Thursday, May 10, 2012

Thinking the Twentieth Century with Tony Judt

Each night I spend an hour or so working my way through Thinking the Twentieth Century, the last book by Tony Judt, the distinguished historian, academic, writer and public intellectual. Judt completed this book just weeks before his early death in August 2010.

Judt's final book is essentially a series of conversations between Judt and  Timothy Synder, a younger American historian in which they engage in a series of historical, political and personal conversations about the events of the Twentieth and Twenty first Century.

It is also a moving personal narrative of Tony Judt's own life as he lived, thought about and wrote about the history of  the West and countries in which he lived and worked, primarily Europe, USA, UK and Israel.

An extract from the book is here.

Reviews of Thinking the Twentieth Century  can be read here, here, here and here.

I have long been a huge admirer of Tony Judt's work as a historian and writer, but also as a well known and respected public intellectual who spoke out on important public policy issues.

Tony Judt spent the last two years of his life suffering from ALS amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (Lou Gehrig's Disease), a terrible incurable degenerative disease that left him a quadriplegic.

 Despite being unable to use his hands, Judt was remarkably prolific during the last 2 years of his life, producing a series of books including  Ill Fares the Land ( a lament for a lost vision of a better society and an impassioned plea to reclaim values, ideas and public policy that is socially democratic and politically progressive), a personal memoir The Memory Chalet, as well as a series of articles that appeared in the New York Review of Books and the  London Review of Books.

Judt's other works include a book of essays Reappraisals:Reflections on the Forgotten Twentieth Century whichis one of the finest collections of essays I have read (A fine review of the book by English philosopher John Gray can be read here) and his 900 page history of Europe Post War: A History of Europe since 1945 which is a work of epic proportions and acknowledged as one of the great works on European history.

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