170 of 186 people found the following review helpful
This is, in many respects, an outstanding book. Judt accomplishes the daunting job of providing a solid narrative overview of European history (excluding Russia/Soviet Union)from the end of WWII to the present. Accompanying the narrative is a great deal of astute analysis, both of major trends and of specific episodes. The book is divided into 4 major periods; the immediate post-war era of reconstruction and the onset of the Cold War, the great boom of the 50s and 60s with its major demographic, social, and economic changes, the recessional period of the 70s and 80s, and the most recent period after the fall of the Soviet Union. The major theme is a multi-generational effort to build a Europe that avoids the mistakes that led to the catastrophes of the WWI-WWII period. Judt provides a guardedly positive view of European success. The factors that led to the catastrophe of the first half of the 20th century were strong nationalism and what might be called neo-mercantilism, authoritarian/totalitarian states, powerful ideologies (particularly Marxism), and great internal social discord. Judt sees modern Europe, with democratic and pacific states, its emphasis on economic integration, and social welfare systems aimed at guaranteeing a minimum amount of social amity, as largely escaping the problems that led to WWI and WWII.
Judt deals very well with the major events (and often their social consequences) that propelled Europe along this pathway. The crucial role of the US, and in an ironic way, of the Soviet Union, helped to rescue Western Europe from post-WWII devastation and provided an international framework that demanded western european cooperation. This included a great deal of intelligent decision making by Western European leaders, requiring for example, that the French accept a revitalized and eventually rearmed Germany, that the Germans ultimately accept the post-WWII borders. He devotes equal time also to the fate of Eastern Europe, which stands in some ways as a distorted mirror of the Western European experience. The later convergence of Eastern and Western European history after the fall of the Soviet Union is described particularly, both with its positive and many negative aspects. While this political story is the armature of the book, Judt does an excellent job of outlining the relevant social history. Nor is this book schematic, while this is an overview, we get enough relevant history of individual nations to be more than satisfactory.
Judt is an excellent writer and his analyses are often telling. Read, for example, his discussion of why so many major European leaders of the 50s were elderly men or his evenhanded analysis of Margaret Thatcher's tenure as Prime Minister of Britain.
As good as this book is, there are blemishes and some of them are significant. Judt's breadth and depth of knowledge are really impressive but I detected a number of factual errors. I am skeptical that the Chernobyl accident caused 30,000 deaths and that the partition of India caused "millions" of the deaths (the usual estimate is 1 million). Judt is wrong to imply that defeat at Dien Bien Phu brought France to the bargaining table at Geneva. There are also a number of significant omissions. Given the importance of the demographic and economic history covered by Judt, it would have been useful to include a small number of summary charts on these topics. Judt covers some intellectual history, especially as related to social history, but he makes a major (and all too common) error by not including any discussion of changes in the natural sciences. For example, he states that in the 50s, Paris was established (partly by default) as the intellectual capital of Europe. In a sense he is correct but the 50s and 60s were a golden age for British science and no country in Europe matched the productivity of British scientists. Who is the more consequential figure, Jean-Paul Sartre or the Briton Francis Crick, co-discoverer of DNA structure (among several important contributions to biology)? Cambridge, London, and Oxford were intellectual capital in a way Paris could never match.
A final and real sin of omission is the lack of appropriate footnotes and a bibliography. The absence of the latter significantly reduces the utility of this admirable book for Judt's fellow scholars, for students, and for the general reading public. Both Judt and his publisher should make an effort to rectify this flaw.
92 of 99 people found the following review helpful
on January 10, 2006
This is an excellent survey book for the general reader that pulls together the disparate developments in European history since the end of WWII. The result is a cohesive overview I have not found elsewhere, especially consideration of the turmoil in the Eastern bloc and the practical political problems.
I disagree with several criticisms levelled at the book in the following particulars. First, it is claimed that the book offers nothing new. That is true in the sense that what is reported it not new; however such an excellent overview is new.
Second, there are complaints about the lack of footnotes. On this I again say the book is an overview and not directed at specialists. Inclusion of anything approaching an academically adequate footnoting would have expanded the work to two or more volumes.
Third, it is claimed there are errors. Well, sure there are. Judt is writing about developments in 40+ nations which ranged from advanced to backward. However, given the volume of factual matter, there appear to be few errors.
Fourth, it is claimed that the book is too long. I disagree and believe that Judt did an excellent of job of editing down to get the book to the size it is. A reader who is not interested in some parts can skip them.
