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Year Zero: A History of 1945

3.89  ·  Rating details ·  1,671 ratings  ·  258 reviews
A marvelous global history of the pivotal year 1945 as a new world emerged from the ruins of World War II

Year Zero is a landmark reckoning with the great drama that ensued after war came to an end in 1945. One world had ended and a new, uncertain one was beginning. Regime change had come on a global scale: across Asia (including China, Korea, Indochina, and the
Hardcover, First Edition (U.S.), 384 pages
Published September 26th 2013 by The Penguin Press/Penguin Group (USA) LLC (first published 2013)
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Average rating 3.89  · 
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 ·  1,671 ratings  ·  258 reviews

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Dec 02, 2015 rated it really liked it
The book is trying to cover an enormous ground of post-WW2 chaos around the globe. It does a decent job overall, but the monumental nature of the task is certainly beyond the scope of a 400-page treatise. And there lie Year Zero's strength and shortcoming: the book is concise but superficial.
I liked the descriptions of Japan and the Eastern theater of WW2. Buruma draws some parallels comparing West to East in regards to the war atrocities and the aftermath, which I found illuminating. However,
Clif Hostetler
Nov 30, 2013 rated it really liked it
Shelves: history
The year 1945 was year zero for me personally since I was born that year. I have generally assumed that it was a happy year since it included both the end of World War II and my birth. This book helped me learn that the year 1945 was filled with a complex mix of exultation, hunger, revenge and hope. One kind of killing may have ended when the war ended, but not all killing stopped. Unfortunately, misery of all sorts was widespread throughout the world.

Camps for displaced people were numerous
Jill Hutchinson
Apr 09, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: wwi-wwii
General William Sherman said "War is hell" but he forgot to add that it only gets worse immediately after peace is declared. This book delves into the year of the end of WWII........Europe is in ruins, Japan is in ruins, and there are millions of people who have no home or country to which to return. And then, of course, there is the revenge, especially in Germany, that only adds to the horrible statistics of the dead. The victorious Allies now have the problem of deciding what to do with ...more
Jim Coughenour
Sep 26, 2013 rated it really liked it
In his recent review of this book Charles Simic observed, "Perhaps the reason we never learn from history is that we are incapable of picturing the reality of war and its aftermath, for fear that if we did, we would stop believing both in God and in our fellow human beings." This is not hyperbole. It's something closer to a recognition of a cognitive limitation. We simply cannot process the horror of history, even when it's as well documented and as relatively recent as 1945 – in the living ...more
Yigal Zur
Jul 18, 2019 rated it it was amazing
amazing book. there is so much written on second world war but so few on what happened in the year or two which followed after. when million of people where moving around with no home to go back to, with no purpose in life with past destroyed. so much despair around. i found this as a great and amazing read.
Mel Ostrov
Jun 19, 2015 rated it it was amazing

This is the way to Learn History

There are innumerable nonfiction books about World War II, but how many concentrate solely on the immediate consequences following the Nazi and Japanese surrender in 1945? Not only is this highly acclaimed authoritative history fascinating, it also flows as easily as a fictional storybook that is hard to put down. In the prologue, the author introduces his Dutch father’s involvement in the war, but that merely suffices as an introduction for what is to come. A
Jun 11, 2014 rated it it was ok
Shelves: history
I was disappointed. I feel that I learned much more about what the period was like in Europe from Hans Magnus Enzensberger’s article 'Europe in Ruins’ in Granta of Summer 1990. (mentioned by Javier Cercas in Anatomy of a Moment). It’s essential to understand that this is a personal view of the war’s end, greatly influenced by Baruma’s family background (his father was a university student in the Netherlands at the start of the WWII, and was sent to work in Berlin in terrible conditions).

