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Thinking the Twentieth Century MP3 CD – Feb 2 2012
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"There are so many ways that Thinking the Twentieth Century is a remarkable book. The lifetime of scholarship and intellectual engagement lying behind that verb "thinking" in the title. The way ideas crackle in the interplay between the authors. The passionate involvement with issues political and controversial. That the book could have been written at all, given the tragic circumstances surrounding it... Judt proceeds to take the reader on a wild ride through the ideological currents and shoals of 20th century thought."
—The Los Angeles Times — THE LOS ANGELES TIMES
“An intellectual feast, learned, lucid, challenging and accessible.”
—San Francisco Chronicle — SAN FRANCISCO CHRONICLE
“Fans will find plenty to sustain them in this poignant coda to a life marked by great feats of penmanship, scholarly insight and contemporary polemic… [Judt’s] bravery is ever-present, but rightly understated. As Mr Snyder notes in his introduction, the book is both about the life of the mind and a mindful life. Judt exemplified both.”
—The Economist — THE ECONOMIST
“Judt was a provocateur, but maybe an accidental one, and after reading this remarkable, impassioned book, it's hard to doubt his sincerity… Thinking the Twentieth Century is Judt's final salvo against what he saw as a culture of historical ignorance and political apathy, and it's every bit as brilliant, uncompromising and original as he was.”
—NPR — NPR.org
“Incandescent on every page with intellectual energy.”
—Pankaj Mishra, Prospect Magazine (UK) — Pankaj Mishra, PROSPECT MAGAZINE (UK)
"Scintillating... a lively, browsable, deeply satisfying meditation on recent history by a deservedly celebrated public intellectual."
—Publisher's Weekly (starred review) — PUBLISHERS WEEKLY (starred review) --This text refers to the Paperback edition.
About the Author
Tony Judt was educated at King's College, Cambridge, and the Ecole Normale Superieure, Paris, and taught at Cambridge, Oxford and Berkeley. He was the Erich Maria Remarque Professor of European Studies at New York University, as well as the founder and director of the Remarque Institute, dedicated to creating an ongoing conversation between Europe and America. The author or editor of fourteen books, Professor Judt was a frequent contributor to The New York Review of Books, the Times Literary Supplement, The New Republic, The New York Times and many journals across Europe and the United States. Professor Judt is the author of The Memory Chalet, Ill Fares the Land, Reappraisals: Reflections on the Forgotten Twentieth Century and Postwar: A History of Europe Since 1945, which was one of the New York Times Book Review's Ten Best Books of 2005, the winner of the Council on Foreign Relations Arthur Ross Book Award and a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize. He died in August 2010 at the age of sixty-two. Timothy Snyder studied at Brown and Oxford, held fellowships in Paris, Warsaw and Vienna and at Harvard, and is a professor of history at Yale. He is the author of five award-winning books of European history; the most recent of which, Bloodlands: Europe Between Hitler and Stalin, was named a book of the year by more than ten publications and is being translated into more than twenty languages. --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.
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Top Customer Reviews
The book is about Tony Judt"s life and work as a 20th century historian. Tony Judt was born just after the end of WWII in England, from a Jewish family that had emigrated from central Europe. He would quickly become disillusioned with his first passions, Marxism and Zionism. He would then turn to history and focus all his intellectual capacities to understanding what made him and the society he was part of. His main interest was the role of western and central European intellectuals in forging the history of the old continent. He immigrated to the US where he would hold academic positions at prestigious institutions.Read more ›
While Tony Judt is not the only bright mind and clear thinker who stands alone, he is definitely way up there.
I have chosen this book for two friends as a holiday gift.
Through their dialogue we are privy to learn about the principal philosophies and historical events as seen and experienced by, mainly, Tony Judt.
Anyone interested by the history of the twentieth century would do well to include this work in their reading list.
Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)
John Maynard Keynes and Friedrich Hayek were economists and political philosophers. Keynes' ideas were shaped by the pre-WW1 poverty and social programs of Britain. He saw capitalism as unstable, requiring government intervention. Hayek's were shaped by the post WW1 disorder in Austria. He saw the welfare State as the road to Hitler.