This is not a work for specialists who will likely criticize it as a popularization as they proceed to write their dry tomes no one but other specialists will ever read.
I grew up in the forties and fifties and spent most of 1961 to 1965 in West Germany in the military and as a foreigh exchange student. It was a delight to read Judt's research about those years and those that followed.
63 of 73 people found the following review helpful
This book is likely to be the textbook for some years to come on Postwar European development. It has been most widely and favorably reviewed. Among the points of praise" Its excellent Eastern European country- by - country survey of the collapse of Communism. Its full presentation of the Marshall Plan in putting a devastated continent back on its feet. Its tracing of the European Union idea which has led to the present amalgam of four- hundred and fifty million European economic citizens, the greatest internal market in the world. Its presentation of the political rivalries within the Union, especially an excellent survey of British - French relations. The book has been faulted for claiming that the Soviet collapse came about for internal reasons primarily, and not because of Reagan-American Administration Star- Wars pressure.
Anthony Gottlieb has suggested in the ' New York Times' that the book tends to somewhat downplay the clouds hanging over the European future i.e. the demographic dearth,the rapid aging of the population, the relatively high - unemployment.
The work is a primarily positive look at present European development, especially the rapid growth and amalgamation of the past twenty years since the fall of the Soviet Empire.
42 of 49 people found the following review helpful
on September 16, 2006
Format: HardcoverVerified Purchase
"Postwar - A history of Europe since 1945" by Tony Judt is the best book I have read on the subject. Its perspective on events since 1989 up to 2005 is remarkably good.
Only two generations have passed since World War 2, and the risk with a book about this period is that its conclusions and themes may prove to be foolish in the fullness of time. One is reminded of Mao's response to a question about the consequences of the French Revolution, "It is too soon to tell."
We can probably be reasonably sure that the history of Europe from the collapse of the Ottoman and Habsburg Empires plus the Soviet upheavals after WW1 to the final territorial and ethnic spasm in the Balkans in the 1990s can probably be written with some certainty, although we still lack access to original source documents for the Soviet role over that period.
All books dealing with post-war European history suffer from the fact that limited archival material from the Soviet Union has been available for study. Historians are forced to rely on sporadic Soviet documents and speeches and the assessments of western diplomats and analysts to interpret Soviet thinking and intentions.
The result is that this book (and others) views the history of the Communist world with Western eyes and Western mindsets. We are denied access to the thoughts, fears and hopes of communist politicians and dissidents and their influence on history. Hopefully, one day, more archival and other documents will become available to historians and a more balanced history will emerge over time.
If I may give another analogy: at present historians writing of the Communist world are peering through the windows of a house trying to understand the lives of the family living there. They see people going to and fro in the rooms. Occasionally they get glimpses of what the individuals are reading and writing. Sometimes a resident will hold up a photo or document for the historian to see. But the historian cannot hear what they say, nor can he go inside the house to talk to them or inspect their documents, or ask them their views on the outside world. He can draw conclusions only from what he sees through the windows.
A big message from this book is that the recovery and prosperity enjoyed by Western Europe for half a century is due to both the US and the USSR. The US provided critical economic aid and political support to Europe, including West Germany, because of the threat assumed to be posed by the USSR. Without such a threat, the US may have retreated into isolationism, leaving the Europeans to sort out the mess. Without the threat of the USSR, there may not have been the will forgo reparations from Germany and to encourage West Germany to recover. These were distinct possibilities in the immediate post-war period.
The book deals only with the history of Western Europe, with very little explanation of the impact of the rest of the world on that history. Events and policies in the USSR and USA are covered to the extent that they directly impinged on Europe. However, Communist and post-colonial developments in Asia and Africa certainly reinforced cold war attitudes in Europe, if they did not directly influence them.
What must still be provisional is the history of Europe since say 1990. Will the European Union and the Euro survive the test of time, or will one or the other go into the dustbin of history?
Judt's description of the moribund Soviet economies in the 1970s is the best I have read on the subject. The joke "You pretend to work and we pretend to pay you" sums up the cynicism and inefficiencies of Eastern bloc economies.
His account of the final years of the Eastern Bloc is excellent, as is discussion of the key issues facing Europe in the aftermath of its collapse and the apparent success of free market ideologies.
