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History of the 20th Century Paperback – 7 Oct 2002

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‘In his great work, the writing is lucid, the pace perfectly judged, the evidence vividly conjured. The horrors are heightened by a style of almost Confucian reticence, which teaches without didacticism. In Gilbert's vision of history, the vast range never blurs the human scale. He is inspired by a victim of the Japanese brutalisation of Canton in 1937: "Historians may appropriate only a line or two to record this present catastrophe, but it is tremendous to those of us that are in it."' FELIPE FERNÀNDEZ-ARMESTO, Sunday Times

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Martin Gilbert is Britain’s leading popular historian. His History of the Twentieth Century is a complete global narrative history of our century. The undisputed master of narrative history, he has an extraordinary ability to muster detailed facts into rich and compelling prose. He retells the events of this, the most horrifying and surprising century that the world has ever experienced, and makes sense of them in a global (and personal) context. As the countries of the world fought and recovered from two World Wars. This single-volume history takes us up to the present day, weaving a rich historical narrative of the multifarious and contradictory events of the last century , which ranges across the bloody events of many wars (from Korea to Bosnia), the post-war resurrection of Europe and the United Nations, the Arms Race, the shooting of JFK, the advent of computerisation, Man’s arrival on the moon, Aids and heart transplants, Tiananmen Square and the fall of the Berlin Wall. This is history which makes sense of the most destructive yet most creative century humanity has ever experienced.

'A mammoth undertaking, a miracle of dense compression, demonstrating a sense of proportion sustained with extraordinary self-discipline and a capacity to absorb, digest and shape a mountain of miscellaneous material… A salient and invaluable reference book, austerely non-judgmental, lucid and measured.' PHILIP ZIEGLER, Daily Telegraph

