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Year Zero: A History of 1945 Hardcover – 3 Oct 2013

4.4 out of 5 stars 40 customer reviews

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Product details

  • Hardcover: 384 pages
  • Publisher: Atlantic Books; Main edition (3 Oct. 2013)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1848879369
  • ISBN-13: 978-1848879362
  • Product Dimensions: 16.1 x 3.5 x 24 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (40 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 236,795 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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Product description


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

Book Description

This sweeping, boldly original book describes the violence, racketeering and retroactive justice as well as the hope and optimism that erupted at the end of the Second World War.

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Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover
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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Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
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. You don't get many details of the final campaigns in Europe and the Far East, but you learn a lot about the aftermath, often very traumatic. Indeed the immediate post war months were decidedly awful for many, and few heroes emerge. This makes for quite depressing reading. The feeling of joy at the end of the War was often decidedly dampened.

Some pertinent points come across. Having been smashed by their opponents in the War, the Germans and the Japanese had had enough. But the "British and Americans......could never quite rid themselves of nostalgia for their finest hours, leading to a propensity to embark on ill-fated military adventures". Yes indeed; and the Russians too. The events of the last seventy years bear witness to that.

There's a lot of interesting information in the book, but one little snippet appealed to me especially. Apparently, in Britain, weather reports were banned in the War. What with "Closed for the Duration" and "don't you know there's a war on?", I imagine people had their fill of gloomy joy without that.

This book is possibly a little heavy for some tastes, but I'm glad I read it.
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Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
There are a couple of pictures in the book of people enjoying themselves on or around VE-Day: a photograph of a couple of Dutch girls on a Canadian soldier's motorbike, and a couple of British sailors and their girlfriends splashing around in a fountain. Those are the only joyful things in the book. A great many of the events and incidents described in the book are harrowing, distressing, horrific. Until I read this book, I had made the extraordinarily naive assumption that once the war ended, the killings, rapes, the hatred and the bigotry would be more or less at an end. That assumption was very clearly wrong.

The author's whole approach is serious, very well-researched and thorough, as it needs to be for this subject, of course. The author has clearly expended an enormous amount of time and effort in the creation of the book.

Yet one of the critical reviewers expends considerably less time and effort and somehow manages to sum the book up in four words: "Fairly dry... but informative" and in doing so, damns Buruma and his book with faint praise. Some critical reviewers say the book doesn't have enough descriptions of personal incidents, other critical reviewers say the book has too many descriptions of personal incidents. Another reviewer says the book is: "Depressingly badly written, repetitive, superficial and full of inaccuracies", yet the same can't be bothered to present a single example from the book to back up this scathing attack. And so on.

It would be possible to come up with a number of theories for the inadequacies of the critical reviews: maybe the reviewers hadn't read the book, or they had read it and didn't understand it, or they had taken a dislike to the author for some reason.
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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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