3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
A guiding light of reason to the end...,
This review is from: Reappraisals: Reflections on the Forgotten Twentieth Century (Paperback)
Tony Judt died last week, after a brave fight against what is still often called Lou Gehrig's disease, (amyothrophic lateral sclerosis), at least in the United States. He published his reflections on the events of today until the very end. This book, issued within the last two years, is a valuable compendium of his thoughts about the people and events of the 20th Century that helped shape our current world.
Most of the essays first appeared in the New York Review of Books. In his introduction he addresses the issue of why they are still relevant; he is quite concern that the post-World War II world is now already half forgotten, (which is reflected in the sub-title) and he bemoans the fact that the last decade and a half has been marked by so much lost opportunity. He is an intellectual of the first-rate, his range is wide, his arguments and analysis lucid, and he can definitely "ruffle some feathers."
The book is divided into four parts; the first contains four essays on Jews who were forced into exile from their home in mitteleuropa. No doubt his interests were intensified since these individuals followed rough trajectories of his parent's lives. The four are Arthur Koestler, Primo Levi, Manes Sperber and Hannah Arendt. Only the third writer I had neither read, nor even heard of. I too found Levi's discussion of the Grey Zone in The Drowned and the Saved (Abacus Books) notable. Likewise, Judt's discussion of the work and biographies of Koestler and Arendt.
The second part contained six essays on intellectuals (and one Pope!). They are Albert Camus, Louis Althusser, Eric Hobsbawm, Leszek Kolakowski, John Paul II and Edward Said. Once again, and it IS why you read books, the second, third and fourth I had never heard of. Hobsbawm is a major British historian, who did not shed his life-time devotion to Communism, and Judt attempts to explain this, fittingly I think in the subtitle with the term "romance." The author gives high marks to Edward Said, particularly since he would tell the truth to his OWN people, "...rather than risk indulging the fawning elasticity with regard to one's own side that has disfigured the history of intellectuals since time immemorial." Furthermore, Judt says: "And by his mere presence here in New York, Edward Said was an ironic, cosmopolitan, Arab reminder of the parochialism of his critics." Judt's discussion of the alliance between the Pope and the Reagan administration, cemented by an opposition to birth control, was likewise informative.
The third part contained seven essays on various countries: two on France, one each on England, Belgium, Romania, and two on Israel. I found the one on the "non-state" of Belgium particular thoughtful. Judt's articles and reflections on Israel were sufficient to have him removed from the "masthead" at the New Republic (Judt believes in a democratic, one-state solution for all the peoples living west of the Jordan River). And France, ah, France, and its reflections on its patrimony. Likewise, some excellent thoughts.
The final part is on America. The author rehashes the Whittaker Chambers - Alger Hiss case, now that we irrefutably know that Hiss was a spy. Judt also looks at the illusionist, Henry Kissinger, and in a separate essay, the Cuban missile crisis. There are numerous informational nuggets that the author believes should be remembered: during the height of the Cold War, for example, Washington instructed "American Houses" in postwar Vienna and Salzburg to remove the works of "unsuitable" authors, and these included Arthur Miller, Leonard Bernstein, Tom Paine and Henry Thoreau. And the NYT columnist Thomas Friedman demanded that France be voted "off the island," that is, out of the Security Council, in the run up to the Iraq War. One of the most solid essays in this part is a comparison of the "Good Societies" of Europe and America.
Overall, a stimulating read. I'd demur with Judt on only one point, on page 18, where he is discussing terrorism, and names the various extremist groups of Europe, like the Basque ETA, but does not include bombs falling from planes. Definitely 5-stars, and an inspiration for being willing to fight to the very end. RIP.
(Note: Review first published at Amazon, USA, on August 13, 2010)