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on (beta) 10 reviews
19 of 19 people found the following review helpful
Very nice reading 23 May 2000
By Rogerio Werneck Costa Rodrigues - Published on
Format: Hardcover
This is a book I love.
It is a nice reading and keeps you aware of what happened in a given year. But it is very superficial and so, if you are looking for in-deep information on a particular event that took place in the last third of the century, try another book.
Don't forget the Vol 1 and 2, this collection is really worth the price.
16 of 16 people found the following review helpful
Final Of Gilbert's Terrific 3 Volume 20th Century History 29 Oct. 2000
By Barron Laycock - Published on
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
British historian and academic Sir Martin Gilbert (knighted by the Queen in 1995) has a well-deserved reputation as one of the most authoritative academics on the subject of the twentieth century, and has written perhaps more prolifically than anyone else on various aspects of this remarkable epoch. Indeed, he has written such a torrent of different books on everything ranging from a multiple volume biography of Sir Winston Churchill to histories of World War One, World War Two, that a complete accounting of his efforts would require more space than is available for the review. Thus it should come as no surprise that he has written a three-volume overview of the twentieth century itself. What is so surprising is how engaging, entertaining, and accessible each of the three volumes is to the reader.
In this third and final volume of the epic narrative of the twentieth century, Gilbert carefully and cogently describes the unfolding of the post world war drama as the struggle between the forces of the western democracies face down the forces of the socialist states of the Soviet Union, China, and Cuba in a fight for the hearts and minds of the burgeoning world population. In providing this continuous narrative thread from the beginnings of the struggle from the beginning of the century and the transformation from all that was traditional, autocratic, and orderly to all that was democratic, innovative, and chaotic, we see the master forces behind the massive dislocations, murderous warfare, and technological transformations that characterize the last hundred years. Of course, much of the narrative covering the last fifty years is a description of regional conflicts, from the so-called police action in Korea to American involvement in Vietnam, from the continuing Irish "troubles" to the murderous genocide in Cambodia under Pol Pot, from the fratricide in Rwanda to the ethnic cleansing in Bosnia and Kosovo, this is a portrait of an increasingly violent, dissonant, and fractured world in which many more voices, angry and otherwise, add to the shouts and clamorous sounds of history.
From the description of the postwar resurrection in Europe to the momentous dissolution of the Soviet Union in the last ten years, this is a narrative of a world in the process of multiplying its faces, voices, and flavors. This is a book that engages the reader in the spectacle of the transformation of our world from everything autocratic, traditional and rigidly controlled to all that became so characteristic of the century thereafter; democratic, irrational, murderous, and wildly chaotic. With an amazing and delightful eye for absorbing detail, Gilbert threads his way through the particular personalities, events and issues as they arise chronologically. One criticism I have read about concerning the book is absolutely dead-on, and that is Gilbert does somewhat pedantically stick to a faithful chronological narrative.
Yet, given the plethora of events, issues, personalities and changes occurring throughout the world, any other organization would suffer from other problems such as maintaining context for the reader, so one can appreciate all that faced a particular leader in a given situation. Understanding how the multitudes of actors, issues, and countries are involved and intertwined lends itself to better comprehension, at least in this reviewer's mind. After all, it is mind-boggling to understand in the last hundred years the western world transformed itself in almost every dimension imaginable; technological, scientific, social, economic, and philosophical. To attempt to do justice to this wide panoply of revolutionary change requires a certain perspective and rigorous discipline to do so, especially in the 3,000 or so pages allotted to the overall work. This is a book and also three volume set I can heartily recommend. Enjoy!
7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
A flawed masterpiece 6 Mar. 2001
By A Customer - Published on
Format: Paperback
I can hardly imagine a more compelling (i.e., compulsively readable) account of the major events of the twentieth century than Gilbert's in the first volume of this allegedly "masterful" book; it is the events themselves that account for most of the book's interest, not any explanation of them offered by Gilbert.Gilbert's views can be inferred only from what he thinks fit to include in his book, and what not. Curiously enough, what is remarkable about the book--Gilbert's willingness to stand aside, to allow events their intrinsic interest--is exactly what many readers find fault with it--namely in the absence of a considered world-outlook, an overarching explanation of or attitude towards the events he describes. That he offers no explanation cannot be denied; but to this reader an attitude towards the events he describes is so clearly implicit in his language as to constitute a kind of intellectual autobiography: Gilbert, despite his strong commitment to England and Israel, is utterly fair-minded in describing them. (For example, he is shocked by the willingness of generals [particularly Haig and Kitchener] to feed thousands of young men to German machine guns in the interest of gaining ten feet of ground along the Siegfried line.He is staggered by the quasi-feudal political arrangement that enabled the Habsburgs and the Hohenzollerns to ride roughshod over the slight democratic process in place in Autria-Hungary and in Germany, and by the revolting anti-semitism of both leaders, who ignored the fact that Jews were fighting for their countries, and explained the incipient social revolution occasioned by the tragic loss of life to "Jewish-led communism.") He is willing to allow facts to speak for themselves (each major initiative in WWI is characterized in terms of numbers--of deaths, of casualties civilian and military).He believes, to some extent, that history is out of human control, and thus we get a palindrome at the end of each chapter detailing the loss of life to "Acts of God" and to sepsis. He writes a good English style, never opaque though full of implication, but his book is horrendously badly edited, a statistic on one page at variance with the same statistic on another page, and the grammatical howlers, superfluous words, bad punctuation doubtless originate in the unseemly haste with which Gilbert pours out his popular histories. Nevertheless, I would not willingly part with a single page of these books, as they purvey something more valuable than "vision": they convey a sense of the tragedy of this century, its odd, paradoxical commitment to decency hand in hand with a savage, unpitying biologically driven tendency to make a god of death and killing.
22 of 29 people found the following review helpful
Disappointing -- Nothing More Than A Collection of Headlines 8 Aug. 2000
By Bob - Published on
Format: Hardcover
What a disappointment this book was. It truly is nothing more than a regurgitation of a good newspaper's "Year in Review" section for each of the years covered. It simply lists one event after another. There is no attempt to analyze or put in perspective events, nor is there even a shred of a story thread to carry the reader.
I haven't read the first two volumes in this series, but I can't imagine them being as bad as this one, else the author would never have received a contract to do this book. This work is an embarrassment to the author, the publisher, and the intellectuals in the United Kingdom.
3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
A good overview of the 20th century, but lacks retrospective 3 May 2003
By Greg Lynn - Published on
Format: Hardcover
Martin Gilbert, a British Jew who has written extensively and comprehensively on history, has added to his compendiums a three-volume set on the 20th century as a whole.
Martin Gilbert's writing and selection of material is first class. He chronicles the history of the 20th century through three substantial volumes (each bout 500 pages long), covering everything from the horrors of the World Wars to Global Warming. Most of the examples reflect in some way or another the historical currents and trends at the time, and show a deep and mature understanding of history.
The written format of the book is somewhat unusual, seeming more like a series of newspaper clippings than a true study of the 20th century. But it is wrong to claim that this is merely 'collecting clippings' at random. Gilbert's selections, often tragic and poignant, magnify the human dimensions of history often neglected in more formal studies of the subject. Whether it is the promising Russian writer deported to Siberia to be shot, the cold, hungry Jew in Auschwitz, the miserable African living in a refugee camp in absolute squalor, or the harried World War I soldier, Gilbert captures them all.
The only real weakness of Gilbert's three-volume study is the lack of restrospective commentary on the events he depicts. Gilbert appears to suppress his personal views and opinions, for the main part, in favour of recording historical events objectively. This makes the work somewhat more dry and less aware of the 'human' dimension in history; a perspective badly needed for a century as violent and fast-changing as the 20th. Nevertheless, this study is a fine introduction to the history of the 20th century.
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