"Fascists and Nazis assumed that you could mix property-based capitalism on the one hand and government intervention on the other." P347 Communists were obsessed with power and therefore wanted the State to control the economy. All three tried to create self-sufficient economies. USSR planning failed so badly no one copied it.
Judt is a Zionist who believes that both the Israeli and US government policy is wrong.
Intellectuals write for their audience without personal experience.
The 20th century went from world war to the collapse of most of the belief systems. P.393
"The vast majority of human beings today are simply not competent to protect their own interests." P.366
"The tendency of mass democracy to produce mediocre politicians is what worries me." P.309
The long version:
He believes that the pre-WWI generation was the first to reject religion and thus based their values on secular values. His Jewish family originated in Russia and Eastern Europe and were Socialists and Communists. They moved to Western Europe before the Russian Revolution. Judt explains why Jews were so receptive to Marxism. That was something I always wondered about but could not find an explanation.
He says that those who accept Marx believe that the "ends justify the means"- it is the utopian dream that matters (including the destruction of the present order) and how civilization gets there is of little concern. Thus the excuse is provided for mass murder and violating all the "rights" Communists say they are fighting for. There are "good" Communists (Trotsky) and "bad" Communists (Stalin). Between the world wars Fascism (not democracy) was viewed as the alternative to Communism.
P.26 " It took until the mid-1970s for even the core economies of prosperous Western Europe to get back to where they had been in 1914."
P.28 "Both the Nazis and the Soviets were consumed by the attraction of scale as the condition of well-being." And they wanted a self-sufficient State to go it alone if need be.
Tony observed that Communism had way more followers in Catholic countries than Protestant ones. Britain is Anglican but that religion is much closer to Catholic than Protestant and he says that is why Britain was such a fertile place for Soviet spies. France and Germany have areas where Catholics dominate and Communist enclaves exist. There was an intense feeling of community among the believers. P.83
Although he spent time at an Israeli Kibbutz in the 1960s, Tony was never a religious person. He says that he is a Zionist but thinks the Israeli government and the US have used the Holocaust as an excuse to push too far. He faults American Jews and Liberals for encouraging others to "fight the good fight" while sitting back and waiting for the opportunity to step in as governing bureaucrats. P.118
As with the other reviewers, I found Judt's discussion of the differences of Fascists from Communists in his first attempt was convoluted and confusing. It might be clear to him but it does not come across that way in the text. This is what I got out of it: both groups are composed of angry minorities with their own causes but united by power obsessed leaders who unite them in common cause. The Fascists emphasize procedures (such as coordinating with business) to reach their goal while the Communists just want to get there by any means (such as taking over business to force change). The primary Fascists were Italy and Germany who really had their separate agendas to empower the State while Communists were internationalists pushing world revolution. Later in the book he is very clear about the differences.
He notes that many Communists felt betrayed when the USSR invaded Hungary and then Czechoslovakia. P.222 And Communism shifted from exploited workers to exploited peasants after WWII which was contrary to Marx's vision of the disintegration of Capitalism. When Judt taught at Berkeley the students wanted him to explain how the beliefs had gotten off track. And he notes that students have a difficult time understanding the difference between "activism" and "Marxism".
The European Union concept was initially opposed because many thought it was a Vatican plot or a German plan to reassert its dominance.
Keynes and Judt attended the same college. What Judt writes about Keynes are things I have never read anywhere else.
"Hayek's argument for the unrestricted market was never primarily about economics. It was a political case drawing on his experience of Austrian authoritarianism and the impossibility of distinguishing between varieties of freedom. From a Hayekian perspective, you cannot preserve right A by sacrificing or compromising right B however much you gain by so doing. Sooner or later you will lose both rights. This buttressed the Reagan-Thatcher view that the right to make any amount of money unhindered by the State is part of an unbroken continuum with the right to free speech. It is perhaps worth reminding ourselves that this is not what Adam Smith thought." P.247
"Historians tend to be intrigued by arguments which either confirm what they think anyway or in some provocative way dismantle what a lot of other people think." P.261 He personally saw that tenure is based on parroting what other professors have written, not on competency, and thinks the US system is pathetic.
