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Capsule Review

Thinking the Twentieth Century

In This Review

Thinking the Twentieth Century
Thinking the Twentieth Century
By Tony Judt,Timothy Snyder
The Penguin Press HC, 2012 432 pp. $36.00 Purchase

 

The late Judt was among the West’s leading public intellectuals and among the greatest intellectual historians of the West. His gift was to meld the two: his history captured the excitement of past intellectual debates, and his commentary was infused with the perspective of a master historian. The magnum opus he never wrote would have been a grand intellectual history placing in historical context the modern ideologies he studied -- socialism, nationalism, conservatism, liberalism, Marxism, Zionism, European federalism, religious fundamentalism -- and maintaining their relevance for future generations. The closest he came are the series of testimonial conversations contained in this book, conducted with the Yale historian Snyder during the final months of Judt’s battle with Lou Gehrig’s disease. The book highlights his status as a perpetual insider-outsider in France, the United Kingdom, and the United States, which seems to have afforded him a keen appreciation of the peculiar cultural and historical circumstances of each. Yet most moving for the reader are Judt’s fierce commitment to history as an indispensable key to understanding the present and his ability, even when speaking his final thoughts through a breathing tube, to express himself in clear, forthright language. Despite a sometimes meandering conversational form, the result is a volume filled with memorable insights that any educated person will enjoy.

 

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