Thinking the Twentieth Century

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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)
One of our most brilliant historians, Tony Judt brings the past century vividly to life in this unprecedented and original history. Structured as a series of intimate conversations between Judt and his friend and fellow historian Timothy Snyder, Thinking the ...

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Thinking the Twentieth Century

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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)
One of our most brilliant historians, Tony Judt brings the past century vividly to life in this unprecedented and original history. Structured as a series of intimate conversations between Judt and his friend and fellow historian Timothy Snyder, Thinking the Twentieth Century presents the triumphs and the failures of the twentieth century's most prominent intellectuals and their ideas, guiding readers through the debates that defined our world. Spanning an era with unprecedented clarity and insight, Thinking the Twentieth Century is a tour de force: a masterful analysis of the life of the mind and an unforgettable guide to leading the mindful life.

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
In this scintillating series of conversations undertaken as he was dying of Lou Gehrig’s Disease, British-American historian Judt (The Memory Chalet) and his interlocutor Snyder (Bloodlands) survey the triumphs and barbarities of the past century through the lens of the thinkers and ideologues who shaped it. Interleaving autobiographical sketches with fluent, freewheeling discussions of history, politics, and culture, Judt revisits crucial 20th-century intellectual currents: the impact of two world wars and the Great Depression on politics and philosophy; the development of and rivalry between communist and fascist dogmas; the success of social democracy and Keynesian economics in bringing liberal government, broad-based growth, and social equality to the post-war world; and the retreat from those achievements prompted by free-market fundamentalism’s attack on the activist state. (He also reprises his criticism of Israel after recalling summers on the kibbutz.) Judt’s ability to distill heaps of erudition into lucid, pithy conversation, even when on a breathing apparatus, is astonishing; he’s as engaging on the religious dimensions of Marxism and Freudianism as on Obama and the Iraq War. Snyder, a historian and former student of Judt’s, contributes probing interjections that stimulate and test his mentor’s ideas. The result is a lively, browsable, deeply satisfying meditation on recent history by a deservedly celebrated public intellectual. (Feb.)
"There are so many ways that Thinking the Twentieth Century is a remarkable book. The lifetime of scholarship and intellectual engagement lying behind that verb "thinking" in the title. The way ideas crackle in the interplay between the authors. The passionate involvement with issues political and controversial. That the book could have been written at all, given the tragic circumstances surrounding it... Judt proceeds to take the reader on a wild ride through the ideological currents and shoals of 20th century thought."
The Los Angeles Times
An intellectual feast, learned, lucid, challenging and accessible.”
San Francisco Chronicle
Fans will find plenty to sustain them in this poignant coda to a life marked by great feats of penmanship, scholarly insight and contemporary polemic… [Judt’s] bravery is ever-present,but rightly understated. As Mr Snyder notes in his introduction, the book is both about the life of the mind and a mindful life. Judt exemplified both.”
The Economist
“Judt was a provocateur, but maybe an accidental one, and after reading this remarkable, impassioned book, it's hard to doubt his sincerity… Thinking the Twentieth Century is Judt's final salvo against what he saw as a culture of historical ignorance and political apathy, and it's every bit as brilliant, uncompromising and original as he was.”
Pankaj Mishra
“Incandescent on every page with intellectual energy.”
—Pankaj Mishra, Prospect Magazine (UK)
Library Journal
Judt (Postwar: A History of Europe Since 1945), who died last year, never got to write the intellectual history of the 20th century that was to have been his next project. Before he died, though, Snyder (history, Yale Univ., Bloodlands: Europe Between Hitler and Stalin) sat with him over the course of several months. Together they talked through the complicated history of the past century, a history that Judt, in particular, knew well. The result is part memoir (the chapters start with Judt's reminiscences) and part historical analysis. Judt's particular strength was his ability to draw connections between the political and what public persons, including intellectuals, said and did about politics, explaining complicated things lucidly but never oversimplifying. This posthumous volume is informed by Judt's exceptional sensitivity and sense of irony; every page has a bon mot. VERDICT We may never have the full history Judt intended to write, but this marvelous précis, vibrantly alive, rich, and piquant, is one last gift from an exceptional public intellectual. Not only academics and fans of Judt, but also those who enjoy the New York Review of Books and The New Yorker will flock to read it. Highly recommended. [See Prepub Alert, 8/8/11.]—David Keymer, Modesto, CA
Kirkus Reviews
Two brilliant scholars parse the politics and economics of the past 100 years. That could be a dry task, but for the quiet passion of Judt (The Memory Chalet, 2010, etc.) and Snyder (History/Yale Univ.; Bloodlands: Europe Between Hitler and Stalin, 2010, etc.), who spent most of 2009 talking about, in Snyder's summary, "the limitations (and capacity for renewal) of political ideas, and the moral failures (and duties) of intellectuals in politics." The authors consider these questions within the framework of 20th-century history and the biography of Judt, who died in 2010. Born in London in 1948, the son of immigrant Jews, Judt grew up with the modern welfare state, benefiting from its meritocratic educational system to attend Cambridge and pursue academic studies focused first on French history, then Eastern Europe after World War II. He was an ardent youthful Zionist who later severely criticized Israeli policies, creating a furor in 2003 with an essay arguing for a one-state solution to the Palestinian problem. Judt reluctantly took on the role of public intellectual because of a sense--clearly shared by Snyder, their conversations reveal--that the problems currently plaguing America in particular and the advanced industrial economies in general cannot be meaningfully addressed without understanding their deep roots in a history that stretches back to World War I. This history includes the ravages inflicted by unrestrained capitalism, the appeal and very similar failings of communism and fascism, the misguided uses to which the Holocaust has been put and the post-WWII social bargain that unraveled in the '70s. Judt and Snyder analyze these and many other historical issues with lofty erudition matched by unabashed polemicism--Judt skewers David Brooks as a know-nothing and characterizes Thomas Friedman's support of the Iraq war as "contemptible"). Social democracy has rarely had better-informed, more ethically rigorous advocates than these two distinguished men. For readers who like to be challenged, this searching look at our recent history provides a firm intellectual and moral foundation for understanding the dilemmas of our time.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780143123040
  • Publisher: Viking Penguin
  • Publication date: 1/29/2013
  • Pages: 432
  • Sales rank: 241,900
  • Product dimensions: 5.40 (w) x 8.20 (h) x 1.00 (d)

