Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Read this book...

 ... because the best way to remember historians is by their work.  Postwar is a terrific survey of European history from 1945 by the British/American historian and commentator who died at 62 last week. It's full of pithy understandings of seemingly all that was going on during a momentous half-century.

Tony Judt is mostly being recalled right now for his commentary and his opinions. But what really impressed me about Postwar when I read it a few years ago was not the opinions, it was the history.
He concludes the book with what seemed to me much too much reflection on the present and future of Europe. "Old Europe and New," "Varieties of Europe," "Europe as a Way of Life," and his "Essay on Memory" constitute a good hundred pages of what seemed to me like a whole series of false endings rooted in vague contemporary musings. In the rest of the book, speed is one of his virtues. Every subject is broached and covered in remarkable precise and brief fashion, and then on to the next issue. That "just the history, ma'am" style is the book's great virtue. It falls away when he turns philosopher at the end. [my own unpublished notes]
Not that I didn't like the book, for I was tremendously impressed with it. But it's the historian I really admired.
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