Thinking the Twentieth Century
American Academy of Arts and Letters Award in Literature
An unprecedented and original history of intellectual life throughout the past century.
Thinking the Twentieth Century is the final book of unparalleled historian and indomitable public critic Tony Judt. Where Judt's masterpiece Postwar redefined the history of modern Europe by uniting the stories of its eastern and western halves, Thinking the Twentieth Century unites the century's conflicted intellectual history into a single soaring narrative. The twentieth century comes to life as the age of ideas-a time when, for good or for ill, the thoughts of the few reigned over the lives of the many. Judt presents the triumphs and the failures of public intellectuals, adeptly extracting the essence of their ideas and explaining the risks of their involvement in politics. Spanning the entire era and all currents of thought in a manner never previously attempted, Thinking the Twentieth Century is a triumphant tour de force that restores clarity to the classics of modern thought with the assurance and grace of a master craftsman.
The exceptional nature of this work is evident in its very structure-a series of luminous conversations between Judt and his friend and fellow historian Timothy Snyder, grounded in the texts of their trade and focused by the intensity of their vision. Judt's astounding eloquence and range of reference are here on display as never before. Traversing the century's complexities with ease, he and Snyder revive both thoughts and thinkers, guiding us through the debates that made our world. As forgotten treasures are unearthed and overrated thinkers are dismantled, the shape of a century emerges. Judt and Snyder make us partners in their project as we learn the ways to think like a historian or even like a public intellectual. We begin to experience the power of historical perspective for the critique and reform of society, and for the pursuit of the good and the true from day to day.
In restoring and indeed exemplifying the best of the intellectual life of the twentieth century, Thinking the Twentieth Century charts a pathway for moral life in the twenty-first. An incredible achievement, Thinking the Twentieth Century is about the life of the mind-and about the mindful life.
Foreword (Timothy Snyder)
1. The Name Remains: Jewish Questioner
2. London and Language: English Writer
3. Familial Socialism: Political Marxist
4. King's and Kibbutzim: Cambridge Zionist
5. Paris, California: French Intellectual
6. Generation of Understanding: East European Liberal
7. Unities and Fragments: European Historian
8. Age of Responsibility: American Moralist
9. The Banality of Good: Social Democrat
Afterword (Tony Judt)
"There are so many ways that Thinking the Twentieth Century is a remarkable book. The lifetime of scholarship and intellectual engagement lying behind that verb "thinking" in the title. The way ideas crackle in the interplay between the authors. The passionate involvement with issues political and controversial. That the book could have been written at all, given the tragic circumstances surrounding it... Judt proceeds to take the reader on a wild ride through the ideological currents and shoals of 20th century thought."
—The Los Angeles Times — THE LOS ANGELES TIMES
“An intellectual feast, learned, lucid, challenging and accessible.”
—San Francisco Chronicle — SAN FRANCISCO CHRONICLE
“Fans will find plenty to sustain them in this poignant coda to a life marked by great feats of penmanship, scholarly insight and contemporary polemic… [Judt’s] bravery is ever-present, but rightly understated. As Mr Snyder notes in his introduction, the book is both about the life of the mind and a mindful life. Judt exemplified both.”
—The Economist — THE ECONOMIST
“Judt was a provocateur, but maybe an accidental one, and after reading this remarkable, impassioned book, it's hard to doubt his sincerity… Thinking the Twentieth Century is Judt's final salvo against what he saw as a culture of historical ignorance and political apathy, and it's every bit as brilliant, uncompromising and original as he was.”
—NPR — NPR.org
“Incandescent on every page with intellectual energy.”
—Pankaj Mishra, Prospect Magazine (UK) — Pankaj Mishra, PROSPECT MAGAZINE (UK)
"Scintillating... a lively, browsable, deeply satisfying meditation on recent history by a deservedly celebrated public intellectual."
—Publisher's Weekly (starred review) — PUBLISHERS WEEKLY (starred review)
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