Meet the Author

Tony Judt (1948–2010) was the author or editor of fifteen books, including The Memory Chalet and Postwar, which was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize. He was the director and founder of the Remarque Institute and a professor at New York University.
Timothy Snyder is a professor of history at Yale University and the author of five award-winning books, most recently Bloodlands: Europe Between Hitler and Stalin. He lives in New Haven, Connecticut.

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Table of Contents

Foreword (Timothy Snyder) ix

1 The Name Remains: Jewish Questioner 1

2 London and Language: English Writer 46

3 Familial Socialism: Political Marxist 75

4 King's and Kibbutzim: Cambridge Zionist 106

5 Paris, California: French Intellectual 140

6 Generation of Understanding: East European Liberal 195

7 Unities and Fragments: European Historian 249

8 Age of Responsibility: American Moralist 284

9 The Banality of Good: Social Democrat 331

Afterword (Tony Fudt) 389

Works Discussed 399

Index 405

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Customer Reviews

Average Rating 4
( 6 )
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Sort by: Showing all of 6 Customer Reviews
  • Posted March 15, 2012

    Whether one agrees with Judt or not, this book is a monument to

    Whether one agrees with Judt or not, this book is a monument to his determination to think for himself, against the grain, even if inviting criticism from those wanting different answers, more loyalty, or grander theories. His book-length conversation (before he died of ALS) with fellow historian Timothy Snyder interweaves the events of the past century with Judt’s own wonderfully told reminiscences and intellectual journey away from –isms (Zionism, communism) towards a more pluralistic ethics and politics. Judt’s observations on European and American history are quick witted, if sometimes acerbic, and lovely for their attentiveness to the small things that change an era (trains and public buses!). Perhaps this book will resonant more with readers familiar with Judt’s work. Regardless, he bequeaths us this conversation about how we reinterpret the past in light of a public responsibility “not to imagine better worlds but rather to think how to prevent worse ones.”

    3 out of 3 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted April 13, 2012

    Too Academic for Layman Reader.

    I was disappointed in this book after reading two of his earlier works. The conversation and level of detail is just too academic and nuanced for me.

    Tony, RIP.

    1 out of 4 people found this review helpful.

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    Posted August 1, 2013

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    Posted February 27, 2012

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    Posted August 25, 2014

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    Posted July 23, 2012

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