Thinking the Twentieth Century

Thinking the Twentieth Century

Book - 2012
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"Ideas crackle" in this triumphant final book of Tony Judt, taking readers on "a wild ride through the ideological currents and shoals of 20th century thought." ( Los Angeles Times )

The final book of the brilliant historian and indomitable public critic Tony Judt, Thinking the Twentieth Century maps the issues and concerns of a turbulent age on to a life of intellectual conflict and engagement.

The twentieth century comes to life as an age of ideas--a time when, for good and for ill, the thoughts of the few reigned over the lives of the many. Judt presents the triumphs and the failures of prominent intellectuals, adeptly explaining both their ideas and the risks of their political commitments.  Spanning an era with unprecedented clarity and insight, Thinking the Twentieth Century is a tour-de-force, a classic engagement of modern thought by one of the century's most incisive thinkers.

The exceptional nature of this work is evident in its very structure--a series of intimate conversations between Judt and his friend and fellow historian Timothy Snyder, grounded in the texts of the time and focused by the intensity of their vision.  Judt's astounding eloquence and range are here on display as never before.  Traversing the complexities of modern life with ease, he and Snyder revive both thoughts and thinkers, guiding us through the debates that made our world. As forgotten ideas are revisited and fashionable trends scrutinized, the shape of a century emerges.  Judt and Snyder draw us deep into their analysis, making us feel that we too are part of the conversation. We become aware of the obligations of the present to the past, and the force of historical perspective and moral considerations in the critique and reform of society, then and now.

In restoring and indeed exemplifying the best of intellectual life in the twentieth century, Thinking the Twentieth Century opens pathways to a moral life for the twenty-first. This is a book about the past, but it is also an argument for the kind of future we should strive for: Thinking the Twentieth Century is about the life of the mind--and the mindful life.
Publisher: New York : Penguin Press, 2012.
ISBN: 9781594203237
Characteristics: xvii, 414 p. ; 25 cm.
Additional Contributors: Snyder, Timothy
Alternative Title: Thinking the 20th century


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Mar 10, 2018

Sadly there are too few books like this one: intelligent conversations with the ability and willingness to speak for far longer than is acceptable in person, or even during a formal interview. This one is quite good: each chapter starts off with a bit of autobiography and then the topic of the day is discussed. Since its about (mostly) twentieth century European history and what is important to us about it, there are a wide range of topics: control of the economy, warfare, political evil, intellectuals, and much else. It would be very interesting to have a book like this by others on other parts of the world: the far East, South America, and Africa (oddly, there is nothing about de-colonization, or, for that matter, colonies maintained (China, Indonesia, Russia). There was a slight against world systems theory (which I was once rather smitten by) and Wallerstein: that it merely "recycles banalities", and highly agreeable disdain upon the hyphenated 'studies', many of which now have their own departments. On p.376, the third italicized paragraph (Snyder talking) is one which is ever more applicable today in Canada, and is likely to be that way in the future too. There are many wise pronouncements like "you cannot invent or exploit the past for present purposes." (p.259). I wonder if the AFN, this or that protest cum interest group would ever heed that, or whether citizens have the courage to call out such abuse of history.

Aug 04, 2012

I'm tempted to call this book "Thursdays with Tony," since, like another famous book, it consists of conversations with a professor dying of ALS. But these conversations are with a fellow professor and although they are partly biographical, the focus is on modern European history. Anyone with a background and interest in the subject will find this a rewarding read.


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