Andy's Reviews > Postwar: A History of Europe Since 1945

Postwar by Tony Judt
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's review
Dec 10, 12

bookshelves: nonfiction, history, war
Read in December, 2012

Something of a cross between a textbook and a well-organized collection of essays on post-WWII European history. If you want to learn basic modern European history, this book definitely gets the job done. Its target audience is part academics and part general audience, and while you shouldn't expect a spy novel, the prose is really very readable for the casual but intellectually curious reader (and occasionally sarcastically dry in a totally British manner). You may need to look up some terms and proper nouns, but you don't need to come pre-equipped with an infrastructure of knowledge about social theory and historical knowledge.

There is no central thesis; even 800-odd pages cannot help but be generalist when covering such a wide range of people, places, and points in time. The chapters do have themes and there are many small arguments made here and there, such that sometimes you feel like you're reading a burst of mini-essays, each no more than a handful of paragraphs in length. I quite approve of the lack of central thesis - I think writers often try too hard to have one and underrate the value of simply stating the facts as you see them - but I still think at the mini-essay level, the book falls a bit prey to the compulsion towards arguments.

For me the best sections were "The Impossible Settlement" and "The Coming of the Cold War," illustrating how the Allies transitioned into opposing Cold War powers, and "The Reckoning," about the 1990s civil wars in Yugoslavia. In general I preferred the reporting of events and did not enjoy the sections on cultural theory and intellectual movements as much, perhaps because I am not an academic. But on the balance a really educational read, overflowing with topics.

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