As much as I enjoyed this book, it was a relief to finish. At 1000 pages it was starting to give me back problems from carrying it round for so long.As much as I enjoyed this book, it was a relief to finish. At 1000 pages it was starting to give me back problems from carrying it round for so long. Tony Judt is a left-leaning historian and intellectual, and this is his account of Europe since 1945. The two main themes are the shadow World War II cast over the continent, and the ideological conflict between Communism and Capitalism that collapsed along with the Berlin Wall in 1989.
In this totemic history Judt covers nationality and nationalisms, ethnic conflict, social deprivation, democracy, culture and political progression. He charts the change from a Europe that could do nothing than enter in to brutal and mostly needless wars in to one that has become obsessed with interaction and unity, but not at all costs, at least not at the cost of the nation state. We see the idiocy of various European leaders, the mendacity of others and the bravery of a few that have created the sphere in which we live today as entities within a multi-ethnic land of plenty.
The author however does not look at recent history through rose tinted spectacles. With the dawning of Thatcherism and individualism it is true that nations have become richer, people however have become poorer. How was this so? Through the lack of a genuine redistributive network and the failure of genuine social democracy that got caught in the headlights of unrestricted capitalism. Communism too is given a beating by Judt, at least as far as the European models of it go. Stalinism is the main target and it was a lost opportunity when Tito emerged as strong enough to challenge Stalin only to become him at a later juncture. Once Stalin had gone, his shadow remained in the policies that his generation echoed once it was “their turn” to be the party chairman.
Religion is given short shrift and there are plenty of nods to bygone intellectuals and academics who stood up to the regimes in which they lived and in rare occurrences, took power. Such things hardly seem possible now within the Europe that has bought in to the American consensus of celebrity politics and the dumbing down of intellectualism. He argues that despite internecine conflicts that Europe has become a much safer place since World War II. While factually correct, it would be interesting to see if the wider world outside Europe is any safer, with many wars, slaughtering and ethnic cleansing exercises coming about in former European colonial bodies, and at times with the tacit knowledge or agreement of the forgotten colonial masters.
There is, however, little to find fault with in this book. Some countries could have been dissected more closely, but as I mentioned before at 1000 pages it is already large enough. It finishes with an excellent epilogue concerning European memory, where Judt argues that the country that needed, and to some extent still needs to exorcise its past through truth and reconciliation is actually France, and not Germany who painfully came to terms with their role in World War II long ago. France has continually tried to separate itself from Vichy France, when in fact the two were interchangeable. Jacques Chirac made the first moves and there has been steady progression. There remains, inevitably, some way to go. I would recommend this book to anyone wanting to understand recent global history. One cannot understand the 20th century without a working knowledge of Europe. It may be the last century in which European events dominated the world stage, but what events they were! ...more
The year 1948 evokes strong memories in the Middle East. It is celebrated by the Israeli’s and commemorated by the Palestinians. This book by IsraeliThe year 1948 evokes strong memories in the Middle East. It is celebrated by the Israeli’s and commemorated by the Palestinians. This book by Israeli academic, Illan Pappe explores the events of that time and the mythology surrounding the accepted historiography within Israeli academic circles and public memory. This is the most in depth analysis of the Nakba that I have ever read, using official documents, oral accounts from both Palestinians and Israeli soldiers as well as contemporary reports, the author formulates a narrative that horrifies and amazes in equal measure. Ben Gurion and his small coterie of officials wrote and acted out Plan Dalit, or Plan D which resulted in the expulsion or murder of thousands upon thousands of Palestinian people. It is while describing the outcomes of this Plan D that Pappe gives us some of the best, most horrible and most original testimony uncovering new evidence from local village files and official reports.
Some of the details of expelled Palestinian towns and villages in what we now know as Israel are truly stomach churning. Prisoners were taken unarmed and killed in cold blood, rape was used as a weapon and all-out air attacks against defenceless peoples were carried out amounting to nothing less than war crimes. The leadership of the Arab armies is examined and they are found to be seriously wanting of courage and moral fortitude. Likewise the former colonial power, the UK, who, while trying to rid themselves of the whole situation stood idly by and watched massacres take place.
