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Thinking the Twentieth Century Hardcover – 2 Feb 2012

4.3 out of 5 stars 15 customer reviews

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Product details

  • Hardcover: 432 pages
  • Publisher: William Heinemann (2 Feb. 2012)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0434017426
  • ISBN-13: 978-0434017423
  • Product Dimensions: 16.2 x 3.8 x 24 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (15 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 423,585 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Product Description


"Tony Judt's death last year was not only a personal tragedy but a public disaster, for he was one of the finest contemporary historians of ideas, and in this dark time we can ill-afford his loss. Thinking the Twentieth Century, a series of dialogues with the historian Timothy Snyder, is a triumphant conclusion to Judt's invaluable work." (John Banville)

"A magnificent achievement in intellectual history, Thinking the Twentieth Century is also the true last testament of one of the twentieth century's greatest writers on politics." (John Gray)

"Timothy Snyder's initiative has prompted a sparkling dialogue which, through following the stages of Tony Judt's life and emergence as an exceptional historian, offers important reflections on major currents of political thinking in the 20th century." (Ian Kershaw)

"That this book exists at all is remarkable...The parts in which Judt relates the themes of the book to his own life are particularly rich because they show how what we think can be a product of what we are...There is much brilliance here to enjoy, almost as if you were a guest at a wonderful dinner party where two of the company suddenly hold forth on everything from Vienna in 1900 to the Iraq war...The best kind of book: where you discover both what the authors intended and what they did not." (David Aaronovitch The Times)

"Brilliant to the bitter end...Tony Judt was combative and razor-sharp even as he was dying...A moving, enlightening and provocative read...It is impossible not to marvel at the dying man's extraordinary mental recall and moral integrity. To listen to his thoughts is to hear the smooth, confident purr of a Rolls-Royce engine...At the end of the book it is hard to banish a profound sense of loss. Though he was better known in New York than London, Judt was one of the foremost British historians of his generation...This book, bristling with learning, is a staggering achievement." (Dominic Sandbrook Sunday Times)

Book Description

The final masterpiece by one of the leading historians and thinkers of his generation, the late Tony Judt.

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4.3 out of 5 stars
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Top Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover
This book is a mix of memoires and a critical introduction to 20th C. history. As a historian specializing in contemporary issues, he brings a unique perspective to the major political problems that we have faced in our lifetimes, reviewing them for the basics but also adding his unique interpretation. Indeed, as a "major" in international relations in France, I studied every single issue that he covers in this wonderfully interesting and challenging book.

Starting off in a working class family, Judt outlines how he got into Cambridge, entering an intellectual elite that he never left. It was a combination of brains and extremely hard work, plus a bit of luck in the teachers who encouraged him. He laments that the path that led him to Cambridge is rapidly vanishing as the power of money and privilege is renewing itself as he was writing.

As I see it, there are 3 large issues that he attacked during his career. First, there was the French intellectual tradition, starting in about the 1930s and up to the 1980s. That was the era of Sartre, Camus, and Aron, men that I studied as a student in Paris. Though I have long since left them behind, it was an absolute delight to get his read on them, a journey that I made in a far less scholarly way than he. Second, starting as a young Zionist, he recapitulates his long journey from ardent Kibbutzim to the disillusioned critic, who saw Israel as a colonial power of questionable legitimacy. Agree with him or not, the case he makes - based on personal experience as a participant in the 1967 war that transformed Israel from a defensive power to an aggressively militaristic one - deserves consideration. Third, he covered the communist idea, from its origins in the 19C up to its end and the aftermath in Eastern Europe.
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
I wish to clarify that 'moraliste' is how the historian author Tony Judt describes himself in the book. The French word is both more embracing than its English equivalent and quite lacking the implied pejorative nuance. The French call their greatest writers, from Montaigne to Camus, 'moralistes'. These French writers are far more likely than their Anglo - American counterparts to inform their work with explicit ethical engagement.

Tony Judt is a graceful, erudite author. His writing is informed by his English education, he read French history at King's College, Cambridge, his French education at Ecole Normal Superieure, and his Eastern European Jewishness; though born in London, his grandparents were Polish Jews. But I have to clarify that though informed by the preceding still his writing transcends them and acquires a genuine universality. The book bears similarity with'The Memory Chalet' in their autobiographical dimension but similarities end there with the present book the distinctly more consummate work.

The book is a spoken book. The author was afflicted in 2008 with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, a degenerative neurological disorder that brings progressive paralysis and certain and usually rapid death. Only his brain remained intact and retained its crystalline clarity.

The book began at the prompting of Timothy Snyder, a Yale historian, twenty - one years junior than the author and with complementary expertise. Though born in the United States, Timothy Snyder went to Oxford and undertook a doctorate in Polish history - he acquired facility in the languages of East - Central Europe and familiarity with the country and the history of the region. The book has a gratifyingly rich presence of East European intellectuals and historians.
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Format: Hardcover
'Thinking the Twentieth Century' is the best book on European history to appear for many years. Its genesis is unusual. When Tony Judt realized he was dying, he engaged in a series of conversations with Timothy Snyder. This book is the outcome. Timothy Snyder prompts and Tony Judt conducts a course on recent European history, with a little American history thrown in for good measure. In the process, Tony Judt gives a far more detailed autobiography than we got in 'The Memory Chalet.'
Overwhelmingly, it is a book about ideas and their influence. Almost every page contains new insights into some of the most written-about events in history. (My only reservation is that the book presupposes that the reader is familiar not only with events but the ideas of figures such as Hayek, and Koestler.) That such a book was produced by a man gravely ill with a degenerative disease is a triumph of the human spirit.
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Format: Paperback
The 20th century is a time of illusions shared by many intellectuals.Tony Judt talks without references and notes to a younger American historian Tim Snyder, in a series of conversations,primarily about Eastern and Western Europe with a little of America thrown in.This took place after the ALS affliction that severely shortened Judt's life.I must admit I passed through the 400 pages without much sense of travail.Judt's arguments against the Iraq War(the failure of American intellectuals),his seeking of a binational solution to the Arab-Israeli problem,the benefits of social democracy as a social bulwark against the raging currents of the free market,his search for the public good vs the ethos of privatisation.What best sums up his intentions is: 'I was moving towards the idea that all three men were genuinely independent thinkers in a time and a place where being independent placed you in real danger,as well as consigning you to the margins of your community and to the disdain of your fellowintellectuals. Maybe I thought this story worth telling because there is a subterranean twentieth-century tale to be told of intellectuals who were forced by circumstances to stand outside and even against their natural community of origin'(from The Burden of Responsibility).

Each of the 9 chapters has a biographical and historical component moving through Judt's life and across important loci in 20th century thought: the Holocaust,Zionism,French universalism,the allure of Marxism,fascism and anti-fascism,,liberalism as ethics in Eastern Europe,and social planning in Europe and the United States.Judt was an American by choice and by citizenship,though born in England in 1948.
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