Mal Warwick
Oct 29, 2013 rated it really liked it
Shelves: nonfiction
I wasn’t old enough in 1945 to be aware of the momentous events of that year. However, the superficial history I learned at school starting two years later ignored most of them, and much of the history I’ve read later in life focused only on a few of the highlights, and in a largely piecemeal fashion at that: the surrender of Germany and Japan, the opening of Germany’s concentration camps, the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, the founding of the United Nations, the origins of the Cold War. Ian ...more
History - that one passion/hoby I have had, besides literature. I couldn't be more happy with Buruma's portrayal of 1945, the research behind shows in every page, the ammount of names/places/details mentioned is astounding and the writing is superb. It takes grit to get through it (370 big pages in small print is torture), and even if you do, 80% of the information will eventually fall out of your memory, because if you don't refresh it enough, you lose it. However, what you're left with is the ...more
May 18, 2017 rated it liked it
Shelves: history
When World War II came to an end, much of the world lay in a shambles. Global population had been decimated by millions murdered, slaughtered, uprooted, and displaced throughout Europe, North Africa, and Asia; structure and infrastructure alike were destroyed; economies ruined, crops razed and the very farmland itself churned up beneath the poisonous treads of blood and gunpowder. Anarchy reigned throughout the territories previously controlled by Axis and colonial powers. Where to begin ...more
Oct 05, 2013 rated it liked it
I have never really thought about what happened after World War II, but Ian Baruma did in this novel. Life was miserable for millions of people after the war ended. Millions had no food, shelter or clothing and millions were forcibly moved from their homelands to somewhere else. I never thought about the fact that property was looted and plundered by their neighbors after Jews were removed to concentration camps, or that Jews were not welcome after the war ended. Ian Baruma states that hatred ...more
Oct 12, 2014 rated it liked it
Ditching this after 70 pages. There is something glib and superficial about the writing which, given the topic, is somewhat disconcerting. The material is not unfamiliar, and so "I get the picture". Not to be compared with Tony Judt or even with John Dower.
Sep 15, 2013 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: history, world-war-ii
A riveting account of the year World War II ended--or didn't, if you lived in Greece or China or several other parts of the world. I knew something about 1945 in Japan, from John W. Dower's wonderful Embracing Defeat: Japan in the Wake of World War II. But I didn't know much about how that year was experienced elsewhere. Buruma's coverage is global and thematic, with chapters entitled "Exultation," "Hunger," "Revenge," and so on. And he has obviously thought long and hard about some of the ...more
Maine Colonial
Aug 02, 2013 rated it really liked it
The subject of the immediate post-World War II period has been popular in history books in recent years, including William I. Hitchcock's The Bitter Road to Freedom: A New History of the Liberation of Europe, Tony Judt's Postwar and Tony Judt's The Politics of Retribution in Europe. These are all excellent, well-documented histories.

Even if you've read all those books, I would still recommend Ian Buruma's Year Zero. This is a particularly readable and compelling treatment of 1945, the year when
Lark Benobi
Dec 01, 2013 rated it really liked it
Two things are really exceptional about this book: 1) it covers a lot of ground in a highly readable way; and 2) it includes extensive end notes that point readers to where they can find more detailed information on any given event of 1945.

Some of the tone was jarring, however. I was disturbed by the first chapter, "Exultation," because it treated "fraternizing" in almost a light-hearted way, painting the sexual relationships between starving European women and Allied soldiers as a far more
Mar 19, 2019 rated it really liked it
Shelves: europe, ww2
Year Zero describes how a devastated people negotiated life amid post-WWII ruins and occupation by allied forces. In liberated Europe and Asia, as well as defeated Germany and Japan, similar issues were faced. These are explored by Ian Buruma as a 'liberation complex', which he sees as a mixture of 'exultation, hunger and revenge'. Although born shortly after the war ended, his childhood in Holland and contact with older family members gave him personal insight into the period.

In the early stage
If you’ve a strong stomach, and are prepared to re-evaluate the behavior of the Allies and the actions of the victims of the Germans and the Japanese during the last days of the Second World War and through the Year Zero [1945] then you might find a great deal to recommend itself in Mr. Buruma’s book.

This is not the first of such books to focus on the reconsideration of the end of the war and the aftermath of this. Others would be The Savage Continent, After the Reich, Orderly and Humane, and
Oct 15, 2013 rated it it was amazing
The book delivers what it advertises in excellent prose that reads like a page turner despite being non-fiction; focusing on Western Europe (Germany, France, UK, Holland...) and East Asia (Philippines, China, Japan, Indonesia, Malaysia...) and only a little on Central/East Europe (Poland and the Czechoslovak deportation of millions of Germans, the concentration camps and the fate of the relatively few returning Jews), the book doesn't bring that much new but it offers a succinct perspective of ...more
David Quinn
The cover photo of the statue overlooking the destroyed remains of Dresden is very powerful.

The photo of the starved POWs in Malaya is startling. That alone provides a powerful message about the deprivations of WWII.

I learned some interesting tidbits along the way.

Those are the only positive things I can say about Year Zero. I felt like I spent a winter in Cleveland reading this book. At roughly 340 pages it isn't all that big but it was a challenge to get through.

Buruma created a dreary, dense
Peter (Pete) Mcloughlin
1945 like 1789 or 1914 are years that immediately bring pictures to the mind. The world was never the same after these years. Year zero is an appropriate title for this book because the slate was nearly wiped clean for large sections of the globe that year. At the end of the war many wanted to return to the way things were before but that was impossible now. Many had dreams of building Utopias out of the rubble. People were shell shocked and some wanted to settle scores most tried to put the ...more
Mar 15, 2018 rated it really liked it
A well-written, vivid and human history of 1945, with a focus on how ordinary people experienced it.