There are some interesting “What If” moments usually regarding the UN or American leadership changes or intransigence at key moments. Ethnic cleansing is certainly the right term to be used for what happened in 1948 to the Palestinian people, indeed there is a sizeable passage devoted to explaining the international definition of ethnic cleansing and the authors own usage of the term. The dehumanising of the Palestinian people started with this war of imperial annexation and continues to this day, without accepting the true account of what happened in 1948, how can Israeli’s and Palestinians ever be reconciled? This is such an important book, it can not be overstated just how much it should be read. Accusations of bias and the usual nonsense can be found floating around the author, himself an Israeli Jew but even if you distrust the detail, there is no arguing with the facts on the ground – almost a million Palestinians were refugees by the end of 1949, and over 400 villages had been destroyed, and that if that is not ethnic cleansing then what is? ...more
Just over 500 years since Henry VIII became king his legacy and story is still able to amaze and his reputation remains hotly debated. Given that thisJust over 500 years since Henry VIII became king his legacy and story is still able to amaze and his reputation remains hotly debated. Given that this book is about the king and his court there is a lot of detail here about official expenditure on running costs and capital spending. At times this can be quite dull for the reader who is more interested in the goings on of the court personnel than their belongings, but perhaps that reader would be better served by purchasing a less in-depth analysis in the first place.
Obviously there is plenty here regarding the nature of Henry’s relationship with his court subjects and variety of wives, his early romantic nature and slow progress towards the well known later tyrant. Unfortunately the author seems to become bored with her subject after Anne Boleyn’s beheading, with the following four wives dealt with in around 100 pages. The schism created by Henry’s divorce from Katherine of Aragon and subsequent marriage to Anne Boleyn is the key event in Tudor history, possibly British history itself and it is easy to be caught up in the seriousness of this situation at the expense of others.
As a result this is a comprehensive study of Henry and his court up to around 1536 when Anne was beheaded. Any serious events are still covered, but briefly; Henry’s progress to the north with his fifth wife Katherine Howard is dealt with in a couple of pages, whereas it was on this trip that Katherine’s adultery becomes apparent, a serious enough event to warrant more in-depth analysis one might think. Similarly the later battles with France towards the end of Henry’s reign when the Mary Rose sank, devastating Henry is barely mentioned. It’s a shame because the author writes brilliantly when she gets on to a subject she likes, perhaps this is a selfishness above professionalism. For anyone wanting to understand Henry’s early reign and first two marriages this is a terrific book, but beyond that more exploration of the available literature may be required....more
One of the recommendations on the cover of this book states that “Peter Ackroyd was born to write the biography of London” and it’s quite hard to disaOne of the recommendations on the cover of this book states that “Peter Ackroyd was born to write the biography of London” and it’s quite hard to disagree with that. The scope of this work is immense and almost too much to comprehend in a small review; over 1000 pages including references it details the history of our capital from prehistoric times to today. It is not a narrative history but a broken down series of essays on separate themes, usually moulded around the broad field of social history. We are never to forget that London has been created and shaped by its people.
The passion the author feels for his subject is omnipresent, and while at times he can go overboard with the praise felt for a mere city, those of us who have ever felt attached to a place can share the joy and almost envy Ackroyd’s ability to say what we ourselves often feel. The author has a respect for the pagan mythology built up around London, including the founding story of Brutus and the “watchers” of the city, Gog and Magog from the bible’s book of Genesis. London’s historic beauty is marred by its adjoining history of disaster. The city continually experiences revolt, destruction and natural disaster, and yet always remakes itself anew, though not so new as to be indistinguishable from the past. London as organic organism clutches to its structure and refuses to be cowed in the face of modernity and incessant change, the city will only allow so much.
