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Modern Times: The World from the 20s to the 90s
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Modern Times: The World from the 20s to the 90s

4.28 of 5 stars 4.28  ·  rating details  ·  1,225 ratings  ·  102 reviews
Revised Edition
The history of the 20th century is marked by two great narratives: nations locked in savage wars over ideology and territory, and scientists overturning the received wisdom of preceding generations. For Paul Johnson, the modern era begins with one of the second types of revolutions, in 1919, when English astronomer Sir Arthur Eddington translated observation...more
Paperback, 784 pages
Published August 7th 2001 by Harper Perennial Modern Classics (first published 1983)
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(showing 1-30 of 2,699)
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Loring Wirbel
An agnostic wag once said, "Any fool can make fun of evangelicals, but if you really want to see a crazed doctrine, look for a conservative Catholic, preferably a conservative Jesuit." This certainly holds true for Paul Johnson, who mars what could have been a superbly written book of breathtaking scope, with points of view that aren't merely limited or blinkered, but downright crazed at times.

In the first couple chapters, I was ready to give this book an instant 5 stars, due to the author's abi...more
While working at a public high school in New Jersey I observed a rather interesting pedagogical practice. It looked a little something like this: a band of students acting as undercover ambassadors of their history class would approach an unsuspecting non-history teacher with a historical or geographical trivia question. If the stunned teacher could not, say, identify a particular world destination on a blank map, or name a particular African dictator responsible for such and such event, the stu...more
carl  theaker


Knowing my wife isn't keen on reading history I
certainly noticed when she added
'Modern Times The World from the Twenties to the Nineties'
to the take-to-the-used-bookstore pile. When I queried
what she was doing with a history book (hopefully not too
offensively)? she replied:

'I was going to read it back when I wanted to be smarter.'

Since we were trying to clear the shelves off a bit,
I hesitated on keeping it, plus it was the size of a brick,
or two. Not that I ha...more
A conservative's view on modern history. I didn't like it because it only told one side of the story and was biased. The value in the book is how Johnson emphasizes and shows the importance of individuals in history. Mao and Chiang Ka-Sheck? hated each other and this precipitated the fall of China to communism. It was not inevitable. He also points out the importance of the example of the free west, mainly America. It was interesting to read these exact same sentiments in recent issues of Foreig...more
Feb 11, 2009 Kyle rated it 4 of 5 stars
Recommends it for: History Buffs
Finally finished this one! It's such a thick read that I had to read a chapter at a time interspersed with other reading. Modern Times is a history of the 20th century, or, more precisely, from Einstein's theory of relativity to the Gulf War. Paul Johnson is a British Roman Catholic historian/intellectual of a decidedly conservative bent. And by conservative I mean of the old-school type: free markets, individual responsibility, very limited government in the lives of citizens, and pro-tradition...more
Erik Graff
May 22, 2013 Erik Graff rated it 4 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: Johnson fans
Recommended to Erik by: no one
Shelves: history
What I liked most about this history was Johnson's description of how matters stood before "modern times", particularly his description of the prodigies of walking customarily performed by our ancestors. The rest of the book strongly conveys the sense that its author is very conservative--which indeed Johnson is, being both a Conservative British journalist and a believing Catholic. Although I find this occasionally off-putting, he is a very good writer and his books have generally been enjoyabl...more
Ross Leavitt
This book accomplished thoroughly what it set out to do: tell world history from after the Great War to the time of writing. It put periods I have read a lot about, like Europe before and during WWII, in a clearer context, and introduced me to too many subplots to even begin to remember. Some highlights:

The spread and effects of communism. The loss of life and general chaos were on a scale I never imagined. I knew it was bad, but to read the details of what happened in Russia, China, Cuba, and n...more
Paul Johnson is a great writer and incisive historian. He doesn't merely tell you what happened. He analyzes events, explains why they occurred, and even, at times, what may have happened otherwise.

His books do take some effort to get through. Long sentences, long paragraphs, long chapters - all with no breaks. Most books now are divided into two to three page segments, for easier and quicker reading, but this book defied that trend. But the reward is worth the struggle. Believe me, if you want...more
Steve Stegman
Jan 07, 2010 Steve Stegman rated it 5 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: History Readers
Recommended to Steve by: Charlie Wingard
I just finished Modern Times as a part of my book club. Being a member of a book club has allowed me to read books, such as modern times, that I would regularly not read. The shear size of the book (almost 800 pages) appears overwhelming but will be beneficial to anyone wanting to understand the complexities of the modern world starting with Einstein's introduction of relativity to the end of the cold war.