The final chapters of the struggle between socialism (in the form of modern European social capitalism) and capitalist individualism on the US model has yet to be written. Communism has probably failed for all time, but that does not mean that unrestrained US-style free enterprise will take over Europe. Beware of historians who proclaim "the end of history" and the "triumph of liberal democratic capitalism". Fortunately, Judt is too sensible to make such hubristic claims, although he does lean towards the European model.
Which model of society will "win" in the course of the 21st Century - the unfettered capitalism of the US, or the social capitalism of the EU? What is the future of the nation state in the face of the challenges from terrorist extremism?
These are important questions, and Judt's book provides the reader with an excellent exposition of the political, social and economic circumstances surrounding them.
30 of 35 people found the following review helpful
on September 30, 2007
Having grown up in Eastern Europe during the Cold War, I appreciate the author's attempt at reviewing a chapter of European history that even to Europeans is often set aside. If the immediate years after the war are not looked at carefully in Europe, so much less are they taught in the US where most people may now be familiar with the Marshall plan and little else.
As such the beginning is very interesting. There are a few annoyances such as the consistent use of a particular transitional phrase. Briefly, the author discusses an issue in a country during a set period (such as labor movement in France in the sixties) and then looks at the same issue in another country. The problem is that the author consistently uses the same transitional phrase. It looks something like:
In (country A) (restate thesis of the above few pages). The same could (or could not) be said of (country B). It takes a few moments to find an example of this - see Page 429 - ...Kadar's Hungary-'the best barracks int he laager'-was much envied, though only fitfully emulated. The second model, Tito's Yougoslavia had managed to avoid the problems of its neighbors...
This approach is repeated endlessly throughout the book. While analyzing each issue country by country is easy for the author from an organizational standpoint, it prevents the author from going deeper into cross national patterns. While not a weakness per se, this literary device gets distracting especially when one reads the book as I did - in just a handful of sittings.
The book really goes downhill when the author gets to recent history - i.e. the transition from communism to democracy in Central and Eastern Europe. Like most left-leaning liberal historians, the author gives too much credit to their hero, Misha Gorbachev. In doing so, the author makes some (almost) laughable statements. For example, he claims that Gorbachev's attempts at finding a "third way" between communism and capitalism were doomed and upon realizing this and he allowed the transition from communism to democracy as the sole alternative. This is boulderdash as the "third way" exists in many places throughout the world. One obvious example is China which has implemented a working capitalist market while retaining communist authoritarian control over the populace. Garbo wanted exactly this - to stay in power while introducing elements of capitalism. In order for this to succeed in Europe as it has in Asia all that needed to happen was cooperation from the world's capitalist markets. It is this support and cooperation that allowed China to adapt itself. What prevented Eastern and Central Europe from becoming a totalitarian state is not Gorbachev but rather national opposition movements. In Poland especially this meant the Catholic Church. In places that had no pro-democracy movements, the "third way" of authoritarian capitalism established itself just fine. It's not even necessary to look to Asia to find examples of this, Belarus and for a while Ukraine both settled into "the third way" of capitalist reforms coupled with repression almost as a reflex. In whatever way local communists cooperated in the dismantling of communism they did so not because of their inner greatness but because they saw the transition period as the best way to enrich themselves through shady deals in public property.
Lastly, in the Epilogue, the author writes about Europe's collective forgetting of the atrocities of the Holocaust. Of course, every conquered nation cooperated to some degree with the Nazis in their pursuit of Jews and other Nazi-chosen "undesirables." Extremely annoyingly (page 808) the author equates Poland's guilt over the Holocaust with that of Austria (of all places!) In support of this he provides one example of religiously motivated violence in Poland - the pogrom in Jedwabne as told by Gross's "Neighbors". Of course he fails to mention that many of the claims of Gross's work were subsequently debunked (such as the number of victims or the presence and active role of German security forces). This is particularly strange as the author praises the Polish Institute of National Remembrance, but then proceeds to ignore its findings.
Lastly, even though the author spends a significant portion of the book on the transition from communism to democracy he discusses Pope John Paul II only a handful of times. At the very least he could have discussed the Papal visits to Poland (all of which had an enormous impact on the anti-communist movement) or the attempt at the Pope's life. Again, the Pope's contribution, along with that of the US, was at least as important as Gorbachev's.
All and all, a worthwhile read, but don't expect a literary masterpiece. Nor is this without obvious bias.
