Judt, who died in 2010, was among the most celebrated historians of contemporary Europe. He was also a trenchant and insightful essayist. This book collects his best work in that genre. Profound and prescient, these short, readable pieces cover a range of topics: the meaning of the Cold War and its end; Israel’s relationship to the Holocaust; the world order after 9/11; the lives of great thinkers; and the decline of European systems and institutions, from railroads to social democracy. Underlying these topics is a set of Judt’s deeper concerns—Judt’s editor calls them “obsessions”—including the changing role of the state, the ideological purposes of foreign policy, the role of memory in public life, and the enduring effects of history. Were all that not enough, this book would still be worth reading solely for Judt’s widow’s description of the historian’s rigorous work habits—an account that definitively counters the myth that talented writers achieve greatness effortlessly.
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