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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

4.26  ·  Rating details ·  1,951 Ratings  ·  152 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
Paperback, 784 pages
Published August 7th 2001 by Harper Perennial Modern Classics (first published 1983)
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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
carl  theaker
Jul 01, 2014 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: ww2, history


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
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
May 23, 2010 rated it liked it
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
Jun 28, 2008 rated it really liked it
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
Carol Storm
Jun 14, 2011 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Tory historian wishes the modern world would just go away!

This is one of the most brilliant, readable, and exciting history books I have ever read. Paul Johnson does a worldwide survey of the wars and upheavals of the 20th century, covering whole continents in alternating chapters. With thrilling scope, he goes from tribal wars in Africa to the defeat of Germany to the rise of Hitler to militarism in Japan, and then back to Prohibition in the USA, Roosevelt and the New Deal . . . all the time co
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
Ross Leavitt
Apr 20, 2014 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
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
Sep 08, 2012 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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
Erik Graff
Apr 20, 2010 rated it really liked it  ·  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
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...
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
Tim Casteel
Apr 02, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Thoroughly enjoyed this book. I want to read everything by this author. He has such an unbelievable grasp on an amazing amount of topics. He truly gives a thorough education on the twentieth century. I listened to it on audiobook. Probably would have been better to read but worked fine as audiobook. I probably just missed some of the more profound, difficult ideas which leads me to my only issue w the book.

My only knock on the book - the author fails, at times, to communicate his profound ideas
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
Aug 06, 2016 rated it really liked it
If you have come to this point, where something has intrigued you enough about Paul Johnson's history of the Twentieth Century to the degree that you are reading reviews about it, then I say go ahead and take the plunge. For some, it might be necessary to read Howard Zinn afterwards, just to balance back out--the idea is that neither of these two should be taken at face value, though they can be persuasive. The important thing to remember is that, depending on your private views, facts are subje ...more
Hank Hoeft
Paul Johnson’s analysis of modern history (in Modern Times: The World from the Twenties to the Eighties) is perceptive and cogent and very readable. His world view is strongly free-market and pro-individual freedom, so I personally appreciated and agreed with his conclusions, but readers who subscribe to a more collectivist world view and desire a world run by big government attempts at social engineering would find Johnson’s analysis less agreeable. The book is dense and meaty, and requires it ...more
Leanna Pohevitz
Though I admit that it is comprehensive and spans a wide variety of topics deftly, certain details were presented as fact when they were opinion. I was frustrated at how the author used his own opinion to gloss over unknowns. That being said it was extremely helpful in putting the stories of each region of the world in relation to one another. It also made fascinating compariaons throughout - for example he touches on how extremists have similarities even while some are viewed as evil and some a ...more
Rafa Sánchez
Dec 10, 2014 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: favoritos
Una obra maestra, un prodigio de concisión y sabiduría para resumir en 600 páginas la historia del siglo XX, el peor siglo de la historia de la humanidad. El análisis de Johnson de las personalidades políticas que han destacado en los cinco continentes no deja títere con cabeza, en toda la obra se hace patente su desprecio por la ingeniería social, de todo tipo. Johnson sabe dar un punto de vista novedoso a toda la historia del horrible siglo XX, fijando los leit motivs que impregnan las ideolog ...more
Dec 08, 2008 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
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.
Adrian Colesberry
This was the first historical book I ever read that wasn't assigned by a teacher. I felt so grown up reading through this book. It's based on an interesting take on modernity: when it started in particular. It is in no way an alternative history. It's very much concerned with politics and wars, but I was a young boy and that was just fine with me.
Nov 21, 2009 rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
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.
Jul 08, 2012 rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
A totaly useless book. Far from the facts, always giving one side and simple version of all the main events of the century, it looks more like a neo-cons 101 manual than like an actual history book.
Douglas Wilson
May 19, 2009 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: history
Aug 18, 2012 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: history
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 rated it it was amazing  ·  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.
Riku Sarlin
I do know that a historian is never totally objective or value-free, even if you try. You always think and write from certain points of view, consciously or not.

Paul Johnson doesn't even try to be objective, or claim to do that. This is a totally conservative, Anglo-Saxon, Judeo-Christian right-wing review of the 20th century. Well and clearly written, but totally one-sided.

Nothing good ever comes from moral relativism, Big Government, Africa, Asia or South America (Pinochet is an exception). Al
Alina Starkov
This book is biased to the extreme towards ultra-conservatism, to the point of injecting some conspiratorial thought into the election of Kennedy, the fall of Nixon, and pretty much everything having to do with American politics. The book is so reactionary, however, as to be fun to read in an inverted fashion. He must assume that his readers are also on the right, so he attacks the left wing, ranging from Carter to the Red Army Faction, simply by describing them. As a result, his grim view of th ...more
Lucian McMahon
Mar 16, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Johnson may have fallen into imprecision at times. Some of his conclusions seemed rather improbable. And his post-WWII analysis was too cursory by half and probably merited another whole 734 pages itself. But overall, this was a good read. A tight narrative arc that, if combined with other tonics like Scott's Seeing Like a State or Arendt's Origins of Totalitarianism or even, maybe, Muggeridge, shows the lie in so many 20th century pieties that don't seem to ever want to disappear.

The human sto
Kirk Mahoney
May 14, 2017 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Readers of this book on a Kindle device should note that the chapters end at 78%. Still, this book is very long. I started reading it 53 weeks ago, and it was only because of a vacation cruise that I was able to go from 50% to 78% (the end) last week.

One of my favorite parts was the story about how Pope John Paul II and Ronald Reagan bonded over their near loss of life following assassination attempts ... and how those two plus Margaret Thatcher bonded to fight Communism.

One of the biggest takea
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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 about Paul Johnson...
“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.” 6 likes
“His (Lenin's)humanitarianism was a very abstract passion. It embraced humanity in general but he seems to have had little love for, or even interest in, humanity in particular. He saw the people with whom he dealt, his comrades, not as individuals but as receptacles for his ideas. On that basis, and no other, they were judged. He judged man not by their moral qualities but by their views, or rather the degree to which they accepted his.” 5 likes
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