One of the advantages of writing book reviews for your own blog is that you can choose only to review those books that you like. This definitely applies to the book I would like to talk about today: Postwar, a history of Europe since 1945 by Tony Judt.
Tony Judt is a Cambridge trained historian whose academic focus has been on French history for a significant part of his career. Nevertheless being an activist at heart led him to quite some controversy as he is never afraid to voice his ‘always well considered but sometimes unpopular’ opinions on a other issues, especially those dealing with the Israeli conflict and US-Israel relations.
In 2005 he released Postwar, A history of Europe since 1945. Being majestic both in size and in scope (the book weighs in at almost 900 pages), Postwar can truly be called a life work. Postwar received much critical acclaim and by now has been translated in over 15 other languages. In 2008 Tony Judt was diagnosed with Lou Gehrig’s Disease (a progressive degenerative muscle condition), that, at the time of this writing, left him paralyzed from the neck down. Nevertheless on occasion he still speaks in public.
As the title suggests Postwar describes the history of Europe from 1945 onward. It starts directly after World War II with Europe being in shambles and winds itself through the reconstruction of the fifties and sixties, the economic crises of the seventies and eighties all the way up to the fall of communism and the debate on the EU membership of Turkey. An immense variety of topics is being discussed, to name but a few: the cultural changes of the sixties, the communistic show trials of the fifties, the terrorism of both the left and the right of the seventies and the dismantling of the welfare state under Thatcher in the eighties. Both eastern and western Europe receive their fair share of airtime.
Tony Judt’s style is not the style of the typical academic historian. Not afraid of taking a stance, Mr. Judt’s opinions and insights are found side by side with the factual information throughout the book. As such I do not think that Postwar is as objective as it could have been. Having said that, Mr Judt is a formidable intellectual, who spent the better part of a decade developing these insights and as such I would consider them to be more of an extra than of a lack. The amount of material offered does not make Postwar a light read, but if you take your time with it you will be well rewarded.
For me Postwar filled a large number of gaps in my knowledge of recent European history. In addition to that Tony Judt’s sharp observations show how much of that history is still relevant today. There are no doubt a few Gibburt readers out there who might feel already so well versed in Eurepean history that reading through these 900 pages might not contribute significantly, but for those who do not I would say bring out your Christmas wish list because I just found you your present….