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Year Zero: A History of 1945 [Hardcover]

Ian Buruma
4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (33 customer reviews)
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Book Description

3 Oct 2013
Many books have been written, and continue to be written, about the Second World War: military histories, histories of the Holocaust, the war in Asia, or collaboration and resistance in Europe. Few books have taken a close look at the immediate aftermath of the worldwide catastrophe.

Drawing on hundreds of eye-witness accounts and personal stories, this sweeping book examines the seven months (in Europe) and four months (in Asia) that followed the surrender of the Axis powers, from the fate of Holocaust survivors liberated from the concentration camps, and the formation of the state of Israel, to the incipient civil war in China, and the allied occupation of Japan.

It was a time when terrible revenge was taken on collaborators and their former masters; of ubiquitous black markets, war crime tribunals; and the servicing of millions of occupation troops, former foes in some places, liberators in others. But Year Zero is not just a story of vengeance. It was also a new beginning, of democratic restorations in Japan and West Germany, of social democracy in Britain and of a new world order under the United Nations.

If construction follows destruction, Year Zero describes that extraordinary moment in between, when people faced the wreckage, full of despair, as well as great hope. An old world had been destroyed; a new one was yet to be built.

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Product details

  • Hardcover: 384 pages
  • Publisher: Atlantic Books (3 Oct 2013)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1848879369
  • ISBN-13: 978-1848879362
  • Product Dimensions: 23.8 x 15.2 x 4 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (33 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 112,915 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Buruma s book is a study of the mess that the world was in 1945, a mess we choose largely not to remember. It is also a brief but valuable study of how that mess began to be cleaned up. It gives us, too, simple lessons, both touching and terrifying, about how human beings are and can be... Excellent and lucid --David Aaronovitch, The Times

Ian Buruma s wonderful book is about a time, immediately after the end of the war, which has somehow fallen between the cracks of history, and which the author has now devastatingly brought to light... A compelling and astounding addition to the literature of the war Daily Mail
A superbly written chronicle of the conflict s bittersweet aftermath --Ian Thomson, Observer

Brilliant... Year Zero is a major acheivement, a book of many parts, which commemorates a generation, as they stood on the brink of an unknown future Joanna Kavenna, Spectator
Moving and excellent --Neal Ascherson, Guardian

Ian Buruma s elegant and humane new book illuminates one of the most important modern historical moments: the spring and summer of 1945, immediately after the second world war --Rana Mitter, Financial Times

Buruma excels as a social historian of the aftermath of the war... It is hard to overstate Buruma's accomplishment in crafting the first truly worldwide account of perceptions and experiences in the pivotal years after the guns had fallen silent... Outstanding --Prospect

Ian Buruma s lively new history, Year Zero, is about the various ways in which the aftermath of the Good War turned out badly for many people, and splendidly for some who didn't deserve it. It is enriched by his knowledge of six languages, a sense of personal connection to the era and his understanding of this period --Adam Hochschild, New York Times

It is well written and researched, full of little-known facts and incisive political analysis. What makes it unique among hundreds of other works written about this period is that it gives an overview of the effects of the war and liberation, not only in Europe, but also in Asia --Charles Simic, New York Review of Books

About the Author

Ian Buruma is Professor of Human Rights and Journalism at Bard College, in New York State. Murder in Amsterdam won the Los Angeles Times Book Prize and was shortlisted for the Samuel Johnson Prize. He was awarded the Erasmus Prize in 2008.

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews
31 of 35 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A Bad End To A Good War 6 Oct 2013
By Dr Barry Clayton TOP 1000 REVIEWER
Format:Kindle Edition
This latest book of Ian Burama is a vivid and compelling account of the year 1945, the year when the scourge of Nazism was defeated. The standard view of that year is one of relief and joy, of triumph and peace. Burama shows us this view is wrong.
He is the author of some 22 books, for example Occidentalism; Anglomania; and Taming the Gods. All have been acclaimed.

In this book he opens with a very apt quote from Walter Benjamin's 'Ninth Thesis on the Philosophy of History'. It describes the angel of history perceiving a single catastrophe when he looks into the past. It is a riveting depiction of what we term progress. The author tells us how he was intrigued by his father's experience of WW2.
The family lived in Nijmegen in east Holland where the disatrous Arnhem battle took place in 1944. His father was arrested and taken to a nasty concentration camp where 'Dutch thugs were trained by the SS in the savage techniques of their trade'. He was later sent to a workers camp and then to work in a Berlin factory that made brakes for trains. While there he experienced the day and night bombing by the combined bomber force. What made his son curious after the war ended was 'How did the world emerge from the wrekage'. How, he wondered did people retrieve a sense of normality. Surely, he thought, it is an illusion to think we can cast aside the horrors of the past.