I particularly found the time between WWI and WWII very interesting. This is a time in hist...more
A grand thousand-page history - just the way I like em. Covers many interlocked subjects and discusses them all in an imaginative and brilliant style. Flows freely from one subject to the other, and includes miniature portraits of the towering figures of the time.

Be warned, this book was written in the latter part of the 20th century, and the author has a fiscal conservative view. Perhaps then it could be justified, as capitalism was at the time a lesser evil than totalitarianism - but now the e...more
Melissa McClintock
This is the book that got me interested in world history. It isn't dry, with a lot of tidbits thrown in.

He also has a "premise" woven throughout the book, that with the change from moral thinking to "relative" thinking, there was a huge shift in culture and history. Including wars etc.

However he isnt' heavy handed about his premise, and instead of being biased, he just points out a supporting fact periodically.

It's a book that made WORLD history real to me, instead of something full of dates...more
I never liked twentieth century history, but once I started this book, I gobbled it up. Johnson is a fantastic history-teller, with facts and wit and a sense of humor and of the importance of the human drama. He doesn't pretend to be "objective", if that means not making judgments or not caring about whether human actions are good or bad. He takes strong positions, frequently challenging liberal mythology, and supports them with many facts that allow the reader to begin making his own judgments....more
Nikolay Mollov
Само от първите няколко страници се усеща огромният размах, с който пише Пол Джонсън. Приемането на теорията за относителността на Айнщайн и идеите на Фройд оказват своето влияние върху всички аспекти на човешкия живот като се започне от политиката и изкуството. В литературата най-много това влияние се отразява чрез Марсел Пруст и Джеймс Джойс и епохалните им творби "По следите на изгубеното време" и "Одисей", които пускат своите плугове на влиянието след себе си...
OK. It took me almost 2 years of reading this off and on to finish it. That is why I only gave it 3 stars when maybe it deserves 4. Highly recommended by my brother, who could probably read this in less than a week. I just don't have a head for history like he does. But this was very well written, and I learned so much that I didn't know before. Well worth it.
If you're into bullshit, read this book. According to Johnson, Calvin Coolidge was a great president and FDR was a screwball. Johnson is a complete and utter right wing moron. I hope he shares a room with Limbaugh and Beck in the nuthouse. If I could give it less than one star, I would.
Paul Johnson is a historian to be read. Modern Times is about the 20th century. Ambitious? Absolutely. Successful? Completely. This is a thick book. It will take time to read. But read you should.
Jun 30, 2008 Erin rated it 5 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommended to Erin by: Morton Blackwell
A fabulous book. I first read this when I was an intern working in DC. I have re-read it many times. It reiterated to me the unanticipated consequences of government action.
Modern Times is a book of tremendous breadth and depth, with a subject matter that traces the world from the 1920's (but really, before that, delving into the origins and consequences of WWI)through to about 1991. The sheer density of the book indicates that it does not skimp on details, yet in covering such a vast subject (Johnson literally covers each major region of the world over the decades, though with a special focus on the participants in the world wars and the Cold War), he is compelled...more
JoséMaría BlancoWhite
If you thought the history of the world during the whole 20th century could not be told in about 800 pages, and told well, you were wrong. I, myself, was wrong. I haven't read from anybody with such capacity for pithiness and depth of analysis at the same time, and who can tell a story in such an easy-to-read way. It seems it took him no effort to get through, which obviously, for the amount of work and research put into it, cannot be so. You don't read this book, you soak it in. Starting before...more
JoséMaría BlancoWhite
Si crees que no se podía contar la historia del mundo en el siglo XX en algo menos de 800 páginas te has equivocado. Sí, yo mismo me equivoqué. No he leído en mi vida a nadie con tanta capacidad de síntesis, de análisis y de profundidad, y que puede contarlo al mismo tiempo con esa forma tan campechan y tranquila como quien se despereza. No se nota el esfuerzo. Este libro no se lee, se absorve. Comenzando antes de la 1ª Guerra Mundial el autor toma el hilo de la historia con calma pero sin pausa...more
Paul Johnson’s broad-view approach to history, his highly engaging style, his vivid character portraits, original insights, and his ability to marshal mountains of data to support his arguments are all attractive characteristics of his work. That being said, his claims need to be treated cautiously. He is a highly talented writer, but he is also a haphazard scholar and a reactionary conservative with an extremely narrow vision, a habit of ignoring key parts of the historical narrative, and a pro...more
Lisa (Harmonybites)
Paul Johnson is a British journalist, a believing Catholic--and a conservative. That will put some people off--although it's notable I saw more than one review from readers who said in spite of that they found this book incisive and readable. For me it wasn't something off-putting but something I sought out. Having grown up on Manhattan's Upper West Side from kindergarten to college I was exposed almost exclusively to a left-wing narrative of history. I wanted to hear from the other side, and ye...more
Brian C Albrecht
This book is something else. It is not for the faint of heart but is definitely worth the effort (in my case about 7 months). Obviously Paul Johnson is conservative, but it is hard to be upset about a historian doing what all historians do-he judges stuff as good or bad. He is able to take situations and go beyond the pure facts and into the implications or results. This is what a good historian does in my eyes.
The book switches flawlessly between subjects. I'll be reading along and without even...more
Found this on a quick trip to the Salvation Army, paid fifty cents for it. In general, the big fat detailed well-written masterful book about a whole period of history is one of my favorite things to read (like Let the Sea Make a Noise, or The Proud Tower); I'm slowly working though this on my bus commute, 20 minutes at a time, and loving it. There is a wealth of detail about a vanished world in here, and its concerns, its diplomacy, its art and society and politics, pulled together into a coher...more
John Harder
Johnson is generally considered a conservative historian. This means he doesn’t feel communism is generally successful and its leaders tend to be murderous thugs – so pointing out the obvious make him a conservative.