The author juxtaposes his knowledge of the citizens of the past with what he observes today, and how little changes with regard to the working and middle classes to whom London is a birthright. The people are its key to the survival and regeneration. We learn of the radical history of Clerkenwell, the history of crime and punishment with all its strange macabre connotations. Indeed, the Fleet prison, Newgate and such are always lurking in the background of any London scene waiting to snap up its jettisoned and unwanted cargo. The poor, the immigrants, the beggars, the artists, the rich, the aristocrats, the writers and every other type of person, neatly pigeonholed can be found under the slate grey skies of London, sometimes welcomed, sometimes not, but there nevertheless. The smells and sounds of London jump from the page and its many and varied characters sing their part in its history. I am not a Londoner and found it fascinating and readable in equal measure. This is Ackroyd’s London, but equally it is everybody’s London. It is this living, breathing beast that demands fealty and rewards its subjects with the power of creation and counter-creation.
This book is an absolute pleasure to read. A journey that evokes the spirit of London as well as any piece of writing by de Quincey, Pepys, or any painting by Turner or Canalleto and will rightly be remembered as a monument of London itself, alongside Nelsons Column or the London Stone. Truly, Peter Ackroyd was born to write this book. ...more
What a magical, charming little book this is. A history of the world aimed at the young adult. It was first published decades ago by this renowned artWhat a magical, charming little book this is. A history of the world aimed at the young adult. It was first published decades ago by this renowned art historian and it speaks volumes of the man himself and his attitude to history. Drab and dull as history can sometimes appear, it comes to life when Gombrich speaks, and this is written as one would speak to a child, yet it is never patronising. It gives the reader credit enough to understand the events as they happened and this book merely provides a window from which to view them. It’s concise and beautifully constructed. An absolute joy to read. ...more
Shlomo Sand is one of the academic writers that Israel loves to hate. He vigorously researches his work and turns up evidence of things that the IsraeShlomo Sand is one of the academic writers that Israel loves to hate. He vigorously researches his work and turns up evidence of things that the Israeli leadership, and Zionist academia would rather keep hidden. The more evidence unearthed that disproves the fictitious historic claim to the land of Israel, the more grasping and ill-tempered these people get. This book is a wide ranging work detailing the early history of the Jewish people and their subsequent diaspora which came about largely as a matter of choice for proselytising Jews, eager to welcome more members to their burgeoning faith. This method of spreading the word continued through the Hasmosean kingdoms through to the Khazars and beyond.
In the latter stages of the book there is a very disturbing chapter detailing the errors the Israeli government are making in their research of the genetic “design” of Jews. This ludicrous policy takes from the works of the early geneticists who brought about the theories of supreme beings and master-races, ideologies which the Nazi’s were to exploit so rigidly many years later. The intermarriage and multicultural relationships down the centuries will have mixed any real purity from the Jews of today, and even if it hadn’t, what would be the point of the research other than to create a tiered system of Judaism?
Judaism is a religion and like all religions it spread through legitimate and illegitimate means. There have always been Jews to some extent in the land of Palestine, or Israel as we now call it, but they have almost certainly always been a minority, even today. This gets to the crux of the matter. Zionists dislike the facts that are laid bare here about an Arab population continually being the dominant one in the middle east, demographically speaking. First it was polytheistic pagan peoples and latterly the followers of Islam.
As is tradition now in book reviewing, most reviews (particularly from the Hebrew press, the language in which the book was first published) label the author as an anti-Semite and a self-hating Jew. These unfair and illegitimate tropes have no place in the sober analysis of a text. They give the reviewer the excuse to not thoroughly examine the work and rely on cheap personal attacks which have no basis in reality. The truth is that Shlomo Sand gets far more right than he gets wrong, and his politics are not matched by those of the Zionist state. It is an excellent book that at its very core extols the belief that the Palestinian Arabs of today can co-exist peacefully with the Jews in Palestine as traditionally they always did before the creation of the modern state of Israel, for it is a modern creation. ...more
Tariq Ali has written a series of books on the state of Pakistan in the past and this is his latest offering sub-titled “on the flightpath of AmericanTariq Ali has written a series of books on the state of Pakistan in the past and this is his latest offering sub-titled “on the flightpath of American power”. As always it pulls no punches and provides a good account of the politics in Pakistan up to and including the assassination of Benazir Bhutto in 2008. The intrigue, backstabbing, assassinations and plotting within the various Pakistan governments down the years have always been played out on a canvas of American design. Where Pakistani dictators have trodden, the CIA and American military has never been far behind.
