Thinking the Twentieth Century

Tony Judt with Timothy Snyder. Penguin Pres, $35 (406p) ISBN 978-1-59420-323-7
In this scintillating series of conversations undertaken as he was dying of Lou Gehrig’s Disease, British-American historian Judt (The Memory Chalet) and his interlocutor Snyder (Bloodlands) survey the triumphs and barbarities of the past century through the lens of the thinkers and ideologues who shaped it. Interleaving autobiographical sketches with fluent, freewheeling discussions of history, politics, and culture, Judt revisits crucial 20th-century intellectual currents: the impact of two world wars and the Great Depression on politics and philosophy; the development of and rivalry between communist and fascist dogmas; the success of social democracy and Keynesian economics in bringing liberal government, broad-based growth, and social equality to the post-war world; and the retreat from those achievements prompted by free-market fundamentalism’s attack on the activist state. (He also reprises his criticism of Israel after recalling summers on the kibbutz.) Judt’s ability to distill heaps of erudition into lucid, pithy conversation, even when on a breathing apparatus, is astonishing; he’s as engaging on the religious dimensions of Marxism and Freudianism as on Obama and the Iraq War. Snyder, a historian and former student of Judt’s, contributes probing interjections that stimulate and test his mentor’s ideas. The result is a lively, browsable, deeply satisfying meditation on recent history by a deservedly celebrated public intellectual. (Feb.)
Reviewed on: 09/26/2011
Release date: 02/02/2012
Genre: Nonfiction
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