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Thinking the Twentieth Century: Intellectuals and Politics in the… (2012)
by Tony Judt, Timothy Snyder (Collaboration)
No current Talk conversations about this book.
Bailing for now, not because I'm not enjoying this one (I am!) but because I only have access to the audio right now, and the recording gives essentially no indication of whose voice is being read, something that, as I understand, is indicated by italics or non-italics in the print version. I just find it too difficult to follow without knowing who's speaking. So, I hope to pick this one up again once I get it in print or eBook.
Snyder skrifaði þessa samtalsbók við vin sinn, samstarfsfélaga og þjóðfélagsrýnanda, þegar Judt lá fyrir dauðanum. Hrjáður af hrörnunarsjúkdómi sem dró hann til dauða en hugurinn þrælskarpur.
Judt var samfélagsrýnandi og fræðimaður sem var óhræddur að segja skoðun sína og í bókinni fer hann yfir fræðistörf sín, þegar hann heillast af ákveðnum sjónarmiðum en við nánari athugun sér gallana í viðkomandi kerfum og stígur þá fram og bendir á nekt keisarans.
Gott yfirlit yfir átök og skoðanaskipti síðustu aldar sett fram á gagnrýninn máta.
A very odd book for any number of reasons. The greatest cause of oddity is Timothy Snyder, who interviews Judt and edits his responses, while putting in a few words of his own, either when he has a particularly good thought, or when Judt's words need context. The oddness comes from the first third of the book, in which Judt repeatedly tells Snyder that being half Jewish isn't that important to him, and that Jewish history isn't that important when thinking about world affairs... and Snyder repeatedly asks Judt to talk about being half Jewish and the importance of Jewish history in world affairs. A friend suggests to me that this might be Snyder trying to clear his own name; recently, at least, he's been the target of anti-anti-semitism, because he had the temerity to point out that a lot of people died in Eastern Europe who weren't Jewish.
The next cause of oddity is Snyder's bizarre beliefs i) that 'democracy' in the United States was destroyed by Bush v. Gore, as if a president being elected even though (I exaggerate for effect) 10% of the population voted for him, whereas 10.1% usually vote for presidents; ii) that the war in Iraq is somehow a treasonous rejection of everything that America stands for, rather than, say, business as usual. Anyway, Snyder is incapable of seeing his own time objectively; Judt is much better at that.
Third, you get Judt's own slightly ridiculous self-glamorization as an outsider in the historiographical world--which ramps up, unexpectedly, *right when he's being made chairman of his history department and setting up his own little research establishment.* Some of Judt's points about the history profession, and academic life in general, are perfectly accurate; I'd be more impressed if he'd acknowledged how he benefited from the very life he's criticizing.
And fourth, the differences between Snyder, an American liberal, and Judt, an ex-pat social democrat, play out very strangely. Watching the two of them discuss communism, socialism, the histories of those movements, and their relationship to contemporary politics is fascinating, but both seem to someone my age to be marked a bit too strongly with Cold War prejudices--Snyder particularly, but also Judt when he's in Isiah Berlin mode--against, you know, trying to make the world better. This clashes rather brutally with their repeated assertions that the free market isn't free, or all that good at making human life bearable. A little less skepticism towards changing the world would have been nice.
On the other hand, all of these oddities get softened occasionally, as when Judt suggests that democracy is neither sufficient nor necessary for a good, open society.
One final note: this is not an introduction to twentieth century history, intellectual or otherwise, and if you don't know much about it, I'm not sure you'll get much from the book. I'm sure I failed to understand plenty of allusions.
Solid intellectual history of 20th and early 21st century, told through the lens of the life of historian and oped writer, Tony Judt. Judt's journey and views are explored in a series of conversations between him and historian Timothy Snyder.
Judt, who recently died, had ALS, so the collaboration with Snyder was one of the few ways that he could physically write this book.
Judt's political views are more... European than mine, so I disagree with him at times (often?). Still a really smart guy with what seemed to be a lot of integrity.
Rigging the past is the oldest form of knowledge control: If you have power over the interpretation of what went before (or can simply lie about it), the present and the future are at your disposal. So it is simple democratic prudence to ensure that the citizenry are historically informed.
This sort of text defies a review. Being a recorded and transcribed conversation, it requests a similar treatment. The nature of the book is that Tony Judt facing ALS was physically unable to write and instead enlisted the support of Timothy Snyder for a series of conversations comprising an intellectual history of 20th Century Europe and the U.S. Bracketing these exchanges are Judt's autobiographical ruminations on childhood and academia, his immersion in both Zionism and Leftist studies and his unexpected arrival somewhere outside that trajectory. This book was essentially thrust into my hands last weekend. I had went to visit my friend Harold who runs a book stall at the monthly hipster flea market. We began discussing Žižek and before long it was on to corporations moving to the Balkans and "right to work" states. Heidegger's ontological theology gave way to bullshit post-humanism and why I, jon faith, should be reading the lectures of Foucault. That last point resonated. Drawing attention back to Judt's book, there is something to be said for conversation the point therof, not simply the wagging of lips. I am not of the mind that regards discussion as Hegelian, that somehow synthesis is achieved, but I still enjoy the crackle and contemplation of such exchanges.
Judt reflects evenly on ideology and trends in social thought. He articulates nicely the tension between civic responsibility and moral responsibility. He doesn't believe that books will correct much. The people who read them already agree with the author. There is no chance of influence. Strangely enough, he endorses investigative journalists with responsibility of social change. Not by themselves but it is their efforts which can sway a somnambulist world view. Provided of course that core education hasn't eroded completely by that point. Following the pedagogic thread, he is more aligned with a conservative, research driven history than its hyphenated ilk. I found his thoughts on such fascinating.
"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."
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Wikipedia in English (1)
Thinking the Twentieth Century maps the issues and concerns of a turbulent age onto a life of intellectual conflict and engagement. Tony Judt presents the triumphs and the failures of prominent intellectuals, adeptly explaining both their ideas and the risks of their political commitments.--[book jacket]
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Melvil Decimal System (DDC)320.092 — Social sciences Political Science Political Science Political Science Biography And History
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