This current book gives us the background to the new front in the war on terror, Waziristan separated from Afghanistan by the spurious Durand Line. It is here that the US is focusing on a new battleground while killing and maiming innocent civilians. This is not just a tale of American imperialist dominance though, it gives us the reasons why this front has been opened in the war on terror. From Islamist parties being used by the army in a similar way to Lenin’s useful idiots in the areas in question to an ever increasingly bastardised government in the hands of ever more pliant civilian leaders and brutal, authoritarian military heads of state. Of the 60 years Pakistan has been a state, 34 of those years have seen a military dictator as head of state, and in the years that they weren’t? These were the years of personal fiefdoms of the ruling elites in Pakistan such as the Bhutto family and the Sharif brothers.
While the bureaucracy has been swung back and forth like a pendulum the people have continued to suffer with appalling health care, lack of basic education and infrastructure and a central budget that gives more credence to nuclear weapons than it does to feeding its own people. Ali despairs over the state of his homeland and the blame goes far and wide, but his solution would work and it is simple: land reforms, corruption legislation, social-infrastructure investment, the rule of law, the US to mind it’s business, empowering women and freeing minds. Though many before have paid with their lives for trying to bring progress and an economically and politically destitute nation, Tariq Ali believe it’s worth another shot and he’s probably right but will anyone listen?...more
This is a collection of articles and reviews by the recently deceased intellectual, Tony Judt, subtitled “reflections on the forgotten twentieth centuThis is a collection of articles and reviews by the recently deceased intellectual, Tony Judt, subtitled “reflections on the forgotten twentieth century”. It is as much about the scholarly response to events as it is about those events themselves, many of the pages for instance are taken up with book reviews for the New York Review of Books. Judt’s style wins through above the boundaries of analysis however and what comes across is a well thought through scrutinised account of some of the “great” events of the past 60-70 years as well as a searing criticism of the academic writings attached to those events. The chapters are many and varied, usually around 20 pages long and thus crammed with information and critique. We learn of Koestler’s alienation from communism and his eventual descent in to pseudo-science which tarnished his reputation for many years. We understand how inextricably linked Primo Levi was to his Jewishness, much to his own indifference, similarly Manes Sperber. Hannah Arendt’s extreme linguistic polarisation regarding the “banality of evil” is picked up on, and her own confusion which renders her writings as best read in small chunks, as well as her lifelong discourse with the state of Israel. A chapter on Albert Camus betrays an authorial favouritism, rare for a professional writer such as Judt. This is tempered by the intense excoriation of Louis Althusser and his pick n’ mix Marxism. Eric Hobsbawm’s memoirs are dealt with tenderly but in a robust fashion which draws on some of the internation contradictions in the historian’s thought, though a heart-felt respect remains; perhaps for someone who has not altered their ideological course unlike for instance, Judt. Lezek Kolakowski’s work on the “main currents of Marxism” is loftily idealised and commended, mainly for understanding the flaws in the ideology as well as the benefits; many of which were never followed through on. The list of subjects covered is seemingly endless, Pope John Paul II’s conservativism, Edward Said’s “rootless cosmopolitanism”, an intellectual for whom the author holds the highest regard. The second half of the book moves on to more firm historical ground with the turn of “events, dear boy” but usually set against the backdrop of learned accounts. The military fall of France in World War II, Tony Blair’s disingenuous Third Way, an interesting account of a near none-state in Belgium. Romanian self deception and confusion appears briefly as do Tony Judt’s most controversial, and yet most prophetic articles on Israel. America, it’s foreign policy and the cold war take up a hefty chunk of the book, understandably given the domineering shadow of US hegemony throughout the latter half of the 20th century. The book finishes with an article published in 1995 concerning the social question regarding the European model of a welfare state vs third way sociology and right wing liberalism. This article is placed expertly to show how Judt’s own analysis of the situation was correct and how things are getting much, much worse from even that short time ago. A terrific book, and a good aside to his magnum opus, Postwar. ...more
I found this book informative and frustrating in equal measure. The frustration was on no part the fault of the author, but of the people within the bI found this book informative and frustrating in equal measure. The frustration was on no part the fault of the author, but of the people within the book whose involvement in the build up to war make you want to scream, and it’s not necessarily the people you might expect. There were so many chances to turn things around, to halt the progress to war which we are told these days, was inexorable, to conciliate, to compromise, to intervene, to act decisively. None of these opportunities were taken by the capricious Germans, the aloof French, the selfish Russians, the craven British, the unhelpful Americans, the pathetic Italians and the arrogant Poles. The hypothesis here is not one of overall blame for Hitler.