Modern Times takes us through the personalities of our leaders from World War I through the modern day. I personally relished Johnson’s defense of Harding and Coolidge and well as his portrayal of the Roosevelt and Hoover debacle – Harding successfully avoided a financial collapse a...more
Dan Geddes

See full review at

Indeed, one of the many ideological shibboleths absent from Johnson's book is the sterile objectivity that precludes historical value judgments. Right or wrong, Johnson takes stands. During his narrative he argues compelling in favor of free markets, the rule of law, governmental non-interference, and at least some moral absolutes. He inveighs against moral relativism, leftist intellectuals, the rise of the professional politician and th...more
Excellent coverage of modern history since WWI. Johnson did a masterful job of organizing the material to make it readable and understandable, bringing us up-to-date on events on a worldwide scale and in a chronological manner. I appreciated this book for two primary reasons: first, it helped me to 'put the pieces together', to see for instance how Africa went from colonial status to its present sad state. Second, it put into context things that I have lived through but lacked the ability to com...more
Grant Robertson
Everyone should read this book. Paul Johnson challenges the prejudices of academics and the myths they propagate, offering a fresh outlook on the twentieth century.
Someone else on goodreads loved this book for the following reasons:

"We read this book with our home school reading group, and I was particularly struck by the bloodiness of modern history. Communism, fascism, socialism, philosophies of government aimed at manmade utopias on earth, inevitably end up killing people in unimaginable numbers. This book was also a reminder, in the face of today's troubling times, that our country has come through difficult straits in the past. While the downward spir...more
Strasznie nudno napisane i do tego pan Johnson wyraźnie wielbi szkołę Chicagowską, Thatcher, deregulację i wszystko to, co doprowadziło do rozpasania banków i ostatniego światowego kryzysu. Przy czym jego przekonanie o własnej nieomylności zapewne uchroniło go od zmiany poglądów ekonomicznych po tymże kryzysie. Johnson uważa też, że za zło tego świata odpowiada powszechna dostępność rozwodów i dostęp do elitarnych szkół (w formie numerus clausus) dzieciaków z ubogich środowisk. Krótko mówi...more
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Paul Johnson works as a historian, journalist and author. He was educated at Stonyhurst School in Clitheroe, Lancashire and Magdalen College, Oxford, and first came to prominence in the 1950s as a journalist writing for, and later editing, the New Statesman magazine. He has also written for leading newspapers and magazines in Britain, the US and Europe.

Paul Johnson has published over 40 books incl...more
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“A Stalin functionary admitted, "Innocent people were arrested: naturally - otherwise no one would be frightened. If people, he said, were arrested only for specific misdemeanours, all the others would feel safe and so become ripe for treason.” 5 likes
“In 1924 Mao took a Chinese friend, newly arrived from Europe, to see the notorious sign in the Shanghai park, 'Chinese and Dogs Not Allowed'.” 2 likes
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