions dead and the Shoah comes what? That is the question that propels critic and historian Ian Buruma’s panoramic history of 1945. It is a personal story for Buruma, inspired by his own father’s experience of the war and its aftermath, but with Buruma’s sharp and careful eye it becomes a window into understanding all the years since then.”

Lucas Wittmann, The Daily Beast:
“I’ve spent countless hours reading about trenches, tank battles, and dogfights, but no book had yet captured what came after all that as superbly as Ian Buruma does in Year Zero: A History of 1945. This book will change the way you think about the postwar era, i.e. ours.”

Publishers Weekly (starred):
“Rooted in first-person accounts—most notably, the author's own father, a Dutch student forced into labor by the Nazis—Buruma's compelling book manages to be simultaneously global in its scope and utterly human in its concerns.”

Kirkus Reviews:
“[An] insightful meditation on the world’s emergence from the wreckage of World War II. Buruma offers a vivid portrayal of the first steps toward normalcy in human affairs amid the ruins of Europe and Asia…Authoritative, illuminating.”

Booklist:
"In 1945, the war ended, but a new world began. Taken and destroyed cities were transformed; the liberated celebrated; scores were settled; people starved; justice was and was not meted out; soldiers and refugees came home; suffering ended, or continued, or began anew. An eclectic scholar who has written on religion, democracy, and war, Buruma presents a panoramic view of a global transformation and emphasizes common themes: exultation, hunger, revenge, homecoming, renewed confidence. Though there was great cause for pessimism, many of the institutions established in the immediate postwar period—the United Nations, the modern European welfare state, the international criminal-justice system—reflected profound optimism that remains unmatched. Buruma’s facility with Asian history lends this selection a particularly internationalized perspective. But it is the story of his father—a Dutch man who returned home in 1945 after being forced into factory labor by the Nazis—that sews the various pieces together and provides a moving personal touch."

Fritz Stern:
“A brilliant recreation of that decisive year of victory and defeat, chaos and humiliation, concentrating on peoples, not states. Gripping, poignant and unsparing, Year Zero is worthy of its author in being at home in both Europe and Asia. It is a book at once deeply empathetic and utterly fair, marked by wisdom and great knowledge; the often personal tone inspired by the fate of his father, a Dutchman forced into German labor camps. In the face of so much horror, it is an astounding effort at deep comprehension. A superb book, splendidly written.”

Customer Reviews

Very informative and well written.
Michael Giorgio
Well written, well researched, it's obvious the author knows his subject matter.
Amazon Customer
Provides a basis for understanding Postwar environment.
Carl A. Gallozzi

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

68 of 71 people found the following review helpful By Phyllis S. from Brooklyn NY VINE VOICE on August 5, 2013
Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
I enjoy history, but not dry history. My interest is in the interplay of character and historical circumstances and in social history--the human angle. This book very much appealed to me. It is less about geopolitics than about people adjusting to the changed situation they found themselves in after the defeat of Germany and Japan in World War II. The author presents an interesting and detailed portrait of the world in 1945. He makes the story a bit more personal by discussing the life of his own father, a Dutch national who was carted off to perform forced labor in Germany.

This is the world seen through an extremely wide view lens, so I won't try to summarize everything in the book but just mention a few aspects that stand out for me. I found it striking how Ian Buruma pointed to the seeds of both successful change and contemporary conflicts sown in 1945. Somehow, the United States managed to do some crucial things right in both Germany and Japan. The Americans were sometimes misguided and ignorant, but they were not particularly vengeful. There was a lucky mesh between democratic capitalism, which the U.S. tried to foster, and the cultures of the two conquered nations. The relative prosperity and stability of Germany and Japan obviously owes a great deal to this.

Turning to the question of refugees, the author clarifies a currently relevant and heartbreaking, fact about the Jewish survivors of the concentration camps. No existing nation wanted these people. The fact that Israel was originally a life boat for shipwrecked survivors is too often forgotten now.

To his great credit, Buruma often focuses on the situation of women during and after the war.
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41 of 45 people found the following review helpful By David Keymer TOP 1000 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on July 2, 2013
Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
"History ... is littered with dreams of starting afresh." The first chapters of this remarkable study attempt to capture people's responses to the end to years of living in Hell. Buruma has personal insight into the topic. His young Dutch father was captured by the Germans and forced to work in wartime Germany. At the end of the war, he was nearly executed by accident as a collaborator although he wasn't one. He wended his way home through a bombed out Europe, only to find when he got back that everything had changed while he was gone. No one wanted to hear his story. They had had enough of that sort of stuff.

Lucien Febvre, co-founder of the Annales. Histoire, Sciences Sociales in 1929, argued that the history of sensibility (histoire de sensibilite') was just as important to our understanding of the past as the economic and social history that was more standard fare in that groundbreaking journal. We are feeling animals, he argued, and thus how the events of a time make us feel sits deeply in us.

This short book by Ian Buruma (Luce Professor of Democracy, Human Rights, and Journalism at Bard College; author of thirteen previous books) is proof that Febvre was right. There are other books on the aftermath of the Second World War which portray the devastation, unresolved antagonisms and mixed feelings caused by the destructiveness of that long, devastating war (wars?) -- Keith Lowe's Savage Continent (2012) and parts of Timothy Snyder's chilling Bloodlands: Europe Between Hitler and Stalin (2012) are recent entries, and for Europe, Tony Judt's magisterial Postwar: A History of Europe Since 1945 (2006) can't be bettered, but no work of history that I know of that captures so well, and elegantly, the emotions that drove the survivors of that hellish conflict.
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Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
The subject of the immediate post-World War II period has been popular in history books in recent years, including William I. Hitchcock's The Bitter Road to Freedom: A New History of the Liberation of Europe, Tony Judt's Postwar: A History of Europe Since 1945 and Tony Judt's The Politics of Retribution in Europe. These are all excellent, well-documented histories.

Even if you've read all those books, I would still recommend Ian Buruma's Year Zero. This is a smoothly readable and compelling treatment of 1945, the year when history reset after World War II, what historian Max Hastings called the greatest and most terrible event in human history. Buruma's book is short by comparison to Judt's and Hitchcock's; not surprising, since it focuses in on that one year. It is also a less academic treatment, and it goes for the gut at least as much as the mind. Buruma organizes the subject as follows:

Part One: Liberation Complex
1.Exultation
2. Hunger
3. Revenge

Part Two: Clearing the Rubble
4. Going Home
5. Draining the Poison
6. The Rule of Law

Part Three: Never Again
7. Bright Confident Morning
8. Civilizing the Brutes
9. One World
Epilogue

The revenge chapter was particularly interesting, with Buruma beginning with the provocative statement that the desire for revenge is as human as the need for sex or food.
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