Postwar: A History of Europe Since 1945

Discussion in 'Sci Reviews' started by superstring01, Aug 30, 2017.

  1. superstring01 Moderator

    "Postwar: A History of Europe Since 1945" by Tony Judt, is the very dense and well-researched history of Europe starting with the fall of Germany and leading up to 2005. It ranks, far and away, as my absolute favorite non-fiction work of history. It lumbers along but does the best job I've ever seen of filling the gaps between the end of mankind's bloodiest war to the year 2010.

    From the publisher:

    Almost a decade in the making, this much-anticipated grand history of postwar Europe from one of the world's most esteemed historians and intellectuals is a singular achievement. Postwar is the first modern history that covers all of Europe, both east and west, drawing on research in six languages to sweep readers through thirty-four nations and sixty years of political and cultural change-all in one integrated, enthralling narrative. Both intellectually ambitious and compelling to read, thrilling in its scope and delightful in its small details, Postwar is a rare joy.

    From Amazon: Postwar: A History of Europe Since 1945: Tony Judt:

    Judt treats the entire continent as a whole, providing equal coverage of social changes, economic forces, and cultural shifts in western and eastern Europe. He offers a county-by-county analysis of how each Eastern nation shed Communism and traces the rise of the European Union, looking at what it represents both economically and ideologically. Along with the dealings between European nations, he also covers Europe's conflicted relationship with the United States, which learned much different lessons from World War II than did Europe. In particular, he studies the success of the Marshall Plan and the way the West both appreciated and resented the help, for acceptance of it reminded them of their diminished place in the world. No impartial observer, Judt offers his judgments and opinions throughout the book in an attempt to instruct as well as inform. If a moral lesson is to come from World War II, Judt writes, "then it will have to be taught afresh with each passing generation. 'European Union' may be an answer to history, but it can never be a substitute." This book would be an excellent place to start that lesson.

    In terms of well-written, sweeping history books, I don't think it gets any better than this. Fair warning, the book is incredibly dry. A book to which it might compare, say, "The Rise & Fall of the Third Reich" comes with a lot of narrative bias. Where Shirer tells his own personal eye-witness story from inside Germany during the Second World War, Judt avoids the Historian's Fallacy altogether by telling the historic events as they unfold in as much a factual, clinical way as humanly possible. There is commentary, but it's left for the end of each section/chapter.

    I will say that of all the histories (not historic biographies), this ranks the highest in my book. I cannot think of any that comes close other than "The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich" or Howard Zinn's "A People's History of the United States". But with the latter two, there is significant philosophical or narrative bias (as mentioned already). In the case of Zinn's work, he wears his liberal bias on his sleeve and selects historic events and filters them through what he seems to implore the readers to believe.

    I have no doubt that Judt too wants the reader to believe something. I also have no doubt that there is bias -- as such a thing is impossible to avoid. But what elevates a historic work above the fray is when it can reduce any bias to a dull whisper and make it very clear where the author is offering his own views or context on the events in question. This, Judt does with aplomb.

    After finishing "Postwar" in July, I turned around and re-read it again from the beginning. I loved it that much. I've downloaded it from Audible and it's my book of choice that I listen to as I drift off to sleep. (A credit to how it distracts me and to the dry nature of the information as its offered.)
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  3. James R Just this guy, you know? Staff Member

    Thanks for the recommendation. I might check it out.

    It seems it was first published in 1989. So it has been updated?

    I see also that it was short-listed for a Pulitzer prize.
    superstring01 likes this.
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  5. superstring01 Moderator

    That may be a print error somewhere. The original publication date was 2005 and it had some information updated before Judt's death in 2010. The good news is that it doesn't try to be a current-events analysis. It's heft is really in the 1945-2005 period.
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  7. iceaura Valued Senior Member

    Gave this book as a Christmas present, partly on the recommendation here - got major points. It's headed for the family library, they say, after making the rounds.

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