"The 20th century is the century of the intellectuals, with all of the accompanying treasons and accommodations and compromises. The problem is that we live today in an age when the illusions, disillusions, and hatreds take front and center. So it requires a conscious effort to both identify and save the core of what was good about intellectual life in the 20th century." P.285
From about page 300 Judt is looking back over the 20th century to draw some conclusions. Like me, you will probably disagree on some points but the value of his writing is to make you think and come up with your own reasons so I took no offense. I think you will like the comparisons between the state of the US compared to Europe or China.
The book has a nice personal touch -- it is partly autobiographical, with Judt talking freely about his own life, in passages that reveal Judt's deep and sometimes ambiguous connections to many of the places and events he describes. As a non-historian, what I value most about the book is that I feel it gives me something which otherwise would've taken me forty other books to get (in other words, which otherwise I would never have gotten), namely, a non-superficial overview of the twentieth century, motivated not by ideology but by knowledge. Judt and Snyder have done the hard work, and all the rest of us have to do is to read their book.
It would be inaccurate, however, to reach such a conclusion after reading Tony Judt and Timothy Snyder's Thinking the Twentieth Century, a text which explores and critiques in uncensored detail the dominant ideas, leaders, and events that helped shape the twentieth century. His final testament to the world before succumbing to ALS, Judt, through his discussions with renowned Yale historian Timothy Snyder and author of Bloodlands, evinces a masterpiece that will regale those who thought his greatest feat was Postwar.
Stated in the foreword and reiterated in the afterword, Judt wants to impart to his reader his view of himself as an outsider. In each of the nine chapters, for example, he provides autobiographical information as a means of placing himself squarely in the context of the twentieth century but more as an observer rather than as active participant.
To support this image of the outsider, we learn that the origin of his name was from a relative, which is not particularly unusual, until he adds that his relative died in Auschwitz. There is the history of his family, which includes Eastern Europe and his socialist father and grandfather, but it also includes a mother who is more interested in being British than anything else. In his youth, which he characterizes primarily as lonely, his teachers praise his intellectual prowess in history, politics, and literature, but at the same time he has to contend with a public whose anti-Semitic attitudes cast blame for the deaths of British soldiers on "those Jews."
In college, his professors recognized his intellectual abilities, but at the same time he was aware that privilege had allowed students entrance into an elite institution that they had not earned. Considering himself a Marxist at Cambridge, he never really participated in student protests with the exception of the Vietnam War. Finishing his Ph.D. at 24, he was always the youngest member of college faculty members and often in disagreement with their historiography and academic political correctness. He married and divorced twice before falling in love and marrying one of his graduate students, Jenny.
While teaching in Atlanta, he struggled adapting to its climate and southern culture. He finally found his niche in New York, only to alienate himself from members of the history department, whose neo-liberal approach to history irritated him. Finally, he antagonized much of the elite media when he was a vocal opponent of the Iraq War, calling their journalism habitually reckless. Saying that one is an outsider is merely lip-service; in the case of Tony Judt, his personal life mirrored his approach to intellectual pursuits: that one should be honest enough to view reality for what it is regardless if it may hurt the sensibilities of those deemed "insiders."
And in his discussions with Timothy Snyder, Judt does not hesitate espousing what he believes to be the truth on a variety of twentieth century topics. In chapter one, for example, he states that the Jewish question was never his focus in academia, even though it certainly spills over when he writes about a "general history."
He criticizes both Jews and non-Jews for isolating themselves culturally, which unfortunately leads to stereotypes that would have disastrous human consequences. Even in the Jewish community, he expressed that there was a pecking order (common in all ethnic groups) where those of German stock were revered more than those who were Polish. He explores why Jews were overrepresented in socialist and communist groups, concluding that European democracy lowered their standing and naturally lent a stronger voice to anti-Semitism.