Buruma covers the postwar experience in both Europe and Asia in a thematic format, discussing such topics as famine, score-settling, the forcible dislocation of Germans, the depredations of Allied deserters, and war crimes trials. He also brings up the point that many of those so eager to punish collaborators did so in order to draw attention from their own wartime record. Buruma covers the
Dec 16, 2013 rated it liked it
Year Zero is about the end of WWII in 1945. I read this because of a great review in WSJ. Early on and throughout my read I felt this was too much like a text for an advanced college class in recent world history. As I slogged forward reading I thought, “Is this going to be on the test?” and “Do I have to know the names of all these people?” If you are well read broadly about WWII (not just about what was taking place and who was doing what in US, Russia, Germany, Japan) from the role of ...more
Jan 27, 2014 rated it liked it
God what a freaking mess it was, all over the world, in 1945. You think in your head about the end of World War II, of VE and VJ days, and you picture those glorious celebrations and liberation parades, the evil axis vanquished, the hell of the death camps halted, peace and, soon, prosperity breaking out everywhere. But as Ian Buruma makes clear in Year Zero, for tens of millions of people in countries both victorious and defeated, not so much. Hunger and homelessness, mass rape and executions, ...more
Dec 08, 2016 rated it really liked it
Buruma does a good job describing what a mess Asia and Europe were in after WWII. The Allied powers can be blamed for many things - their hypocritical treatment of developing nations and also not bringing the real war criminals (the industrialists) to justice. Yet it's amazing that parts of Asia and western Europe were able to rebuild so quickly after such calamity.
Jun 28, 2013 rated it really liked it
Shelves: world-war-ii
Europe and Asia’s World War II Postscript …

This book was reviewed as part of Amazon's Vine program which included a free advance copy of the book.

As the world sighed in relief following the end of history’s most devastating conflict, Europe and Asia still faced a grim spectacle … the need to sift through the emotional and physical devastation and start living again. Ian Buruma’s YEAR ZERO: A HISTORY OF 1945 offers an engaging glimpse into the oft-forgotten pain of recovery, retribution and
Diana Rosner
Jul 18, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: non-fiction
This book was very engaging and enlightening. I highly recommend it as it provides a history lesson for those with a fuzzy understanding of post WWII happenings immediately following the end of the war. This entire book chronicles the year 1945.
Jun 16, 2014 rated it liked it
"Year Zero: A History of 1945" is a book that I should have enjoyed more than I did. The author, a Dutch scholar with a deep knowledge of East Asian culture and history, sets out to do something very ambitious; namely, he aims to provide a very concise yet very broad overview of the state of the world in 1945, a so-called "Year Zero" in which it seemed like a new, better world could be constructed out of the devastation of the Second World War.

What makes Buruma's book interesting, at least for a
Bob Keeney
Dec 20, 2013 rated it it was amazing
My family was stationed in Germany in the 50s, not long after WW2 ended. I had no inkling then of how Germany had emerged from the ash and rubble of war to build "the Economic Miracle," but have since read several books on the rise (and fall) of various combatant nations. Buruma, in this great narrative which progresses through the various stages of relief, revenge and rebuilding (structures, morals, political and economic systems); shows how the underlying culture of nations before the war ...more
Patrick McCoy
Nov 20, 2013 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: history, non-fiction
Ian Buruma has written an excellent companion to Max Hastings' two most recent books on WWII, Retribution: The Battle for Japan, 1944-45 and Inferno: The World at War, 1939-1945. Year Zero (2013) was inspired by Buruma's desire to explore what the end of the war was like for his father who was a displaced person sent to work in Germany during the war in a factory after Holland was occupied by the Nazis. He also previously wrote a book on the wartime guilt of Japan and Germany in The Wages of ...more
Aug 19, 2014 rated it liked it
I heard Buruma talk engagingly at the Sydney Writers Festival this year and bought the hardback.

It is important to see that Buruma is covering the world stage, this book is not just about the devastation in Europe. Some reviewers have missed this point. That said, in a book of manageable size, he does emphasise China, Japan, Russia and European countries. There will be many opinions on how well he has achieved an appropriate balance.

The general thesis of the book is important and I would hope is
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Ian Buruma is a British-Dutch writer and academic, much of whose work focuses on the culture of Asia, particularly that of 20th-century Japan, where he lived and worked for many years.
“On May 7 crowds had gathered on Dam Square in the center of Amsterdam in front of the Royal Palace, cheering, dancing, singing, waving the orange flag of the Dutch royal family, in anticipation of the triumphant British and Canadian troops whose arrival was imminent. Watching the happy throng from the windows of a gentlemen’s club on the square, German naval officers decided in a last-minute fit of pique to fire into the crowd with a machine gun mounted on the roof. Twenty-two people died, and more than a hundred were badly injured. Even that was not the very last violent act of the war.” 1 likes
“after all that, after the concentration camps in Germany, after we stated definitely that our former home was changed into a mass grave, we can only grope and clasp with our finger tips the shadows of our dearest and painfully cry: I can never more see my home. The victorious nations that in the 20th century removed the black plague from Europe must understand once and for all the specific Jewish problem. No, we are not Polish when we are born in Poland; we are not Lithuanians even though we once passed through Lithuania; and we are neither Roumanians though we have seen the first time in our life the sunshine in Roumenia. We are Jews!!” 1 likes
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