Ian points out, however, that governments all over the world did hold this illusion after 1945. He demonstrates how in many cases the people prevented a return to the 1930's, for example women refused. Stalin used brute force to prevent many East European states from returning to normalcy.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A turbulent year 9 April 2014
Format:Kindle Edition|Verified Purchase
Very hard to say why this does not get 5 stars, but it did seem to lose coherence at one or two points. The idea of basing it on the author's father was a really good one, which could have been more developed. There was a fair amount of repetition, perhaps inevitable in the way the book was organised. But I enjoyed reading it and I am sure others will too.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Factual but not riveting 9 April 2014
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
I learned a lot from this book but it was not an interesting read - not enough personal stories for my taste.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Very Interesting 19 Feb 2014
Format:Kindle Edition|Verified Purchase
I was born soon after the events detailed in the book but I knew nothing of what happened in the short time after the war finished. It does get mentioned. It is as if the world has a degree of shame for what happened. Not surprising as all the authorities were guilty of turning a blind eye to the massacres that occurred. The book is a valuable exposition on a time we all should know about.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Year Zero: 1945, an end or a beginning? 12 Feb 2014
I first encountered Ian Buruma's writing in 'Wages of Guilt' which I found intelligent and original so I looked forward to this book.

The author shows in 'Year Zero: A History of 1945' the many shades of grey that governed human behaviour when the victors came to dwell with the liberated and the vanquished. The realities of living in damaged or broken societies did not always lead to best behaviour as the new masters, both individuals and as nations, exploited the power wrought by military success. For a book whose subject matter often makes grim reading, its author incorporates historical information into his narratives without overburdening them and writes with humanity but without sentimentality. He succeeds in relating his stories of individual men and women caught up in the maelstrom of war whilst providing context and analysis of the bigger picture.

Buruma attempts to explore thematically, rather than chronologically, the various emotions of the liberated; those enslaved at Belsen, French women enjoying the post-war night life, a rare German anti-Nazi aware of the self-pity of her fellow Berliners. There is joy, there is sex, there is fear, sometimes there is revenge - often encouraged by the liberators - more rarely, mercy. People, especially those in the newly occupied Germany and Japan, survived as best they could, many moral certainties being overturned in the face of starvation. Prostitution, both male and female, flourished in occupied Japan despite the highly controlled and hierarchical society which had gone before.

There were positives. Ostensibly the war been fought for freedom from tyranny and self-determination and a more equal society.
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6 of 8 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A timely read for the end of 2013 31 Dec 2013
I his latest work, Ian Buruma is determinedly writing a global history in terms of content by offering a wide and well-informed coverage which allows discussion of Holland, Greece and China for example. His thematic chapter structure allows paragraphs and sentences which blend and bleed between nations and their disgraced/embraced military leaders, intellectuals, everyday people (discovered through sources such as later-written diaries or memoirs) encouraging readers to make comparisons which postwar biases have previously rendered unpalatable. Interestingly his coverage only really unleashes America as the liberator/foreign presence/GI and not as a war-waging nation itself. He does, however, cover the American GI returning home: "even in America, the men in uniform often failed to live up to the heroic narrative."

Interestingly he also challenges the dividing lines between "liberation" , "victory" and "defeat" and in so doing complicates our comfortable reliance on GB and US as the moral victors. He includes the Soviet Union as part of the victorious "civilising" force. From the perspective of his source material, a generous and palatable proportion is anecdotal but well supported by the writings of observers/reflectors of the time. This choice positions Buruma as not just relying on reflecting on "facts" after the fact but embracing the continuum of judgement and representation which is part of all history writing. For me his most important challenge is that he offers to to the completeness of postwar - "If there is anything to be gleaned from these glimpses of the global mood on New Year's Eve, it is that a certain sense of normality was beginning to seep back into the daily lives of people who were lucky enough to be able to lift their heads from the direst misery of the immediate postwar period. This was not aluxury available to those who were still displaced in Germany, in Japanese POW camps, or in whatever sordid limbo they found themselves."
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
3.0 out of 5 stars Three Stars
Fairly dry... but informative.
Published 1 month ago by aeroroger
5.0 out of 5 stars This is a very interesting book. The idea of ...
This is a very interesting book. The idea of writing about a single year is an interesting approach, and one that works very well.
Published 1 month ago by T. Leunig
4.0 out of 5 stars Four Stars
Great, interesting book, loved it
Published 2 months ago by sue
4.0 out of 5 stars What we were never told.
Not a book for the faint hearted. We were never told of these horrific happenings, even after the war our news was sanitised. Read more
Published 4 months ago by Mrs. E. N. Ruffell
5.0 out of 5 stars A very engaging read
Ian Buruma is an excellent writer, I find I finish most of his books in a matter of days. We are exposed to lots of documentaries about the war, but not many about the aftermath. Read more
Published 6 months ago by William Cohen
5.0 out of 5 stars A scholarly, balanced Treatise
The last book I read (some time ago) on 1945 was Robert Kee's "The World we Fought for". It's very good. And so is this one, but it's a bit different. Read more
Published 6 months ago by W. Tegner
5.0 out of 5 stars Post war suffering
This was a most interesting account of the full horror of the impaact od the second world war on mainland europe and the suffering of civilians.
Published 6 months ago by ian lowry
5.0 out of 5 stars An excellent read
Really interesting to look at the end of the war and its consequences to the world we live in today.
Published 7 months ago by Andy C
5.0 out of 5 stars The horror that follows hatred and greed
Every child now enjoying life wherever they are, should be taught the history of the aftermath of war and made to learn.
Published 7 months ago by Peter Martinelli Mbe
2.0 out of 5 stars Too much political analysis
Such an interesting period of history but found the book too padded out with the political ebbs and flos, which are a matter of record and can be easily found in any text book. Read more
Published 7 months ago by Martin J. White
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