Reappraisals: Reflections on the Forgotten Twentieth Century

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We have entered an age of forgetting. Our world, we insist, is unprecedented, wholly new. The past has nothing to teach us. Drawing provocative connections between a dazzling range of subjects, from Jewish intellectuals and the challenge of evil in the recent European past to the interpretation of the Cold War and the displacement of history by heritage, the late historian Tony Judt takes us beyond what we think we know of the past to explain how we came to know it, showing how much of our history has been ...

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Reappraisals: Reflections on the Forgotten Twentieth Century

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We have entered an age of forgetting. Our world, we insist, is unprecedented, wholly new. The past has nothing to teach us. Drawing provocative connections between a dazzling range of subjects, from Jewish intellectuals and the challenge of evil in the recent European past to the interpretation of the Cold War and the displacement of history by heritage, the late historian Tony Judt takes us beyond what we think we know of the past to explain how we came to know it, showing how much of our history has been sacrificed in the triumph of myth-making over understanding and denial over memory. Reappraisals offers a much-needed road map back to the historical sense we urgently need.

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
"Exhilarating . . . brave and forthright."
-The New York Times Book Review

"Perhaps the greatest single collection of thinking on the political, diplomatic, social, and cultural history of the past century."

"By turns fascinating [and] edifying . . . Judt is one of our foremost historians of Europe, an elegant writer and subtle thinker."
-Los Angeles Times

Geoffrey Wheatcroft
…[an] exhilarating new collection of essays…Few are better than Tony Judt, not only a historian of the first rank but (in a word we need an equivalent for) a politicologue who gives engagement a good name.
—The New York Times
Publishers Weekly

Historian and political commentator Judt warns against the temptation "to look back upon the twentieth century as an age of political extremes, of tragic mistakes and wrongheaded choices; an age of delusion from which we have now, thankfully, emerged." In this collection of 24 previously printed essays (nearly all from the New York Review of Booksand the New Republic), Judt, whose recent book Postwarwas a Pulitzer finalist, pleads with readers to remember that the past never completely disappears and that the coming century is as fraught with dangers as the last. Buttressing his argument, Judt draws upon an impressively broad array of subjects. He begins by describing the eclipse of intellectuals as a public force (for instance, the steep decline in Arthur Koestler's reputation) before reminding his audience of the immense power of ideas by discussing the now inexplicable attractions of Marxism in the 20th century. In the book's penultimate section, Judt examines the rise of the state in the politics and economics of Western nations before finally tackling the United States, its foreign policy and the fate of liberalism. As a fascinating exploration of the world we have recently lost-for good or bad, or both-this collection, despite its lack of new content, cannot be bested. (Apr. 21)

Copyright 2007Reed Business Information
School Library Journal

A Jewish East Ender by origin, Judt (Postwar: A History of Europe Since 1945) is the finest, but not least controversial, working historian of 20th-century and current-day Europe. This amorphous collection spans a dozen years of book reviews and essays, each provocative and the least successful still brilliant. A man of liberal and tolerant views, Judt is very hard on Marxism-of all stripes-and on Israel, a land where he once resided and that he palpably loves. That he appears to have been blacklisted from contributing to one influential journal-the New Republic-and targeted for opprobrium by the Anti-Defamation League has not kept him from criticizing official Israeli actions across its 60 years of existence. The essays included here on the Middle East should be read by anyone who cares seriously about the region. Judt is equally penetrating on the current dismal state of industrial England and France, the legacy of Primo Levi, the health of the European Union, and Romania, to mention a few highlights. Unlike many fellow public intellectuals who have anthologized their work, Judt concludes each piece with a follow-up on how it was received and whether he has had second thoughts (which is rare, even for pieces written before 9/11 about Western encounters with Islam). These simple updates provide a genuine value-add. Recommended for serious public affairs collections.
—Scott H. Silverman Copyright 2007 Reed Business Information

Kirkus Reviews
Scholarly and polemical pieces, most with very sharp edges, published over the past dozen years, generally in the New York Review of Books and the New Republic. Judt (Remarque Institute/NYU; The Burden of Responsibility: Blum, Camus, Aron, and the French Twentieth Century, 1998, etc.) introduces these essays with a jolting jeremiad about the dismal state of American intellectual life: our ignorance of history, our ready submission to fear, our determination to celebrate martial adventures. He arranges the book in a roughly thematic fashion, beginning with analyses of European totalitarianism, the horrors of the Holocaust and the concept of evil, especially as expressed in Hannah Arendt's famous conception of its "banality." He then reconsiders the intellectual lives of some notables: Albert Camus, Louis Althusser (Judt is alarmed that many still take him seriously) and historian Eric Hobsbawm, whose erudition he admires but whose purblindness about Communism he finds confounding. After some hard words for Pope John Paul II (he was obsessed with sex) and some encomiums for Edward Said ("He is irreplaceable"), the author shifts his focus to France, to England (he disdains Tony Blair) and to Belgium, his father's homeland. Judt reprints his controversial essay about the Six-Day War in 1967 and follows it with more chiding of Israel, a country he compares to an unruly, immature teenager. Next come penetrating pieces on the Chambers-Hiss case, the Cuban Missile Crisis (RFK does not come off well; JFK does) and a blast from both rhetorical barrels at Henry Kissinger. Near the end, Judt delivers body blows to Thomas Friedman and other liberals who cheered on the Iraq War and warns that pooreconomies are sustenance for the Far Right. An educative, intelligent voice urges us to attend to history and the life of the mind. Agent: Sarah Chalfant/The Wylie Agency
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780143115052
  • Publisher: Penguin Publishing Group
  • Publication date: 3/31/2009
  • Edition description: Reprint
  • Pages: 464
  • Sales rank: 686,087
  • Product dimensions: 5.40 (w) x 8.40 (h) x 1.10 (d)