108 of 135 people found the following review helpful
on November 11, 2005
Format: HardcoverVerified Purchase
The three main themes of this account of postwar Europe is the death of ideology, the role individuals in shaping history, and the birth of the European Union and a new way of life that rejects the extremes of Soviet Communism and American Capitalism. Tony Judt makes the case that the era of political ideologies was ending in the last half of the twentieth century. In Western Europe the birth of the welfare state and the combining of the left and right on various issues resulted in the end of the political extremism. While in Eastern Europe, Communism was unable to reform itself as seen in the failed uprisings in Hungary and Czechosolvakia ending in its final collaspse in the period from 1989 to 1991. Moreover the repression of the Communist regimes combined with their economic mismanagement soiled the reputation of Communism in both Eastern and Western Europe. Despite these faults, Judt mantains that it was Gorbachev and his reforms which resulted in the fall of Communism. Judt's view of Gorbachev supports his thesis about the role of individuals in shaping history. Judt writes that Stalin in implementing harsh Communist governments throughout Eastern Europe discouraged Western European nations from pursuing a neutral course during the start of the Cold War. While Juan Carlos in Spain was able to transform Spain from being an authoritrain country into a democracy. Finally Milosevic and not any organized nationalist ideology helped to enflame the Serbs into committing war crimes in Bosnia during the nineties. The third theme of this book is the growth of the European Union that started as customs union for agricultural goods and then unifed its monetary policy in the seventies which resulted in a common currency in 1999. Tony concludes his book by stating that the European Union now promotes a new way of life that secures a free first class education and healthcare for its citizens and has strong safety net for the unemployed and elderly. The only weakness of this book is that Judt ignores other areas of European partnership such as Airbus and the European Space Agency, and he doesn't spend enough time in writing about the Muslim populations in Western Europe and their problems with assimilating into a secular society.
73 of 91 people found the following review helpful
on November 30, 2005
Tony Judt, with POSTWAR, lays out in the massively complex story of the European continent in the wake of WWII. But be prepared -- dense with facts (over-dense in some cases, perhaps) this is a history that demands much of the reader, both in terms of concentration, as well as time.
Judt, I believe, uses his facts in an exemplary way - to really communicate, for instance, the near total destruction of Europe and the implications that held for rebuilding a shattered continent. For example, Judt is particularly good at elucidating through facts the pernicious and massive evil of the Nazi death state, which he makes apparent was essentially a machine manned on one end by the military and on the other end, by slave labor manufacturing munitions. This machine not only killed millions of Allied soldiers, and millions more to attain "racial purity," it dragged hundreds of thousands into the heart of the Nazi military industrial complex from all over Europe to manufacture weapons and do the work of the "master race." It is in the details that Judt communicates how diabolical this machine truly was, its scale, its reach, its viciousness and cruelty.
Upon this solid foundation that Judt then builds his impressive history of Europe's recovery. This is an even more complex story than that of the immediate postwar era, but Judt handles it with balance and distinction. For those of us raised in the postwar world and who only experienced its history from movies, television, or less comprehensive histories, Judt's work is not only impressive its scope, but truly insightful and useful as well.
20 of 23 people found the following review helpful
on October 16, 2006
Postwar is truly a huge achievement. While it is a long book, it is actually short given how much ground Judt covers and how effectively he covers it. the book starts with a great synopsis of some under-stated facts and thoughts about the impact that WWII had on Europe as a whole and on its constituent parts. This book is worth reading for that synopsis alone.
From there, Judt covers the varied periods of the social and political landscape in Europe over the course of sixty years. He looks at Europe as a whole, but also at the individual regions and countries that make up Europe. The amount of ground that he covers in 800 pages is quite amazing. Time and time again, you find yourself learning about something you understood only tangentially in the past. In addition to just covering the ground, Judt offers some really deep insights into these situations that give you a whole different level of understanding.
One theme that runs throughout the book is the physical and spiritual battle Europe fought over Communism over this period. Judt really lays bare Communism as the unworkable idea it has proven to be. It is a powerful message that Judt delivers very effectively.
One thing that is more strange than bad is Judt's treatment of the United States in this book. Judt seems to want to make the point firmly that Europe does not owe anything good about its recent changes to America. America's role in Europe's recent past is quite conspicuous in its absence for most of this book. Then, in the last ten pages, Judt launches into an anti-American monologue that contrasts sharply with the America vacuum in the rest of the book.
