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Customer Review

on March 6, 2012
"Remembering the 20th Century Limited" is a book that doesn't live up to its promise. Matthew Stevenson has certainly had an interesting life, living as an expatriate in Switzerland for many years, and he has been privileged to know some very interesting people (including Alger Hiss!). But, as seems to often be the case with expats, he appears to have lost touch with the intimate details of American politics, and sees only a sort of distorted caricature of what's happening here.

His interesting insights on the Middle East are weakened by intemperate comments about the Bush administration. His long disquisition on Alger Hiss appears to be yet another attempt to excuse apparent treachery by a "well meaning" individual. Mr. Hiss' motivations may never be understood (perhaps not even by him), but something really did happen. There were indeed a number of young, idealistic Americans who were drawn to the notion of an all-powerful government of wise technocrats. Mr. Stevenson seems to lack the knowledge of political history that would help him understand how the yearnings for a "philospher king" so often lead to fascism. As Winston Churchill famously said, "Democracy is the worst form of government in the world -- except for all the others".

So ultimately I was disappointed in this book. It is well written, and there are insights to be had. Mr. Stevenson is a good investigator, but he is not a particularly knowedgeable historian, nor a political scientist. And that is where his book falls short.
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