Meet the Author

Tony Judt was the Erich Maria Remarque Professor of European Studies at New York University, as well as the founder and director of the Remarque Institute, dedicated to creating an ongoing conversation between Europe and the United States. He was educated at King’s College, Cambridge, and the École Normale Supérieure, Paris, and also taught at Cambridge, Oxford, and Berkeley. Professor Judt was a frequent contributor to The New York Review of BooksThe Times Literary Supplement, The New RepublicThe New York Times, and many journals across Europe and the United States. He is the author or editor of fifteen books, including Thinking the Twentieth CenturyThe Memory ChaletIll Fares the LandReappraisals: Reflections on the Forgotten Twentieth Century, and Postwar: A History of Europe Since 1945, which was one of The New York Times Book Review’s Ten Best Books of 2005, the winner of the Council on Foreign Relations Arthur Ross Book Award, and a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize. He died in August 2010 at the age of sixty-two.

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Table of Contents


Introduction: The World We Have Lost

Part One: The Heart of Darkness

Chapter I: Arthur Koestler, the Exemplary Intellectual
Chapter II: The Elementary Truths of Primo Levi
Chapter III: The Jewish Europe of Manes Sperber
Chapter IV: Hannah Arendt and Evil

Part Two: The Politics of Intellectual Engagement

Chapter V: Albert Camus: "The best man in France"
Chapter VI: Elucubrations: The "Marxism" of Louis Althusser
Chapter VII: Eric Hobsbawm and the Romance of Communism
Chapter VIII: Goodbye to All That? Leszek Kotakowski and the Marxist Legacy
Chapter IX: A "Pope of Ideas"? John Paul II and the Modern World
Chapter X: Edward Said: The Rootless Cosmopolitan

Part Three: Lost in Transition: Places and Memories

Chapter XI: The Catastrophe: The Fall of France, 1940
Chapter XII: A la recherche du temps perdu: France and Its Pasts
Chapter XIII: The Gnome in the Garden: Tony Blair and Britain's "Heritage"
Chapter XIV: The Stateless State: Why Belgium Matters
Chapter XV: Romania between History and Europe
Chapter XVI: Dark Victory: Israel's Six-Day War
Chapter XVII: The Country That Wouldn't Grow Up

Part Four: The American (Half-) Century

Chapter XVIII: An American Tragedy? The Case of Whittaker Chambers
Chapter XIX: The Crisis: Kennedy, Khrushchev, and Cuba
Chapter XX: The Illusionist: Henry Kissinger and American Foreign Policy
Chapter XXI: Whose Story Is It? The Cold War in Retrospect
Chapter XXII: The Silence of the Lambs: On the Strange Death of Liberal America
Chapter XXIII: The Good Society: Europe vs. America

Envoi: The Social Question Redivivus

Publication Credits

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Customer Reviews

Average Rating 3.5
( 4 )
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Sort by: Showing all of 7 Customer Reviews
  • Anonymous

    Posted April 17, 2008

    Skewing Reality Intelligently

    Judt is a person of great, knowledge and learning. He has a rare capacity to read History and its events from a number of different perspectives. Yet he is also a person who deliberately skews and slants his knowledge in service of his own prejudices. So the rereading he makes in this book of twentieth century history and its lessons for the future. Here his major lesson is the central importance of the terrible destructiveness of war, and therefore the necessity of its avoidance. This message on the surface certainly makes sense. But does it make sense when it comes to responding to the Japanese attack on the Naval Base at Pearl Harbor? Did it make sense in the Soviet Union's response in resisting the Reich's invasion of late June 1940? Does it make sense now for Judt to recommend a kind of pacifism in response to what he sees as a relatively harmless, scattered Islamic terror threat? Judt sees much but he deliberately scants much else. In his dismissal of the concept of Islamofascism he points to the less than state power of so many of the groups involved. But why does he deliberately omit discussing the major 'contractor' Iran ? And why does he ignore the role of Saudi Arabia in funding the propaganda war aimed at spreading Islam throughout the West? Judt writes that the world today looks back on the twentieth century from narrow, partisan, ethnic perspective. He laments the broader picture which for instance Europeans had after the French Revolution, the Enlightentment that preceeded it. He even believes that the West did have a certain perspective on its nineteenth century history understanding turning point events. He argues that a larger picture and larger lessons from the twentieth century have not emerged. He especically criticizes Americans saying that the absence of massive civilian American casualties means that the country unlike the Europeans does not really understand what War is. He argues thus that European reluctance to War is in fact a sign of their mature knoweldge and understanding. They got it , and America did not. One wonders how they would have gotten it had the United States not rescued Europe in the Second War. One wonders too how the Europeans will get it in the future should the growing Islamic power within and without undermine the traditional bases of their societies. Judt above all seems to imply that 'Peace' can be imposed by one side upon another. He does not seem to want to recognize the reality that their are violently, aggressive, expansionist forces which can be answered only by physical resistance. His mocking of the clash of civilizations, his underplaying of what some have called Global Jihad marks a major shortcoming of the work. How unfortunate that a person of Judt's tremendous learning should see so much and yet miss what is most essential.

    4 out of 13 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted September 8, 2012

    Highly Recomended

    This book is a collection of the late prof. Tony Judt's essays. Most are from the NY Review of Books. They cover major political writers i.e. Koestler, Camus, Said and issues i.e. Israel, Belguium, Pope John Paul of the 20th century. The book is very interesting to read and hard to put down.

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    Posted May 25, 2009

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    Posted July 28, 2011

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    Posted October 23, 2010

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