A lot of what Judt says about America is true and is probably important for Americans to hear. Judt drives home the point that for most of the world it is the United States, not terrorists, that is viewed as the greatest threat to global peace and prosperity - good food for thought for Americans. However, Judt's point about America is blunted by the fact that he's barely acknowledged its existence for the first 790 pages of the book. It gives his verdict on the US the feel of a one-sided rant that actually undercuts its message.
I wouldn't let that stop you from reading this book. The history and insights are great and even Judt's thoughts on America are important perspective for any American to have to round out their judgement about how the country handles itself on the world scene.
20 of 23 people found the following review helpful
on December 3, 2005
For some reason the modern history of Europe doesn't seem to catch the attention of many writers so I was glad when I saw this book. Most of what I know about Europe in this century revolves around either of the two world wars. I think Judt does a great job of filling in the blanks. I especially like that this history concerns all of Europe - so many books focus on France or Germany or England and leave out the likes of Czechoslovakia or other `lesser' countries. The book is long and not always easy reading as would be expected with a book of this breadth. Judt does an admirable job with such a complex and detailed topic. I think that the history of Europe as a block is just beginning and this is a great foundation to understanding how they got where they are and where they are going.
25 of 30 people found the following review helpful
on March 15, 2006
Format: HardcoverVerified Purchase
The two adjectives that come to mind after reading this work are magisterial and comprehensive. Although I am no expert on the subject, this is probably the most definitive history of postwar Europe to date. Historian Tony Judt (one of my favorite reviewers for the "New York Review of Books") was born in London, educated in Paris, and is currently director of the Remarque Institute in New York, an institution dedicated to the better understanding of Europe in America. In this work, Judt takes us through 60 years of European history, from the wasteland of 1945 to the peaceful and affluent Europe of 2005.
After the self-destructive mayhem of the early 20th century, Judt shows how lessons were learned and institutions designed so that the horrors would never be repeated. He speculates that the European model may yet be the model for other nations or groups of nations to emulate in the 21st century.
As Judt rightly points out in his essay on European memory, Europe was able to rebuild economically and politically by forgetting about the immediate past. There was much to forget. It was shameful how many people collaborated with the Nazis and how few resisted. He claims that it took only 1,500 Nazi officials and 6,000 German policemen to control France, a nation of 40 million. The Netherlands was not much better. After the war, it would have been even more destructive to seek retribution, even though there was some settling of scores. The Allies, as well as the Soviets on their side, used former members of the Nazi party to administer the occupied countries, since most of the talented people were part of the Nazi regime.
In the immediate aftermath of the war, the period from 1945 to 1949, there was a sense of hopelessness, and it even looked like Europe was doomed as a civilization. Ironically, it was the beginning of the Cold War that saved Europe. Western European countries were forced to cooperate with each other on a scale not seen before. France and Britain originally wanted reparations from Germany, not only because they felt entitled, but they wanted to keep Germany weak. However, in the face of the gathering Soviet threat, they decided to make West Germany a integral part of Western Europe.
In addition, US funding of the Marshall plan and the creation of Nato allowed Western Europeans to work furiously to rebuild their economies. During this period, they had an economic growth rate that within 10 years made them wealthier than they were before the war.
Nato was designed to be a defensive organization. After the uprisings in Germany in 1953 and Hungary in 1956, it became clear to the Europeans that the US was not going to intervene in Eastern Europe. This actually created further stability in the West.
Judt is very good at showing how the Common Market got started and how it became the European Union of today. It was a response to the utter destruction of World War II, and it was also a response to the threat of the Soviet Union. The Social Democratic welfare state was a response to those circumstances. The Europeans were looking for a social model somewhere between the untrammeled capitalism of America and the command economies of the Soviet Union. The welfare state in America is a term of obloquy, but in Europe it is considered one of their crowning achievements.
In the light of these experiences, it is easy to see why Eurpeans favor negotiation and consensus to power politics and military action. When Mikhail Gorbachev decided to stop supporting the moribund Communist regimes of Eastern Europe, they unravelled on their own without a shot being fired. The European wait-and-see attitude served them well. On the other hand, when Yugoslavia disintegrated, the weakness of their model became very clear. Europe is a transnational entity, not a superpower. Nato, being primarily defensive, was unable to stop the genocide on its border.
As Judt reminds us, the Europeans forgot the Holocaust in order to rebuild. It should be added that they need to remember it in order to become a model for the 21st century.