Not only Jews but other groups found Communism alluring because it proselytized salvation to those who joined provided that they follow the dialectics of history. He even indicted those such as Jean Paul Sartre, who, even though they knew that Communism was a complete failure, still followed the party line as their "comrades" shot and tortured innocents.
In chapters two, three, and four, there are many stimulating intellectual topics, but two that stand out are their discussions of Marxism and the state of Israel. Judt goes so far to suggest that the logic of Marxism and Christianity are quite similar, which explains its popularity in countries dominated by rigid religious orthodoxy. There is also his insight that Marx to him was a historical commentator rather than revolutionary agitator.
Indeed, in England Marx was popular among the upper middle class, and it was the foundation of left thinking. However, he criticizes those who refused to see to its conclusion the detrimental impact of Marxist ideology upon Eastern Europe and the Soviet Union. This was one of the recurring traits of the twentieth century: the willingness to believe in an ideology even though it was painfully obvious that it enslaved rather than liberated.
Chapter four, by far the most controversial, contains Judt's excoriating views of the state of Israel. A former Zionist and Israeli soldier, Judt attacks Israel in ways that only a "Jew could" (his words) since any non-Jew who were to argue these points would automatically be called anti-Semitic. His position is that Israel is immoral for using the Holocaust to excuse its brutish behavior, and that he sees no real purpose for its existence since the Holocaust is no longer likely and because it has created greater instability in the region. There are points in chapter four where one will ask: Can he really get away with saying that? Even near his death, Judt maintains his principle that history must be told, even if it makes him a loathed outsider in his community.
Chapters five, six, and seven may not be as salacious as chapter four, but Snyder and Judt address historical topics that most of us would not care to venture: fascist intellectuals, political correctness in American universities, his disagreement with multi-cultural history, and his condemnation of previous American presidents.
Of particular insight on fascist intellectuals is his definition of the fascist Italian model. Not until the early 1930s did it take on a racial component, and its origins he suggests comes from those born a generation before World War I, who witnessed the destruction of their world and were looking for a new order that could help them reclaim their greatness. Fascist intellectuals were likely to be critics of modern culture, with its loose morals and its rampant focus on materialism. Part of its popularity was that many viewed it as the only alternative to Communism, which was spreading from east to west and whose followers were trying to use elections to their advantage. By no means does Judt support fascism; his brilliance is that he shows how one extreme naturally leads to another.
In chapters eight and nine, Judt and Snyder tackle more current topics, such as 9/11, the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, the growing age of insecurity, the fragility of American democracy, the welfare verses the warfare states, economic theory, the impact of privatization, the unfair distribution of resources, and the remaking of capitalism into a Chinese model.
Much of these ideas can be found in Judt's Ill Fares the Land, but nonetheless Judt is likely to have offended several people--i.e. he called Bill Clinton "smug" and George Bush "disastrous" when it came to foreign policy; he said that Republican politicians such as Newt Gingrich and Sarah Palin purvey a national fascism that has damaged the political climate; he argues that feminism advanced "privatized politics" which worked to solidify the privatization model of American life; he contends most politicians today are "mediocre at best" and lack the expertise to fully understand the issues that confront us; and surprising even social democrats, he agrees with free market proponents in that guaranteeing loans is a threat to capitalism.
There is much that I have left out, partly so as not to reveal every "hot topic" that is discussed in detail, but also because there is not enough space in a review to categorize them. Certainly, Thinking the Twentieth Century is nor for the faint of heart, but then again the title should serve as a warning to those who would approach this 400 page text as historical laymen. As Judt has done in all of his books, he forces the reader to think critically about everything that transpired in the twentieth century.
Having read his books, I truly understand that his goal is to provide us with a general history that can serve as clarification for those who lived through it and as a springboard for future discussion for those who want to make the twenty-first century better than it has started. The brilliance of Judt's accomplishment is that it displays what thinking looks and sounds like beyond political labels.
Amazing,I will read this again; and its significance can only grow, both for historians and philosophers still attuned to an historical ground.