One can say whatever one likes about his final solution with regard to the Jews but as regards war, he did not start it. Or in any event, he did not start it alone, and the bogeyman attachment we have to him in relation to World War II does not fit until the war began. His demands for Anchluss, Sudetenland and Danzig were all demands that the Western Powers were sympathetic towards. They were not unreasonable. The Treaty of Versailles gave much justified cause for German anger and pushed them towards allowing a dictatorship of the proletariat through a standardised process of induced nihilism.
The group that comes off the worst by far in the whole build up is the Polish who stifle debate and refuse conference at every turn possible. Until the very morning of the attack on Warsaw the Poles refused to consider any relinquishment of Danzig, or even meet to discuss it with the Germans.
Hitler had a major policy of letting events happen, and gambling upon them. At the bookies his tactics would see him lose all his money. In the world of diplomacy he won time and again which only increased his natural egotistical and megalomaniacal bent.
The book is written with a deft hand and looks at facts as opposed to being revisionist as critics have claimed. Taylor uses almost entirely official documents as sources and interprets them as best anyone can without the help of a crystal ball. A superb book which is controversial but ultimately fair handed....more
I think the first thing to say about this biography is that it is very masculine in its outlook. There is much here about battles, heroism and legacyI think the first thing to say about this biography is that it is very masculine in its outlook. There is much here about battles, heroism and legacy and little that we learn about Edward the man, and his relationships to his family and close associates. His love for his wife particularly is mentioned only fleetingly when she dies despite widespread confirmation we have from primary sources that the two were deeply in love and committed to one another; a rarity for the period in question.
Edward the ruler, however is studied and reported on meticulously, from his early days under the reign of his father, Henry III, via whom Edward saw how kings could do things wrong, through to his battle scarred reign apropos the Crusades during which he was proclaimed king as well as his various domestic wars, usually involving France. There is a huge amount of time devoted to his manifold battles with the Welsh and comparatively little about Scotland, which was towards the end of his reign but probably had the most important impact upon his kingship, certainly his legacy and the future of our northern neighbour. In subjugating the Scots, Edward invented Scottish nationalism and more perhaps could have been made of this, the birth of a movement that lasts until this day which, before Edward’s time on the throne were a loosely connected band of clansmen continually warring with one another.
That is not to say that what is written is brief or rushed. His omnipresent troubles with the French are continually brewing in the background, and as with all medieval kings, frustration with his own landed gentry in granting him the taxes he saw as necessary to carry out his campaigns to defend and gain territory. An overwhelming sense of frustration on the part of Edward comes through in his various attempts to go on a second crusade as the lead warrior king this time, rather than in the royal train of the French as he did the first time around. Every time it seemed his wish was to be granted either a pope died and the papal tax promise was revoked or war broke out somewhere else in his lands. He lived a long life and saw extraordinary luck with regards to his own wellbeing, and many of his acts are legendary which this book does well to separate from the reality. Overall this is a very well researched biography of one of our better known kings and slots perfectly into the literature regarding the period....more
Lady Jane Grey: She of that unfortunate title, the Nine Days Queen. This is a very “straight to the point” biography of Lady Jane. At less than 200 paLady Jane Grey: She of that unfortunate title, the Nine Days Queen. This is a very “straight to the point” biography of Lady Jane. At less than 200 pages it can’t be anything but. Her story is told in simple prose with good use of contemporary sources. There is less speculation from Plowden than other biographers of the era which is a good and bad thing at the same time. I enjoyed the book and it certainly brought the woman to life. Jane had such an awful life. Nobody protected her right from her childhood as she was used by various sides for their own personal gain. She doesn’t come off totally innocent but is definitely more victim than anything else. ...more