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4.4 out of 5 stars
The Origins of Totalitarianism
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45 of 46 people found the following review helpful
on 26 February 1999
If you have a couple of months to spare and an interest not only in the Totalitarian regimes in the former Soviet Union and Germany, but also a desire to learn about antisemitism and imperialism then this is the book for you. If you just want to know about Totalitarianism, get the volume only containing that portion. This is an incredibly dense and comprehensive history that takes both patience and time to wade through. The journey is well worth it, though, as Hannah Arendt shows the incredibly destructive nature of all that makes one human under a totalitarian rule. It isn't a fun read, but definitely a rewarding one.
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10 of 11 people found the following review helpful
on 21 November 2010
TOOT is Arendt's heavily opinionated opus on Antisemitism, Imperialism and Totalitarianism. On Antisemitism, Arendt opines that Europe's Jews had an active hand to play in being victimized. They refused to integrate, becoming bankers to hated monarchies and ended up being easy targets for radical interests opposed to the aristocracy. She blames the Jews for their "chosenness" saying, "Whenever peoples have been separated from action and achievements ... they have been inclined to ... claim divinity and a mission to redeem the whole world". She doesn't give any other examples of such peoples. [The reviewer is not Jewish nor is he sympathetic as regards the Israeli government's political actions]. Arendt does stress though that the "Protocols of the Elders of Zion" were a forgery.

I think that her analysis is magisterial and incisive and she was an academic at the top of her game. However not all her statements, like this one, have proved to be correct: "Hitler, who during his lifetime exercised a fascination to which allegedly no one was immune, and who after his defeat and death is today so thoroughly forgotten". This was written soon after WW2.

The challenge for Arendt is to keep her reader's interest as the material she presents is both extensive and dense. On that score I don't think she succeeds very well. It takes a herculean effort to complete this 480-page book especially as over 60% is, to be honest, off topic. Despite all, I think the final section on Totalitarianism is superb. She dissects Stalin and Hitler with a precision that chills the bones. How were these two monsters allowed by their people and others in power to get away with genocide on a scale unmatched before and since?
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32 of 36 people found the following review helpful
on 17 March 2001
Arendt belongs to a class of scholars that only seem to appear intermittently throughout history. Her capacity for profound analysis is nowhere better displayed than in this volume. While scholarship has moved on, especially in connection with antisemitism and the social psychology of authoritarianism, her work on totalitarianism stands as one of the finest exegeses of its time. Her overriding concern to equate social progress with socialism and inter alia moral progress makes the book invaluable for those young people today who wonder what happened to faith in political ideologies. I first encountered this work over twenty years ago, and when I came across it again recently, it was still as magnetic and wonderfully refreshing as ever.
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13 of 15 people found the following review helpful
on 11 August 2007
There is not one paragraph in this book, particularly in the chapters on imperialism and totalitarianism, that does not apply in some way to the woes of our world today. Thus it is essential reading for understanding the historical process of secrecy, militias, gulags, secret services, military insensitivity, lying governments, false scientfic evidence, media corruption, racism, manipulation, police state politics, demonstrations and ideologies. She warned; we have not listened. The apathy Arendt wrote about is indeed much worse. A great woman; a great thinker. The introduction by Pulizer prize winner Samantha Power (A Problem from Hell) is a bonus.
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on 1 July 2014
Anyone with an intellectual conscience (i.e. not many) should read this book. Origins is not just a bland work of scholarship but a deft work of political thought in its own right, up there with the great classics. Published in the aftermath of the Second World War, Origins is a long, painstaking meditation on the the build up to, rise and triumph of the Totalitarian States, Nazi Germany and Soviet Russia.

It is a formidable work and, regrettably, of continued political relevance. It is also a pan-European book in the sense that it dissects with much grace and beauty the cultural trends of mid nineteenth and early twentieth century European society and the differences that stood, say, between British and Continental forms of government, the Jewish question and so on and so forth.

Many accuse Arendt's prose of being 'dense' but for a thoughtful person this book can be read in just over a week and personally I find it beautifully written in the style of the great masters (an incredible feat given Arendt's native language was German). Perhaps a classical training is the best preparation to approach this monumental book.

Arendt has been unfairly and cheaply attacked, in her lifetime and after she died, but her achievements have stood the test of time and I make no secret of the fact that along with a select few, Arendt is one of the reasons I keep a certain faith in humanity as long as it is able to allow minds of the caliber to have a say.

I have laboured long and hard in devising my own philosophy as a young man now approaching thirty but Arendt is always a careful reminder that I should keep an eye on factual and political reality whatever the cost.

Five stars.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
on 12 August 2015
The 'contents' is fine as expected, but this book is a book-on-demand and reading the text on some of the pages is almost undecipherable.
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5 of 7 people found the following review helpful
on 25 March 2008
A rare book which left me thinking "now I understand".

It is a very detailed analysis of the rise of totalitarian regimes in 20th century Europe. It covers a wide spectrum: anti-semitism, imperialism, the differences between American, British and continental forms of democracy, the propaganda techniques of totalitarian politics and much more.

Although Arendt was writing about the late 19th and early 20th century her words are still relevant. Her book is not a list of atrocities, but focuses on the thinking behind totalitarianism and its implementation. By distancing itself from the horror to focus on political thought and theory the book resonates with much of current European politics. Only the names need to be changed to strip away the democratic facade behind which Europe's current political elites curtail freedom and stifle debate as they work towards their totalitarian goal.

This book has changed the way I think about politics. It has made me more pessimistic about prospects for liberal democracy in Britain because it explains why and how the country is being transformed into a totalitarian state.

This work should be a warning to all Europeans that the price of freedom is eternal vigilance, but unfortunately it is very heavy going, so the warning will go unheeded. If only it had been written by that other great American woman historian Barbara Tuchman who knew how to bring history alive.
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on 4 May 2015
Hannah Arendt is the seminal political thinker of the 20th century. Although the references of the book are about what created Europe as it is now and the 2nd world war, the ripples of what happened are still visible and the way totalitarianism functions is absolutely still applicable
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1 of 2 people found the following review helpful
on 23 March 2014
The definitive anatomy of totalitarianism. The words of Hannah Arendt echo in eternity and we had better pay much more attention.
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on 8 July 2015
No brain decision to get
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