- Paperback: 880 pages
- Publisher: Harper Perennial Modern Classics; Revised edition (August 7, 2001)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 0060935502
- ISBN-13: 978-0060935504
- Product Dimensions: 5.3 x 2 x 8 inches
- Shipping Weight: 1.4 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
- Average Customer Review: 175 customer reviews
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #111,402 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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Modern Times Revised Edition: The World from the Twenties to the Nineties (Perennial Classics) Revised Edition
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About the Author
Paul Johnson is a historian whose work ranges over the millennia and the whole gamut of human activities. He regularly writes book reviews for several UK magazines and newspapers, such as the Literary Review and The Spectator, and he lectures around the world. He lives in London, England.
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Top customer reviews
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For this I fault the publisher and not the author. I don't care if the author submitted this work with NO chapters, it is the publisher's responsibility to organize it in a digestible fashion. These twenty chapters should have been UNITS, each divided into at least five or six chapters. As a reader, I like to thumb ahead a few pages to see if I'm close to the end of a chapter or at least near a page break, and as such will continue on so as to complete the train of thought. With this book, that is impossible.
That said, the actual history as written by Paul Johnson is simply stunning in it's detail of not only events and characters, but also the personalities and intricacies of said events and characters. And the writing itself is perfectly comprehensible. As a history buff, I had taken so many History electives in college that I inadvertently ended up with a minor. And yet, so much of what Johnson has written is absolutely news to me. I was continually amazed by how little I actually knew about some of the major historical events of the last century and in particular, the cast of characters responsible. Unfortunately, the RE-writing of history by academics bears a great deal of the blame. Or, as in the case of the legacy media today, much of it was simply never discussed or reported on, effectively sweeping huge swaths of it under the rug.
If this book was a bit more user-friendly logistically, this should be required course material in every college and university in this country, if not the world.
I'm not here to debate the merits of this type of assignment (although, someone should point out to the annoyingly arrogant students that the only reason why they know the answer is because their history teacher just talked about it last period...). I simply wish to share that the knowledge that, at any time, these students could be on the prowl struck a chord of fear in my heart. Commanding proper attention and authority as a young, female teacher is hard enough as it is; the last thing I need is to not be able to point out the Republic of Djibouti on a blank map in front of my entire class.
I've always been a bit insecure about my flimsy knowledge of historical and world happenings. The last time I took a proper world history class, I was a sophomore in high school. And, it was taught by the high school football coach, whose favorite technique was to distribute pastel colored worksheets, which we were then told to complete on our own. Needless to say, not a whole lot stuck. I can't blame all my ignorance on Coach Small, though. If I had spent my college summer vacations reading about history instead of playing countless hours of Tropico, I would be a much better person today.
Reading Modern Times by Paul Johnson constituted an attempt to better my historically-challenged self. This is not a people's history, nor does it focus in depth on any one particular person or event. Rather, it's the story of the 20th's century's world leaders, the various ideologies they represented and the bloodshed that resulted when utopian visions inevitably imploded. Johnson seems to be particularly fascinated by the 20th century's unique propensity for producing charismatic revolutionaries, visionaries and messiahs whose often whimsical and ill-conceived decisions tragically influenced the lives of millions of people. The law of unintended consequences is a key theme in this book.
One characteristic of Modern Times that I appreciated is that Johnson doesn't claim he's done the impossible task of presenting the cold facts of history in an objective manner, completely free from bias. Rather, he unabashedly analyzes history, massaging the landscape of the 20th century into a narrative arc, replete with characters, themes and tragedies. His basic premise, which drives his analysis, is that Nietzsche's prediction for the 20th came true, that at the dawn of modern times "the belief in the Christian God would no longer be tenable." The vacuum left behind by God's absence inevitably needed to be filled. Johnson goes on to argue, "Nietzsche rightly perceived that the most likely candidate would be what he called the 'Will to Power,' which offered a more comprehensive and in the end more plausible explanation of human behavior than either Marx or Freud. In place of religious belief there would be secular ideology. Those who had once filled the ranks of the totalitarian clergy would become totalitarian politicians. And, above all, the Will to Power would produce a new kind of messiah, uninhibited by any religious sanctions whatever, and with an unappeasable appetite for controlling mankind. The end of the old order, with an unguided world adrift in a relativistic universe, was a summons to such gangster statesmen to emerge. They were not slow to make their appearance" (48).
The fact that a traditional Judeo-Christian worldview undergirds Johnson's argument might not sit well with some readers who disagree with his presuppositions (namely, that a moral fabric is woven into the universe and that man, despite his best efforts and often good intentions, is inherently weak and easily corruptible, which is why attempts at social engineering are doomed to fail). But to those who are open to Johnson's particular angle, Modern Times will prove to be an informative and enlightening read. If I had to take a multiple choice test on it right now, I would likely score no better than a 9%, and I probably still can't find the Republic of Djibouti on a map. So, you might be wondering why I devoted four months of my life to reading this long, boring book. What I can say is that the impoverished picture of the 20th century that I had in my mind prior reading this book has now been edified and enriched, and most importantly, it gave me a solid foundation onto which I will hopefully build.
I highly recommend this book to everyone who loves history or just wants to make better sense of what is happening in the world today.
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